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Housing and Homelessness

City Attorney Sues Landlord Investigated By LAist Over Violence At North Hollywood Complex

A picture of the 425-unit Chesapeake Apartments, a property owned by entities connected to Nijjar since 1996, was subject of a lawsuit filed by the City Attorney in 2017.
Another property connected to Mike Nijar was the subject of city action in 2017. The 425-unit Chesapeake Apartments has been owned by entities connected to Nijjar since 1996.
(Chava Sanchez
/
LAist)
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Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Thursday morning that he is suing a landlord for failing to perform routine property maintenance at a sprawling North Hollywood complex — and allegedly allowing it to become “a blatant and severe gang- and gun-related public nuisance.”

The lawsuit was filed last week against mega-landlord Mike Nijjar and businesses in his housing empire. Nijjar's business practices were investigated by LAist in 2020.

The suit alleges Nijjar and his businesses failed to secure the 116-unit complex at 13100 – 13212 Vanowen St. for years, as it became a stronghold of a gang known as the North Hollywood Locos.

The complex spans an entire city block, and the complaint details how a perimeter fence has not been maintained, despite numerous requests from city officials. It has been the site of nine gang-related shootings in the past fifteen months, the City Attorney alleges, and has become a battleground in a “volatile, dangerous, and ongoing turf war” between the Locos and their rivals in MS-13.

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Gunfire has struck people at the complex, and crossed into a church where children were playing outside. The violence also poses a threat to a nearby school.

 Illustration of Mike Nijjar
Illustration of Mike Nijjar
(Dan Carino for LAist)

The complaint states that the landlords “have left a trail of disreputability wherever they operate in the state”, citing a similar case from 2017, and also the dirty, dangerous and even deadly practices documented by LAist’s investigation.

David Vazquez was a maintenance worker for PAMA from 2007 to 2017, making repairs and plumbing fixes at PAMA properties around Southern California, including the North Hollywood complex. "I honestly hated going there, especially at night," he told LAist, saying he felt unsafe.

Vazquez saw broken and unsecured gates at several properties connected to PAMA. "If they got the right kind of gate, the right kind of fencing, I'm pretty sure the safety would definitely improve," he said.

A Long History Of Complaints

In 2020, LAist reported on slum conditions and deaths at properties connected to Nijjar and his management company, PAMA. Many of Nijjar’s tenants fight off roaches, rats, bedbugs, bees, maggots and mold, all while struggling to get even minor issues remedied.

Across California, Nijjar’s businesses control an estimated 16,000 units and over $1.3 billion in real estate, with a huge footprint spanning Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, the Antelope Valley and Bakersfield. The properties are typically controlled by business entities tied to Nijjar’s operation, and are clustered in low-income neighborhoods.

“Just because a tenant may not have a lot of money, doesn't mean they’re any less entitled to the safety and security that any of us would want in our community,” Feuer said in an interview last week.

In North Hollywood, the landlords have refused to fix broken gates in the property’s perimeter fence, the complaint charges. This suit is not the first time Feuer has taken Nijjar to court to force improvements to rental housing. The resolution to a 2017 case over the 425-unit Chesapeake Apartments in Baldwin Village compelled Nijjar’s businesses to add security cameras, locked pedestrian and vehicle gates and add private security.

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“Conditions got much safer, very quickly,” Feuer said of the previous lawsuit, which was also brought by his office. He’s seeking a similar result in North Hollywood with the property tied to Nijjar. “We are going to be vigorous about making sure he is held accountable.”

The unrelenting violence at the North Hollywood property has made life difficult for residents, including many families with children who live at the property, which is spread over several two-story buildings on Vanowen Street.

A courtyard at River Glen Apartments in San Bernardino, California, the peaks of the San Bernardino mountains loom in the distance.
A courtyard at River Glen Apartments in San Bernardino, California, a complex connected to mega-landlord Mike Nijjar. The complex had unsecured gates when visited by LAist reporters.
(Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

Bullets have crossed the property line at least three times into the neighboring St. Paul Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church, the complaint states. A bullet whizzed by the head of a parishioner in 2021, and other bullets have struck a television at the church, and a mirror in the pastor’s dressing room. The church has installed a metal barrier, but even that has not stopped bullets from flying onto church grounds as recently as three weeks ago.

The property also sits “perilously close” to James Madison Middle School, the City Attorney notes, where 1,650 students attend school.

Details Of The Complaint

The complaint names DJ Kler, Nijjar’s sister, who has long been a key player in the housing empire’s operations. As part of the effort, prosecutors are seeking to force Nijjar and Kler to live at the property until the conditions improve. A similar effort in the 2017 lawsuit to force Nijjar to move into the Chesapeake apartments was not successful.

The suit names several business entities connected to Nijjar, including PAMA Management and two entities with the Group IX Properties name, and states that the North Hollywood complex has been under their control for over two decades. The complaint includes a photo of an alleged North Hollywood Loco gang member brandishing a gun on the property, and states that city officials have met with and requested that the landlord make improvements, with no meaningful changes.

Nijjar, Kler, and an attorney who has represented their business enterprise did not respond to a request for comment.

The complaint blames the conditions on “conscious mismanagement” by Nijjar, Kler and related businesses, alleging:

“While they are exceptionally accomplished at collecting rent from tenants, they are completely unwilling—at least voluntarily—to invest in the most basic physical and managerial improvements at the Property to make it less hospitable to unlawful gang activity."

During his time inside the rental housing empire, Vazquez said that PAMA managers pushed for quick fixes instead of permanent ones, such as wiping off mold, rather than eradicating it. "They just tell you to hurry up and try to move on to the next apartment, instead of properly doing everything," he said.

The suit is one of several ongoing cases involving Nijjar and his businesses. Last year, a Black renter in Riverside County filed a federal housing discrimination lawsuit against the enterprise, alleging that he was denied housing during the pandemic due to his race. An attorney for Nijjar has denied the allegations, and the case is ongoing.

Nijjar Realty, Inc. also lost its real estate license in 2020, following a fire at a property outside of Bakersfield that killed a five-month-old girl. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel ruled that “[Nijjar Realty and associate Everet Miller] did not accept responsibility for their actions and did not demonstrate a commitment to ensure public safety.”

Nijjar Realty, Inc. and Everet Miller are appealing that ruling.

Updated February 24, 2022 at 4:42 PM PST
This story updated with an interview with David Vazquez.