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Housing and Homelessness

Mega-Landlord Mike Nijjar Accused Of Housing Discrimination In Federal Lawsuit

A courtyard at the two-story 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.
(Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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A Southern California landlord with massive real estate holdings allegedly discriminated against a Black prospective renter in Riverside County last year during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a complaint filed in federal court earlier this month.

Listen To Our Special Report: STUCK: Deceit, disrepair, and death inside a Southern California rental empire

The defendants named in the suit, Swaranjit “Mike” Nijjar and his Group XIII Properties businesses, were investigated by LAist in a 2020 story that documented slum conditions and deathsat properties connected to Nijjar and his management company, PAMA.

The new lawsuit, brought by the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County and renter James Beasley, lays out the allegations of housing discrimination in detail.

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In Spring 2020, Beasley was “urgently” seeking a new rental unit in the Hemet area. He found a property on San Jacinto Avenue, and was told in a text from the property manager that an apartment was available at $950 per month. Yet when Beasley visited, he says he found a unit with soiled carpeting, peeling paint and trash on the floor. The complex’s common spaces were littered with garbage and weeds. Beasley complained that the apartment was not fit to be rented.

Toward the end of his visit, the complaint alleges, Beasley heard the property manager Elisa Valerio tell her husband: “This is why I don’t like renting to [racial slur]; they are always complaining.”

Three days later, Beasley texted to inquire if the apartment was still available. Valerio told him it had been rented. Suspicious, Beasley asked two friends to inquire about the apartment, both of whom were told by Valerio that it continued to be available, according to the complaint.

The complaint says that the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County 'has received hundreds of complaints about the condition and management of rental dwellings controlled by Nijjar.'

Beasley contacted the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, a nonprofit that advocates for tenants' rights. The complaint says the agency “has received hundreds of complaints about the condition and management of rental dwellings controlled by Nijjar.” In response to the housing discrimination reported by Beasley, the nonprofit, according to the lawsuit, began distributing brochures “in Hemet and surrounding communities where Nijjar controls a substantial portion of the rental housing.”

The suit also alleges that Nijjar “directed, ratified, or condoned the discriminatory housing practices alleged in this action.”

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 clustered in low-income neighborhoods, and are typically controlled by business entities tied to Nijjar’s operation.

 Illustration of Mike Nijjar
An illustration of landlord Mike Nijjar
(Dan Carino for LAist)

The Hemet property was owned by Group XIII Properties, LP, a cog in Nijjar’s sprawling network of businesses. He is the organization's general partner, and the president of a similarly-named corporation that is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

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Nijjar and his attorney, who have not yet responded to the complaint in court, did not respond to our request for a comment. LAist was unable to reach the property manager, Elisa Valerio. The Fair Housing Council of Riverside County declined an interview request, as did the attorney for the nonprofit and for James Beasley, Christopher Brancart.

In a brief statement, Brancart said: “The fact [this case] exists is probably a product of bad management practices that KPCC reported on.”

The suit is not Brancart’s first suit involving a Nijjar entity — in 1988, he sued Nijjar’s company over slum conditions at a property in Pomona.

Forged Paperwork And Revoked Licenses

The housing discrimination lawsuit is one of several cases involving Nijjar and his businesses making their way through the courts.

A separate suit includes allegations that Nijjar, along with his businesses and associates, transferred the title of mobile homes and RVs using “forged and/or fraudulent paperwork.” The civil suit was brought by Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin in March.

In a complaint, the DA alleges several cases of fraudulent title transfers. The paperwork, the complaint says, showed signatures from the owners of mobile homes that they “did not make.” The title of one man’s mobile home was transferred “without his consent”; the man repeatedly complained to Nijjar’s businesses, but it was only after the District Attorney became involved that the mobile home was restored to him, the complaint says.

The District Attorney declined to comment, and emails to Nijjar and his attorney went unreturned.

Another lawsuit has posed perhaps the starkest challenge to Nijjar and his enterprise. In March, attorneys for Nijjar Realty and Everet Miller — Nijjar’s longtime associate — appealed a ruling that stripped them of their real estate broker’s licenses.

chesapeake-apts_lg (1).jpeg
The 425-unit Chesapeake Apartments, which has been owned by entities connected to Nijjar since 1996.
(Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

The appeal is part of an aggressive legal campaign to retain the licenses. Multiple judges have already reviewed the case and determined the two license revocations by the state’s Department of Real Estate were appropriate.

Last December, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel ruled that revoking the licenses "was warranted because [Nijjar Realty and Miller] did not accept responsibility for their actions and did not demonstrate a commitment to ensure public safety.”

The case began with a 2016 fire at a property in Oildale, outside of Bakersfield. That blaze killed a five-month-old girl, Jenica Okianna Lozano.

After her death, state officials determined that Nijjar Realty broke several real estate laws in renting out her family's unit. An investigator's report was blunt: Nijjar Realty "owed the buyers every consumer protection outlined in the law." Instead, officials wrote, PAMA's unlicensed agent sold mobile homes "in dilapidated condition" without basic disclosures.

The unit also had no carbon monoxide detectors, as required by law.

PAMA, the state investigator concluded, showed "a total disregard for the law."

That led to a December 2018 hearing, in which a judge revoked the real estate broker's licenses of Nijjar Realty, Incorporated, and Everet Miller, who was the corporation's broker of record. The licenses were formally revoked in February 2019, but Miller and Nijjar Realty quickly appealed, citing procedural issues.

The judge ruled against them late last year, but the parties appealed and now the case is before the 2nd Appellate District. An attorney for Nijjar Realty and Everet Miller did not respond to LAist’s request for comment about the appeal.

During the pandemic, tenants at properties connected to Nijjar fell behind on rent, and feared that evictions could leave them without stable housing. The details of a state bill to extend eviction protections could potentially affect thousands of tenants in Nijjar’s real estate empire.

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Corrected June 24, 2021 at 5:30 PM PDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Swaranjit “Mike” Nijjar and his Group XIII Properties businesses as the plaintiffs. They are the defendants.