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Housing and Homelessness

Inspectors Find Rampant Health Problems In Apartment Complex Owned By Mega-Landlord Mike Nijjar

An apartment has an apartments for rent sigb hanging on it behind an iron fence.
The 425-unit Chesapeake Apartments, which has been owned by entities connected to Nijjar since 1996.
(Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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Following weeks of inspections, Los Angeles County officials have identified numerous health hazards in a sprawling South L.A. apartment complex owned by mega-landlord Mike Nijjar.

Tenants at the Chesapeake Apartments have long complained about pests, mold and sewage leaking into their homes. Now, the county’s Department of Public Health (DPH) has substantiated their complaints.

The department released an inspection report this week finding — among other problems — units with cockroaches, suspected mold, peeling paint, leaking bathroom fixtures, exposed wires, fresh rodent droppings, inadequate hot water flow and damaged sinks and showers.

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Over the course of a few weeks in June, the department inspected 232 apartments within the massive 425-unit complex. The investigation was carried out jointly with the city of L.A.’s Housing Department, which has yet to produce its own inspection report.

Sergio Vargas, lead organizer for L.A.’s Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, has been working with Chesapeake residents. He said tenants began contacting local government agencies about this neglect long before the recent inspections.

“I think it just looks really bad on the city and on the health department that they have let this happen underneath their noses,” Vargas said. “It took a lot of pressure from tenants.”

The 76-page inspection report includes a litany of violations. Here is a small sample of what the inspectors found in the apartments:

  • "10 live adult and nymph German Cockroaches in the kitchen"
  • "Suspected mold-like substance on the walls in the bathroom"
  • "20 fresh and old rodent droppings on the floor of the kitchen"
  • "Broken/cracked tiles in the shower stall"
  • "Exposed wire at the garbage disposal"

The department has delivered the inspection report to the Nijjar-affiliated company PAMA V Properties LP. The report orders PAMA to fix the violations by August 15, when county inspectors are scheduled to return to the property.

James Yukevich, an attorney for PAMA, said in an email to LAist, “The health and safety of tenants is important to my clients. As with any correction notice received, they will work with the city and the tenants to remedy all issues as soon as reasonably possible.”

However, a public health department spokesperson said this isn’t the first inspection the Chesapeake property has failed. She said the department conducted previous inspections in April and May, but “[m]any of the violations found during these inspections remain outstanding and Public Health will pursue enforcement through the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.”

A 2020 LAist investigation revealed that Nijjar’s vast rental empire (representing at least $1.3 billion in real estate holdings at the time) was marked by neglect. Some tenants ended up dying amid dangerous living conditions.

Tenants at the Chesapeake Apartments told us they can’t understand why the city and county have allowed their landlord to neglect these issues for so long.

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“They see that there's problems here, and they’re still doing inspections,” said Fernando Fernandez, 16, who has lived with his family in the Chesapeake Apartments for more than three years. “The inspectors know about the problems. And we know them. So it just frustrates me how nobody's actually doing anything about it.”

Fernandez said when his family has complained about problems in their unit, PAMA has carried out quick fixes that don’t address the underlying issues — such as quickly painting over mold.

Another tenant, Dallas Shell, said plumbing issues in his unit have caused his kitchen to flood.

“My bathroom also flooded two times,” Shell said. “My bathtub flooded with feces water. It just came up out of nowhere. And then they left it there for three days.”

Shell said PAMA routinely fails to resolve complaints in a timely way.

“They just care about the money that they're going to receive from us,” he said. “They don't really care about our health or our well being.”

During the pandemic, many struggling low-income renters in Los Angeles found themselves increasingly confined to unsafe apartments that violate health and safety regulations. City inspections plummeted in response to the threat of COVID-19. As a result, many habitability problems have gone unaddressed.

At the same time, rental prices have continued to skyrocket throughout Southern California, leaving vulnerable tenants no choice but to accept terrible living conditions or face homelessness.

If the L.A. City Attorney does pursue a case against Nijjar, it won’t be the first time. Nijjar faced a lawsuit from the city attorney's office in 2017 over rampant criminal activity at the Chesapeake Apartments, and another lawsuit earlier this year in connection with nuisance conditions at a property in North Hollywood.

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