Fire Displaces Residents At San Bernardino Apartments Owned By Subject Of Our Landlord Investigation
A fire at an apartment building in San Bernardino left seven people without a place to stay after flames drove residents from the building on Sunday morning. The complex is part of a vast rental empire I wrote about last week in our investigation: Deceit, Disrepair and Death Inside a Southern California Rental Empire.
San Bernardino County Fire officials said they sent five engines to the scene and it took firefighters about 15 minutes to put the fire out.
Fire officials said they were not aware of any injuries.
San Bernardino Crews Quickly Knockdown @sbcitygov Apartment Fire. See press release here 👉🏻 https://t.co/vlX9rZZ44j pic.twitter.com/zgPMUVvC2V— San Bernardino County Fire (@SBCOUNTYFIRE) February 17, 2020
I went out to the location today to see what tenants had to say about the fire and conditions at the 22-unit complex. Fire officials say they have not yet determined a cause.
At the building, the windows of four units were boarded up with plywood and there was still a heavy smell of smoke more than two days after the fire was extinguished. I saw holes cut in the roof by firefighters.
The scene Sunday was harrowing, according to Marvin Lewis, a truck driver who recently moved into the complex.
"Flames, a lot of smoke, people running and grabbing their babies, I saw people tripping down the stairs," he said. "It was just a crazy scene. I saw people throwing up because of the smoke."
I looked up public records for the apartment complex and found:
- The building is owned by Group XIV Properties, LP.
- It's part of a vast real estate rental empire created by a man named Mike Nijjar.
- City violations I've reviewed from this property show the property managers received notices for:
- Debris strewn around the courtyard
- Broken windows
- Broken gates, that led to homeless people using the carport area as a bathroom
- Mold and mildew
It's not the first fire at a property in this real estate empire. A few miles away, a fire in 2017 injured a firefighter who fell through a floor.
And as our investigation details, a deadly fire in a mobile home park in the Bakersfield area killed a baby girl in 2016. In that case, state regulators said that disregard for health and safety code led to the 5-month-old's death. They blamed PAMA Management, which did not have a permit for the mobile home, among other violations.
PAMA's corporate cousins are major landlords in San Bernardino and control an estimated 16,000 units across California. Their footprint stretches from Hemet and Los Angeles all the way to Bakersfield, Fresno and Sacramento. I found companies connected to Nijjar have been sued many times for conditions at their buildings and other business practices.
Mike Nijjar declined to speak to us about our findings. His attorney issued a statement on behalf of him and others connected to his companies, that said in part:
PAMA Management cares about the communities and the people we serve. Providing affordable housing to those who need it is our mission. PAMA has operated in Southern California for more [than] 40 years. In its years of operation, PAMA has served tens of thousands of residents of Southern California.
Very often, PAMA assumes management of multi-unit apartment complexes in the community that are subject to City and County Code enforcement violations due to years of deferred maintenance, and does the necessary to improve those properties, clear the violations, and make it possible for families to continue to occupy those buildings.
I also reached out to the attorney to ask about the fire on Sunday and will update this story if I hear back.
I talked to residents at the complex where Sunday's fire took place about conditions there.
"They're raising the rent and to me it's like if you guys wanna raise the rent, keep up with the property," said Anjeanette Oates.
9:37 a.m.: This article was updated to indicate that San Bernardino County fire officials were unaware of any injuries.
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