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Tenants Who Say Roaches Crawled In Their Ears Reach Settlement With Landlord

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The tenants of a South L.A. apartment have settled with their former landlord, who they accused of maintaining a property full of problems—including a massive infestation of mice and roaches. Franco Haeim and his company, Bracha Investments LLC, were being sued by 91 tenants, City News Service reports. Bracha owned the 26-unit property at 2108 Maple Ave. from July of 2008 to December 2012. The trial began earlier this week, and the settlement means it is now over. The details of the settlement have not been disclosed.

Francisca Garcia was the last tenant to testify yesterday. She said she and her family moved into the building in November of 1991, and soon found themselves dealing with roaches and mice. She said she trapped as many as five to 10 mice each day, many of them infested with fleas. At one point, she said there were so many cockroaches in the kitchen that it was "like a swarm," scaring everyone in in her family. She also said that her son got welts due to the pests.

Guadalupe Quiroz, 77, told Courthouse News that she often encountered cockroaches and rats, and that her bathroom didn't work. "The thing we were going through there was terrible," she said.

Other tenants said that roaches crawled on them and into their ears while they slept and tried to burrow in electronics. The tenants complained of mold, exposed wires and a maintenance man who was often drunk while he made shoddy repairs.

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Fernando Refugio testified that while things were somewhat better in his own unit, he still ended up adopting a cat to help him with the mice. He said that the new building owners fumigated the property and replaced old carpeting with fresh linoleum.

Amelia Fay-Berquist was a tenant organizer with Inner City Law Center in the spring of 2011 when she met with Haeim to talk about the many issues the property had. She testified that he initially told her he wanted to make repairs, but also shoved a lot of the blame for the building's condition onto the tenants themselves. Months later, he told her he was totally broke, though he had insisted on driving her from the building to a downtown restaurant for lunch in a new Mercedes. And while his company had netted $800,000 from the tenants during the time they owned the building, the tenants' lawyers said that only a paltry $28,000 was spent in repairs.

Haiem tried to use the excuse that downtown is "full of mice" in court as a reason for why they overran his building. Stephen Donnell, a property manager hired by the tenants' attorneys, said that it cost the new owner only $7,000 to clear the building of pests.

Attorneys for Bracha Investments said that renters knew what condition the place was in when they decided to move in, and that they also failed to let management know about a number of issues. The lawyers also claimed tenants changed locks on their doors, preventing repairs from being made, or wouldn't open their doors for pest exterminators.