Landlords Are Sued in Santa Ana : Repairs Sought in Buildings Where Tenants Are on Strike

Times Staff Writer

Attorneys for the City of Santa Ana filed four civil lawsuits Tuesday against the owners of six apartment buildings whose tenants have launched a rent strike in an effort to bring about repairs.

The suits allege that Carmine and Marian Esposito have failed to correct dozens of housing code infractions found in four of the apartment buildings by inspectors in September and October, 1984.

Says System Confused Him

The code violations include structural, electrical and plumbing problems; crumbling walls, ceilings and floors; swaying staircases, and vermin infestation, the city alleges.

On Monday, Carmine Esposito said he has already filed applications for permits to fix up two of the buildings and will request four additional permits. He said he did not act sooner because of a lack of understanding of the city's bureaucratic system.

Deputy City Atty. Luis Rodriguez said the Espositos have 10 days to respond to the lawsuits. When responses are filed, trial dates will be set, he added.

If the Espositos do not respond, the city can then seek a default judgment, under which it can order the Espositos to correct the code violations or face possible contempt of court charges.

Carmine Esposito said he intends to correct the substandard conditions but needs more time than the city allows.

Three weeks ago, Santa Ana filed 28 similar lawsuits against various landlords. The suits seemed to convince many previously recalcitrant landlords that they have a responsibility to bring their slum properties up to code, Rodriguez said.

"We're very pleased with the compliance we've received in those cases," he said Tuesday. "We finally seem to be getting a serious message across."

In addition to his Santa Ana property, Carmine Esposito owns several apartment buildings in Garden Grove's Buena Clinton neighborhood, considered to be Orange County's worst slum.

The buildings named in Tuesday's lawsuits, 1221, 1227, 1235 and 1239 W. Brook Street in Santa Ana, contain about 50 apartments.

Tenants of the Esposito apartments on Monday announced a rent strike, effective immediately, until the many code violations cited by housing inspectors are corrected. The tenants said that altogether they pay close to $30,000 a month in rent. Esposito, however, said the figure was closer to $20,000.

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