Punishment of Slumlord Made to Fit His Crime
A neurosurgeon from Beverly Hills who owns five blighted apartment buildings in Los Angeles was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail--and another 30 days under house arrest in one of his own apartment buildings--for repeatedly failing to clear up building and safety violations.
Dr. Milton Avol, 61, was ordered to return to court Thursday to begin serving the unique sentence.
Los Angeles Municipal Judge Veronica Simmons McBeth told the surgeon that once he has served his time in County Jail, he will be transported to Room 117 of the building he owns at 463 S. Bixel St., where he will be forced to remain for 30 days.
Avol will be allowed to bring clean sheets, reading material, a television and a private security guard, she said.
A telephone will be installed so authorities can call to make sure he is in the room at all times--except when he is using the bathroom. There is no private bathroom in the apartment, McBeth explained, and thus Avol will be forced to use a facility across the hall.
He will be allowed to have food brought in. It was not known Monday if the apartment unit is equipped for the doctor to cook his own meals.
The judge had offered Avol, who practices in Hawthorne, his choice of “house arrest” or an additional 30 days in jail.
When Avol and his attorney, Scott S. Furstman, momentarily hesitated before announcing his choice, the judge asked, with apparent mock surprise, whether they were indicating it was difficult to choose between jail and Avol’s own building.
The physician refused comment as he whisked past reporters outside the courtroom.
Deputy City Atty. Stephanie Sautner, who prosecuted the case, praised McBeth’s action, saying, “If (certain) landlords fear that they would have to live in the same squalor they impose on some of their tenants, they just might think twice before allowing their apartments to deteriorate to such a level.”
Sautner said Los Angeles has landlords worse than Avol.
“But this is a classic slumlord situation,” Sautner added.
McBeth sentenced Avol after a daylong hearing in which she ruled that he had not adequately complied with an ultimatum in April that he bring his properties at 1821 and 1839 S. Main St. up to city Safety, Fire and Health Code standards. At the time, McBeth had told Avol he would face 60 days in jail for continued non-compliance.
The ultimatum came as a result of probation violations from a 1983 case involving the Bixel Street property. That December, Sautner said, Avol pleaded guilty to two counts of public health violations and was placed on three years’ probation.
Avol violated the terms of his probation by allowing various Health and Fire Code violations to persist on the South Main Street properties, prosecutors said.
The continuing violations, Sautner said, include broken glass in hallways, rodent infestation, cracked and peeling plaster and unoccupied, fire damaged units. In one fourth-floor apartment inhabited by a mother and four young children, an entire window was missing during an inspection last week, city building inspector Ernest Padilla testified.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Avol said he has spent more than $100,000 making repairs in recent weeks and attributed many of the outstanding problems to vandalism. He said the window in the fourth-floor apartment had been temporarily removed to replace broken glass.
Avol, who owns five buildings comprising about 300 apartment units, has a long history of code violations at his property at 1821 S. Main. In 1979, he was convicted of fire safety violations there, fined $3,000 and ordered to donate 1,000 hours in medical service to the community. At the time, then-City Atty. Burt Pines led reporters and television crews through the S. Main St. building, saying the penalty was a warning “that we mean business.”
Until now, however, Avol has never served a day in jail, according to Sautner.
The Bixel Street building in which Avol is to serve his house arrest is a three-story structure just west of the Harbor Freeway near downtown Los Angeles. City inspectors say it is also the subject of several continuing building, electric, health and fire violations.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the best room,” inspector Padilla said of Avol’s house arrest quarters. “It’s a typical run-down room.”
McBeth acknowledged that Avol had made some efforts to repair the South Main Street buildings in recent weeks, but “it’s too little, too late,” she said.
She accused Avol of being an “evasive” witness who has shown “a total absence of any empathy for the people who live in” his buildings.
Furstman, asked if he would appeal the sentence, said, “There are various options we will discuss.”
He said Avol had “made efforts to substantially comply with all applicable codes.”
Avol’s other properties at 1919 West 7th St. and 1660-70 N. Western Ave. have also been cited for violations, authorities said.