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Make Way for Landlord : For Tenants, It’s Not a Sentence, It’s Home

Times Staff Writer

Tenants of a run-down Los Angeles apartment building were surprised and amused Tuesday when they learned that their landlord, Dr. Milton Avol, had been sentenced to spend a month living with them for repeated building and safety violations.

Avol was sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail and another 30 days under house arrest in his own building at 463 S. Bixel St., just west of the Harbor Freeway near downtown. Los Angeles Municipal Judge Veronica Simmons McBeth said she handed down the unusual sentence “because Avol is recalcitrant and arrogant and because I think it just might convince him to make the repairs.”

A visit to the dilapidated building Tuesday morning found most of the tenants already gone. Those who were at home had not heard about the case, but, when told of Avol’s sentence, they laughed and said they thought it was a good idea.

“Sure, I think it will be good for him to come and see how we live,” said Ana Estelva, who shares a one-room apartment with her two daughters. “I imagine he’s used to something more comfortable, though.”

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Of the building’s 40 units, 18 are occupied. Most of the tenants pay about $200 a month for a room with a bed, two chairs and a small table. Some rooms have adjoining kitchenettes, others only a hot plate or portable stove. Bathrooms are in the hall and are shared by the tenants of three apartments--which, in some cases, means about a dozen people, said Mercedes Mejia, who, along with her husband, manages the building.

The linoleum floors in the hallways are haphazardly patched in crazy-quilt patterns, and the side and the back of the building where children play are littered with trash and broken bottles. Neither the front door nor the back door to the building is locked. Mejia said vandals repeatedly broke in when they were locked, and drug users and alcoholics use the bottom floors of the building. The halls stink of urine.

“That’s why all the bathrooms are locked, to keep the cholos out--but they come in anyway,” Mejia said.

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Mejia said Avol stops by the building nearly every day to pick up money or to drop off supplies. She also said there were no undue delays when a tenant requested that something be fixed.

But, tenant Alfred Almeida said he had asked that his room be painted nearly two months ago--when a building inspector was present--and had received no reply.

“He’s not going to paint this room. Are you kidding?” said Almeida, who has lived in the building for seven years.

Avol, a neurosurgeon from Beverly Hills, will spend his 30 days--scheduled to begin in mid-July--in Apartment 117, which contains a large, sagging double bed; portable stove; sink, and a refrigerator. The walls of the bathroom across the hall are crumbling, and the shower is corroded.

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McBeth has ordered the neurosurgeon, whose practice is in Hawthorne, to put a telephone in his room at his own expense so authorities can make sure he is there during his sentence.

Paying for Jail Stay

“He’s paying for his stay in jail, too,” said the judge, who also ordered Avol to pay $30 a day, the maximum under the law, for room and board.

“I think I am a firm but fair judge,” said McBeth in her chambers, eating a lunch of carrot and celery sticks. “I don’t take it lightly when I put someone in jail--but judges have to make tough decisions, and sometimes we have to be creative.”

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McBeth was graduated from the UCLA School of Law in 1975 and worked six years in the Los Angeles city attorney’s office before then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. appointed her to the bench in 1981.

Los Angeles County Deputy Public Defender John Meigs, who has frequently argued cases before McBeth, said she “is a fair judge who is known to be victim-oriented,” explaining that she tends to mete out stiff sentences when she feels individuals have been wronged.

McBeth, who hears a wide range of misdemeanor criminal cases in her ninth-floor courtroom on West Temple Street, said she does not know exactly what prompted her to turn the landlord Avol into a slum tenant, except that “this was the perfect case for it if there ever was one.”

“He has flagrantly violated his probation and slapped the court in the face,” McBeth said. “I’ve given him every chance possible to fix up those buildings--and it’s not as if he didn’t have the money. He’s very, very wealthy. You have to back up your own orders or else they don’t obey. What else could I do?”

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