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Slumlord to Pay Costs, Penalties of $216,000

Times Staff Writer

A property owner often described by the Los Angeles city attorney’s office as the city’s “worst” slumlord has agreed to pay $100,000 in civil penalties, nearly $16,000 in investigative costs and more than $100,000 in relocation costs to his tenants.

The agreement signed by landlord Surya P. Gupta and Deputy City Atty. William C. Cullen was presented Wednesday to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Fainer. The judge scheduled a court session Monday to process all documents but indicated he would approve the settlement.

The agreement, in which Gupta admitted no wrongdoing, responsibility or liability for the condition of four run-down apartment complexes, ended his trial on contempt charges for failure to obey earlier court orders to repair his complex at 346 N. Vermont Ave. The trial, repeatedly postponed because of settlement discussions, had been scheduled to start Wednesday before Fainer.

The contempt charges were a sidelight of the city’s civil suit, also ended by the settlement, which sought civil penalties and permanent injunctions forcing Gupta to bring his properties into compliance with fire, health and building codes.

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Under the agreement, Gupta is to pay $100,000 in civil penalties over the next two years, half to the City of Los Angeles and half to Los Angeles County.

He also will pay $60,000 by Monday and another $40,000 early next year to attorneys for nearly 50 tenants of his Vermont Avenue building. Attorney Barrett S. Litt said the money will be divided among tenants according to city laws providing $1,000 to $2,500 per household for relocation costs.

In return, the tenants will move out by Oct. 7.

Fainer stressed that the building is to remain vacant until Gupta or any new owner repairs it to conform to all applicable codes.

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When two tenants voiced objections to the settlement because of the expense and difficulty in finding new homes, Fainer explained that all tenants may continue to pursue damage suits against Gupta. But the amount they are entitled to receive for relocation, he said, is set by law.

Gupta also agreed to pay a total of $5,550 in remaining relocation costs to six former tenants of his building at 1212-1218 N. Gower St.

He also will pay investigative costs, including $6,010 to the Los Angeles County Health Department, $6,287 to the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and $3,658 to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The settlement also requires Gupta to hire a contractor to repair his building at 5226 Hollywood Blvd., sell his building at 2023-2023 3/4 Echo Park Ave. and to notify the city attorney’s office if he finds a buyer for the Vermont building. He also must provide the office with lists of residential properties he owns throughout California by Dec. 1 and again one year later.

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Gupta’s Vermont Avenue building attracted widespread attention last year when tenants launched a rent strike after he refused to make court-ordered repairs. The nearly 50 families, who now have agreed to move out within a month, have been paying their own utility bills.

Gupta has estimated that the strike cost him more than $150,000 in rent. As part of the settlement, Gupta will drop his countersuits claiming the city wrongly deprived him of the use of his property.


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