Solution Elusive : Junk Charges Still Litter Trail of Landowner

Times Staff Writer

In 1985, a phalanx of health, safety and fire inspectors tried to force a man they called the city’s “worst pack rat” to clean up his act.

Inspectors issued many citations against Don Hyatt Martin. They hauled junk from many of his properties scattered throughout the San Fernando Valley. They tore down a condemned apartment building he owned in North Hollywood that was infested with termites and filled with debris.

The city attorney also filed six misdemeanor charges alleging that Martin violated health, building, safety and fire codes.

But, two years later, Martin is still displaying junk. And neighbors still are complaining that his buildings are dangerous eyesores that attract rats, cockroaches and, lately, even drug dealers and transients.


Neighbors Gather Signatures

Residents on a neatly manicured North Hollywood block of Hatteras Street, where Martin owns a house, recently gathered 200 signatures, which they intend to present to Los Angeles City Councilman John Ferraro as a plea for help. The residents say the debris Martin has scattered about his lawn has attracted rats and poses a health and safety hazard.

“I don’t understand why there isn’t more the city can do,” said Cathy Stumpf, the petition-drive organizer. From her front porch, Stumpf can see Martin’s lawn, which is littered with stale food, old paint cans and solvents, dead palms, a wash bin and other junk. “I don’t think the Pied Piper is available anymore to get these rats out of here,” she said.

Martin’s court-appointed Beverly Hills attorney, Frederic J. Warner, who is representing Martin on municipal- or penal-code charges involving eight properties in the Valley, said he was “not aware of rats” at the Hatteras Street property. But, he added, “having rats is not unusual in the Valley.”


Warner and Deputy City Atty. John Rocke, who is prosecuting the much-delayed misdemeanor case, are the first to acknowledge that the system has failed. But they disagree on why.

Rocke acknowledges that legal action, enforcement efforts and even brief stays in jail for probation and driving violations on previous cases have failed to curtail Martin’s appetite for junk. In 1985, Martin pleaded guilty to two felony counts of perjury stemming from using phony names to obtain driver’s licenses. Deterrents will not work because, Rocke alleges, Martin is mentally ill, but not ill enough to be in a mental hospital.

Efforts to contact Martin failed. Warner said he had advised his client not to talk about the case.

“We really don’t have the ability to do anything to him; there isn’t punishment to fit his delusion. That’s why we are really at an impasse,” Rocke said. “He doesn’t have the ability to respond like you and I to punishment and sanctions.”


Psychological Difficulties

During the perjury case, a Superior Court commissioner noted that two court-appointed psychiatrists had concluded that Martin was not criminally oriented, but suffered from severe psychological difficulties.

Warner said he does not have a medical degree to determine Martin’s mental state; but, he said, his client never intended to harm anyone by collecting things. Now, the attorney said, Martin does not have money to cart the stuff away.

“The man eats out of trash cans behind supermarkets to find food. For whatever reason, that’s how he exists,” Warner said.


Authorities, however, say Martin dresses like a pauper, but really is a millionaire. Rocke and Fire Department officials allege that Martin owns property worth at least $1 million.

If Martin were to be convicted on the misdemeanor charges and to spend time in jail, Warner said, the properties would remain in the condition they are now.

“It’s a void in the law. We don’t know what to do,” he said.

Irate residents on Hatteras Street triggered the latest round of visits from inspectors.


Neighbors say they are repulsed by Martin’s recent practice of scattering on his lawn scraps of pizzas and hamburgers he finds in dumpsters. The food has attracted the neighborhood’s dogs, cats, insects and rats, neighbors said.

“I feel miserable here,” lamented Mario Pineda, Martin’s next-door neighbor, who was turned down when he offered to clean up the property. “There are flies, roaches. . . . There is a bad odor.”

William Kirschman, a Los Angeles County sanitarian, said he found no evidence of rat droppings during a recent visit, but he issued Martin a notice to eliminate the potential for rat breeding.

There is a loophole, though. Martin has only to elevate his possessions 18 inches off the ground, high enough so that rats will not nest there. He does not have to get rid of anything.


‘It’s a Big Eyesore’

“It’s a big eyesore, but we can’t write him up for an eyesore,” said Kirschman. Fire officials said they are planning a visit to check for possible hazards.

But Warner suggested that the problem should eventually solve itself because many of Martin’s properties are in foreclosure for tax liens.

Meanwhile, Rocke said, he understands the frustrations of residents of Hatteras Street and those in other neighborhoods, including a block on Hesby Street in North Hollywood. Residents there have contended that Martin’s abandoned building is a magnet for transients and drug peddlers.


“I’ve handled this case for the past two years,” Rocke said. “I really sympathize with all the victims.”