A state Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the assessment of $64,000 in civil penalties against slumlord Michael Schaefer for failing to clean up three rat- and roach-infested apartment buildings but excused him from paying nearly $10,000 in investigative costs.
Although state law provides for recovery of investigative fees in such a consumer protection suit if a local consumer affairs agency requests the legal action, 2nd District Court of Appeal Justice Elwood Lui noted in the 22-page opinion that that law did not apply in the case brought against Schaefer by the Los Angeles city attorney's office.
"Even assuming . . . that the Fire Department, health department and Building and Safety Department qualify as 'local consumer agencies,' " wrote Lui, with the concurrence of Justices George Danielson and Armand Arabian, "there is no evidence that the action herein was brought at their request."
Therefore, the justices said, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert B. Lopez had no legal authority to award the costs.
Lopez had ordered Schaefer to pay $6,395.17 in investigative costs to the health department, $1,184.76 to the Department of Building and Safety and $2,380 to the Fire Department.
The costs were in addition to the $64,000 in civil penalties for 64 health and safety violations at three apartment buildings he formerly owned at 749 and 757 S. Berendo St. and 1601 S. Grand Ave.
A fire inspector once termed the Grand Avenue facility "the worst habitational building I have ever seen," and Judge Lopez commented in his ruling on the "seriously dilapidated conditions" of all three structures.
The city attorney's housing section had originally filed the civil action to force Schaefer to clean up the buildings. But after several temporary orders and contempt of court actions, judges permitted Schaefer to sell the buildings before Lopez's ruling two years ago.