The city has once again revoked the use permit of a property owner it claims is operating an illegal boarding house in the Santa Fe area.
City officials have promised to give the estimated eight families living in the triplex at 219 S. Melrose St. help in finding new housing. Owners Mangal and Opelia Verma in effect may only rent one unit of the triplex.
The city has made a number of claims against the Vermas. A recent inspection turned up the following violations, according to city officials:
* An illegal commercial sewing factory set up in an area partitioned off from one of the units.
* Individual rooms had been rented, a violation of conditions the Vermas agreed to under the conditional-use permit.
* The grounds have been neglected, although the Vermas had agreed to hire a licensed landscaper to maintain them.
City inspectors also found trash, debris and discarded furniture and other household items in the front and side yards.
Because the property is in an area zoned for no more than two dwelling units per lot, the Vermas needed a conditional-use permit to add a third dwelling unit when they bought the property in 1987. According to planner John Fraser, the permit required that the Vermas rent each unit to no more than one family.
City inspectors said they discovered that at least eight families were living in the triplex, along with several unrelated individuals. Most of the families were living in one room each, and tenants said Mangal Verma collected rent from them individually for the rooms.
City officials say they have worked with Mangal Verma for seven years in an unsuccessful attempt to bring the property into compliance.
Mangal Verma said the city is discriminating against both his low-income Latino tenants and him because he is from India.
“Why are they picking on me?” Verma said. “My property is certainly not the worst one on the block.”
Verma defends his practice of renting individual rooms as a benefit to low-income tenants who can’t afford the rent on an entire apartment. He also said he had no control over how the tenants maintained the property.
“I don’t know what to do” about the discarded furniture, Verma said. “These people, they don’t care about that; they are just poor people looking for food and shelter. That’s just how they live.”
Delia Arellano, who lives with her husband and 2-year-old daughter in one room in the triplex, said Verma allows them to pay half the $200 monthly rent on the first of the month and collects the balance in the middle of the month.
“Not many landlords would do that,” Arellano said. “I don’t know where we’ll go or if we could pay any more.”
Arellano, 16, her husband, Hugo Ramos, 21, and their daughter, Marcie, share the upstairs four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with another family with two children and with a couple with no children. Each family pays between $200 and $300 a month for their room. A fourth bedroom is empty but has been rented in the past.
Neighbors say the property has been an eyesore and the scene of loud parties, fights and other problems.
“When our friends visit, they call (the triplex) the hotel,” said Carol Ramirez, whose house borders the property. “People are always coming and going all day and night. There’s always fighting, drinking and trash all over the place.”