Conditions in Skid Row Hotel Are Unlivable, Suit Says : Housing: City-financed Hayward Manor project is plagued by crime and vermin, plaintiffs charge.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In yet another blow to the Hayward Manor skid row hotel, the Inner City Law Center filed a lawsuit this week against the hotel owners and a security company, alleging that they failed to maintain a "safe and habitable condition" for tenants.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of five elderly or disabled tenants, charges that the beleaguered public assistance hotel--once touted as part of the city Housing Department's most ambitious affordable housing plan--is plagued by crime and infested with rodents.

The Hayward Manor is owned by a private partnership, but the city financed a deal, costing $25 million in city loans and Housing Authority revenue bonds, to purchase and rehabilitate the hotel in 1992.

Attorneys for the Inner City Law Center, a nonprofit legal service organization that represents clients living in substandard housing, said they hope the lawsuit will improve what they described as deplorable conditions at the hotel.

"I hope the city intervenes to make the place livable for the people I believe they were trying to help," said James Kilty, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

The Hayward Manor has experienced a series of problems since the city's rehabilitation of the project was approved. Police have described the hotel as "a fleabag tenement that is a hotbed of crime and drugs."

In addition, mismanagement and poor record-keeping by the owners prompted the city in August to ask for a court-appointed receiver to take over the property. City officials also found themselves scrambling to secure a December bondholder payment that the rating agency Standard & Poor's said was coming dangerously close to default.

The owners of the building, known as the Hayward Manor Limited Partnership, are listed in city documents as Catholic Charities Community Development Corp., Bell Diversified Development Inc., Golden APMB Inc. and Edward E. Lee III. The lawsuit also names Platt Security and Event Services Inc.

A representative from Catholic Charities declined to comment, saying he had not seen the lawsuit. Thomas Bell, president of Bell Diversified; Edward Kuo, president of Golden APMB Inc., and Mark Platt of the security firm did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In the lawsuit, residents complain of rodent and cockroach infestation in rooms and common areas and a lack of proper security for ailing and elderly tenants. One tenant, who is disabled, alleges that he was beaten and doused with pepper spray by Platt Security guards who were hired to patrol the hotel.

Ollie Banks, resident of the Hayward for nearly a year and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said living in the rambling structure caused him more stress than living on the street.

"You have to live and sleep like a cat in there," said Banks, 62. "You had to be watching the door all of the time. I moved out of there because I didn't want to get hurt."

The suit contains detailed accounts of the rodent problem in the Hayward. One plaintiff even videotaped rats the size of cats running around a garbage-strewn rooftop and balconies.

Banks says the roaches in his room were ever-present and, despite complaints to management, nothing was done to alleviate the problem.

"The roaches would get in bed with me," said Banks. "I had to throw them off my chair when I was eating."

Although the Hayward Manor employs one hotel security representative and two armed security guards from Platt Securities, Banks and the other plaintiffs also complained about the lack of security in the building. The lack of safety, they said, was particularly evident on the upper floors of the 15-story building.

The lawsuit also includes a complaint by former hotel resident Micheal Smith, who says he was assaulted by the security guards in an unprovoked attack. Smith, who is disabled and weighs nearly 400 pounds, says he was sprayed in the face, neck and hair with pepper spray, thrown against a wall, handcuffed and placed on the ground face-down until paramedics arrived.

Harry Crockett, who represents the court-appointed receiver, hired the security company to protect tenants from criminals living inside the building. He said he is happy with its services.

"We haven't had problems where we feel they have overstepped their bounds," Crockett said. "Every night we have something where someone has to be physically restrained. These guys have a tough job."

In the meantime, the city is negotiating with various potential purchasers to replace the owners of the property.

"We'd like to see the building maintained as a first-class housing development where the tenants feel safe," said Gary Squier, general manager of the Housing Department. "We do not believe the current owners were maintaining the property to our satisfaction."

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