Prosecutors allege landlord put tenants’ lives at risk
Los Angeles city prosecutors filed criminal charges Monday against a landlord who allegedly converted a South Los Angeles triplex into a warren of illegal housing units — triggering safety concerns and the issuance of emergency eviction notices to dozens of tenants just before Christmas.
In a 53-count misdemeanor complaint, prosecutors said John Callaghan put tenants’ lives at risk with faulty electrical wiring, a lack of smoke detectors and poorly maintained fire extinguishers inside his building, a hive of 44 rented rooms and narrow corridors roughly a mile from L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
Callaghan illegally installed shared kitchens and bathrooms in the 49th Street property, prosecutors alleged. They also charged Callaghan, 58, with illegal work at a single-family Highland Park home that they say now has 14 separate rental units.
A man who answered Callaghan’s cellphone Monday said he had no comment. If found guilty on all counts, the landlord could face up to $53,000 in fines and six months in jail for each violation, Deputy City Atty. Don Cocek said.
The Times reported in December that Callaghan had crammed dozens of rental units into a building permitted for three apartments, with tenants paying up to $500 per month to occupy single rooms, some lacking heating.
Monday’s legal filing was welcomed by attorneys with the Inner City Law Center, an advocacy group that focused on the plight of the building’s tenants last year. Most investigations of unpermitted housing units in Los Angeles typically turn up one or two improper units — not the dozens identified in this case, the group said.
“I’ve never seen anything on that scale,” senior counsel Amos Hartston said of the 49th Street property.
Councilwoman Jan Perry, a candidate for mayor who represents the area, said the owner “violated our laws and should be made to answer for his actions.”
Hartston’s group filed its own lawsuit earlier this year, accusing Callaghan of showing a “wanton disregard” of his tenants’ safety and demanding $1.5 million plus punitive damages. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 35 former tenants, alleges that Callaghan illegally demanded renters clean the building’s common areas, such as shared kitchens and bathrooms, and fined those who failed to do so.
In Highland Park, Callaghan illegally converted a garage into one or more unpermitted rental units and installed new plumbing and heating systems without permits, according to the complaint filed by City Atty. Carmen Trutanich’s office. Prosecutors said that property, located on Granada Street, also had trash and debris stored in the yard illegally.
Trutanich spokesman Frank Mateljan said city officials have not issued orders to vacate the Granada Street property.
The vast majority of misdemeanor charges in Monday’s filing focused on the 49th Street property, which was the subject of complaints starting in April 2011. A city Building and Safety inspector went to the three-story, burnt-orange structure and concluded that it had valid permits for three apartments, but they never went inside, according to an agency spokesman.
Last year, activists also complained that Building and Safety officials issued an occupancy permit to Callaghan after inspectors from the city’s housing department had opened an investigation into the property.
In January, the City Council voted to pay $317,000 to relocate families living at the 49th Street property. Rushmore Cervantes, an official with the city’s housing department, said officials have filed a lien against Callaghan’s property to try to recover the funds.
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