As Los Angeles County prosecutors review allegations that Sunder Ramani is feigning Burbank residency to run in the 43rd Assembly District, his neighbors at the West Alameda Avenue building say they've rarely seen the Republican candidate, if at all.
Ramani's residence became a campaign issue earlier this month when the Los Angeles County district attorney's office opened an inquiry into whether he primarily lives in the district he hopes to represent.
Ramani's campaign filings with the state indicate he lives in Burbank, where he is also registered to vote. Yet he owns a home in La Cañada Flintridge, which is not part of the 43rd District, and has used that address as recently as April in making political contributions to others.
Bhupesh Parikh, with property management firm Pari Enterprises, said Ramani began to rent the Alameda Avenue apartment before the April special election primary in which Ramani won the Republican nomination.
But this week a resident of the apartment next to Ramani's looked at a picture of the candidate on a campaign mailer and shook his head.
"I never saw him," said Nog Batak, who has lived in the building for a year and a half. Of Ramani's apartment, he added, "I don't know who lives there."
Jocelyn Gumbs, who lives next to Batak and two doors from Ramani, said, "I've seen him here. But I don't know if he actually lives here."
A manager of the building, who asked not to be named for fear of being removed from the job, said Ramani comes to the building on occasion.
"I don't know that he lives here physically," the manager said, adding that residents on the third floor "stay to themselves. Some I don't see for months on end."
Residents contacted at the building at 249 W. Alameda Ave. said they had not been contacted by investigators.
Ramani did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. But he has said previously that he spends at least half his time at the Burbank apartment, even as his wife continues to live in their La Cañada home. He has also said that if elected in November, he would find a permanent home in Burbank.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said that the recent political donations from the La Cañada address were made automatically, and that he needs to submit updated information on his contribution forms.
Ramani also has said the residency probe is a red herring designed to distract voters from more important issues, such as rebuilding the state's economy. Ramani is running against Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake).
On Aug. 27, Carl Hunter, a Silver Lake resident and Gatto supporter, wrote a letter to the county district attorney's office asking for a probe into Ramani's Burbank residency.
In an interview, Hunter acknowledged he has made modest financial contributions to Gatto's campaign, but said he has had no contact with the Gatto camp regarding the probe.
His complaint against Ramani was precipitated by rumors he heard and subsequent research.
"I called a Realtor friend of mine who could look it up in the [Multiple Listings Service]," a database showing who owns a home, for how long and whether it is listed for sale, Hunter said.
"He won't really represent us if he doesn't live here and have an invested interest in us," Hunter said.
Deputy District Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder of the Public Integrity Division declined to discuss details of the probe, saying only that residency inquiries focus on the candidate's intent and whether his stated address meets the legal definition of "domicile."
The state Elections Code defines domicile as "that place in which his or her habitation is fixed, wherein the person has the intention of remaining, and to which, whenever he or she is absent, the person has the intention of returning."
Other sections of the code say that an elected official's domicile is where he is registered to vote, but that "a person does not gain a domicile in any precinct into which he or she comes for temporary purposes."
Snyder said residency issues are important for the integrity of the political system.
"Governance is absolutely dependent on the accuracy and truth of people's comments when they file for candidacy," she said.