Los Angeles, December 27, 2009 - Today, Inner City Law Center and Latham & Watkins announced settlement of a lawsuit against landlord Monica Hujazi for $3.3 million. The lawsuit, filed in November 2007, on behalf of 56 tenants, including 25 children, sprang from Hujazi's failure to maintain habitable apartments. Hujazi was cited for over 2,700 code violations. A seasoned Los Angeles Housing Department inspector described the building as one of the "worst buildings I've ever seen."
Hujazi has been often cited for a failure to maintain habitability in her four Los Angeles apartment buildings. Tenants of the 68 unit "Waldorf Apartments" located in the Pico-Union neighborhood west of Downtown, suffered from:
· Dilapidated plumbing that caused a ceiling to collapse onto a tenant;
· Cockroach infestations so overwhelming that roaches lodged themselves in the ears of sleeping tenants, and mothers had to stand watch over their sleeping babies;
· An elevator that was out of service for three years, requiring mothers of small children to lug their babies' strollers up as many as four flights;
· Sewage pipes that leaked into an apartment, soaking the tenant's living room rug with raw sewage;
· Such severe bedbug infestations that a doctor recommended that one 12 year-old move out of the building for three months to recover from the hundreds of bedbug bites he had suffered.
"It is criminal that anyone is permitted to profit from such misery" said Adam Murray, Executive Director of Inner City Law Center. "Victories like this one are so important because the conditions will not improve until slumlords are held accountable for their behavior."
Betsy Handler, Inner City Law Center's Director of Legal Services, noted, "Although Hujazi has been successfully criminally prosecuted by the City Attorney on three occasions, judges are reluctant to sentence slumlords to jail, as they are not perceived to be criminals, although, in fact, they are." Despite three criminal convictions (two of which Hujazi is appealing) on 85 misdemeanor habitability counts in this and two other buildings, she has yet to spend one night in jail.
Civil lawsuits such as this provide important relief for tenants, and for many tenants, are a life-changing event. Parents will have money to adequately provide for their children, and to give them a college education or other training. The children's money will be held for them until they are at least 18 years old.
Several tenants are determined to stay in the building while it is transformed and made habitable. And there is hope for transformation. In April 2009, Inner City Law Center and Latham & Watkins successfully obtained a Court-appointed receiver to manage the building and oversee repairs to bring it up to code.
Dan Woods, Inner City Law Center Board President and partner at White & Case, discussed the difficulty of bringing cases against property owners like Hujazi, "The slumlord's strategy is clear - intimidate tenants and exhaust the resources of the tenants' lawyers. But when the tenants have great attorneys like those at Inner City Law Center co-counseling with pro bono attorneys from Latham & Watkins, as well as Board members Timothy Dillon advising on insurance coverage matters, and Michael Cobo of Decision Quest acting as trial consultant, great results like this become possible."
About Inner City Law Center: Inner City Law Center has been serving the poorest and most vulnerable individuals and families in Los Angeles County since 1980. Founded on the basic principle that every human being should be treated with dignity and respect at all times, ICLC provides legal representation and social service advocacy to over 2,000 homeless and working poor clients each year. As the only full-time provider of legal services headquartered on Skid Row, ICLC is widely recognized for its expertise in housing issues, as well as government and veterans benefits. In 2006, ICLC achieved a $6,900,000 settlement for slum conditions at another Los Angeles building owned by Hujazi. For more information about Inner City Law Center, please visit www.innercitylaw.org.