Chapter Five: Serial Killers
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised when the phone rang and Chief Inspector Frank Bush of Building and Safety was on the line telling me he had bad news. The house that became a tenement was sold again.
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“No,” he said, “It was sold last month to something called Fidelity Investments LLC. A gift deed. We’re starting all over again.”
For the third time in six months, the house at 19953 Haynes St. in my tract of modest bungalows was flipped again. Nady Mahdavi to Claudia Perez to Fidelity Investments, what was the connection? Why did the stated value jump from $500,000 to $700,000 in the Mahdavi-Perez sale? Why was the Perez-Fidelity sale a gift deed? Who was going to do something about this?
It turns out my champion was the same person who last week denied anything was wrong, none other than my old pal Councilman Dennis Ziine.
Zine had gotten off his high horse and demanded action. He wanted Building and Safety to find out how a single-family house had become two three-bedroom apartments and a studio apartment with three kitchens and four bathrooms.
And he wanted the department and the City Attorney to come up with “recommendations to strengthen the City’s enforcement
power of citations and liens on properties that are in violation of
applicable codes, including specific proposals to prevent the transfer
of title of a property before any such violations are fully corrected.“
Suddenly, there was action. “We issued a substandard order today,” Bush said, which he explained means it’s been cited as an illegal conversion. It’s no longer just about construction without a permit. This is serious and will be dealt with, he assured me.
But it will take time.The former owners were off the hook, the hearing was canceled, the process that had already dragged on for four months while two tenants moved in and people who lived in the neighborhood for 50 years were talking about moving out would have to start again with a notice and a hearing.
By the time Bush called I had learned the residents of Tract 17111 were not alone. Illegal conversions were going on all over the city and little or nothing was being done about it.
How dumb could I be asking questions about who’s killing my neighborhood when there’s killers of neighborhoods operating all over L.A., serial killers.
I was disturbed by what Bush told me: The City Attorney’s Office won’t
take action against anyone who no longer owns the property. It didn’t
So I emailed City Attorney.Rocky Delgadillo’s
chief flack about it and two days later his deputy answered back,
saying he had “forwarded all of your narratives on the suspected
conversion…to our chief deputy who has in turn forwarded them on to
Enforcement Unit within our Criminal and Special Litigation Branch for
I guess that’s why they call it a bureaucracy. The
gears turn slowly but at least they were turning now. I felt like we
were getting somewhere. I’m used to working in a world where the
deadline for action is now. Get the facts, tell the story, let the
world know. That’s how you get action.
And that was the case here, when the world knows what’s going on, you get action. Zine’s office sent me a timeline
they had constructed and a message from the councilman, saying he
sympathized with the neighborhood that this “has been a nuisance and is in
violation of the law.”
His office and Building and Safety were
“diligent” in dealing with this problem within the law that protects
property owners, he said.
“Since this case has been brought to my attention, I
realize that these circumstances point out that there is a loophole in current
Building and Safety regulations. The property has changed ownership multiple
times, alerting me to the fact that property owners can evade citations and
So he’s drafted a motion for the council to take steps “to
preserve and enhance the safety, appearance, and economic stability of
our neighborhoods” by closing the loopholes, specifically by preventing
the transfer of property unless all code violations are corrected.
a step in the right direction. But motions are a dime a dozen and
regulations don’t mean anything unless they are enforced with prompt
action and tough penalties. And I’m still no closer to solving the
mystery of who’s killing my neighborhood.