Landlord In Trouble For Somehow Dividing 3 Apartments Into 44 Units

In an earlier lifetime, I briefly lived with 10 other people in a 6-bedroom apartment in Manhattan that had illegally been converted from a 3-bedroom. It was hellish and not long after I departed, the remaining roommates all sued each other. But that’s nothing compared to the mess created by one L.A. landlord who is alleged to have carved up a 3-apartment triplex into 44 separate units.

Back in December, authorities caught wind of the human hive, where the glorified closets — some without heat — rented for up to $500/month. The tenants were all forced out on the street just before Christmas. Yesterday, the city finally got around to filing criminal charges against the landlord.

The landlord is accused of not just hacking up the building into too-tiny, too-numerous rooms, but also for putting his tenants’ lives at risk with the improper electrical wiring, lack of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers… things that may come in handy when you have that many people living in such close quarters.

Many former tenants have already filed their own lawsuit against the landlord. Among their allegations are claims they were forced to clean the common areas of the building or face fines.

The city could have actually done something about this more than year ago, when it first began hearing complaints about the building from neighbors.

From the L.A. Times:

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.

Lest you think this was a one-off for the landlord, he’s also been accused of converting a single-family home into 14 rental units.

Prosecutors allege landlord put tenants’ lives at risk [L.A. Times]

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  1. BMR777 says:

    Welcome to the Robot Arms Apartments!

    http://theinfosphere.org/Robot_Arms_Apartments

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    “But that’s nothing compared to the mess created by one L.A. landlord who is alleged to have carved up a 3-apartment triplex into 44 separate units”

    New York slumlords have vowed a holy pilgrimmage to the land called LA.

  3. Costner says:

    I can’t even fathom how this is possible. I’ve seen some shady apartments in my day where a house was divided into three or four apartments… but 44 units where 3 existed previously is insane! What was the average square footage… 37? I imagine they all had to share bathrooms etc so each bedroom, living area, dining area etc must have been split into three or four rooms.

    Why would anyone even rent something like that? I’ve heard of housing shortages but that is nuts.

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      Even mechanically, how would that work? There would have to be some kind of thoroughfare, right? I mean, he wouldn’t just set it up so you had to walk through like, eight other people’s apartments just to get to your own, right?

      …right?

      …guise?

      • Such an Interesting Monster says:

        I’ve actually seen places carved up like this and what they do is basically devise a narrow walking path thru the apartment, and then the rest of the space is walled off and subdivided. And many times there is no common area as that space is also used for “apartments”, which is a nice way of saying a room just large enough to hold a twin bed.

        As I sit in my fairly small 1 bedroom apartment I can completely visualize how it could be subdivided up into 6 small rooms with a common kitchen and bath.

      • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:
    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      The article said they shared kitchens and bathrooms, and they had to clean the common areas, or they were fined if it wasn’t done. What the article didn’t say was who rented these rooms.

    • RedOryx says:

      “I’ve seen some shady apartments in my day where a house was divided into three or four apartments”

      How is that shady? That’s fairly standard for where I live and they are decent sized apartments.

      • JulesNoctambule says:

        An 800 sq ft house has no business being more than three apartments, as far as I’m concerned.

      • Costner says:

        Well perhaps the practice itself isn’t shady, but in some cases depending upon the size of the house… it can be downright illegal.

        Case in point – when in college I lived in a house where one of the “bedrooms” of a house which was split into apartments had a ceiling which was maybe two or three inches over 6′, so you had to duct under the pipes and light bulb, and the only electricity was directly from the fuse panel via extension cords. No way that was legal – it didn’t even have an egress window.

        In another house I saw, a bedroom was in a utility room with the furnace and water heater. It had a door, but the only window was a non-egress type.

        I’ve seen several small houses that were chopped up into apartments that probably would not pass local codes and never met requirements for parking – but in some cases an older Victorian home can be converted into three or four units with no problems since they were massive to begin with. Just depends on whether the owner is a landlord or slumlord.

        • shepd says:

          Did you live there because it was affordable, because it was the only residence left, or because you were forced to (ie: Terrible things would happen to you if you didn’t)?

          If it was the first one, be glad it existed. If was the second one, at least you had somewhere to stay.

          If it were the last, your beef isn’t with the place, but with whoever put the gun to your head.

          • who? says:

            So, you’re saying that poor people should be grateful for slumlords and unsafe slum apartments, right? Building codes have developed over the years because the conditions that they prevent are the kinds of things people die from, like fires and building collapse.

            Personally, I believe that everyone should be able to live in safe housing, even if they’re poor.

            • shepd says:

              I am, yes. Since what you want is impossible (even in Communist countries, it didn’t work), I want the next best thing: I want the extremely poor to have a chance at living somewhere, instead of on the street.

              I was extremely poor and lived in a mouse infested, bug infested, water only sometimes working, police visiting a few times a week hellhole and frankly, I was glad of it. The other choice was much less palatable. The opportunity of some shelter let me move on with my life. I now own a house.

          • conquestofbread says:

            Um, there are laws that landlords have to abide by for minimum livable conditions.

            The whole “Well, it’s better than sleeping outdoors, so you better be grateful” attitude is uncalled for.

          • Costner says:

            I lived there because it was cheap and I was a broke college student who didn’t know any better. Looking back I realize what a death trap that place actually was and I’m just amazed it didn’t burn down or fall down.

            It is one of those things that a young person was simply ignorant of… which is sort of why codes exist in the first place – to protect those who simply aren’t aware of the safety issues of a structure.

        • RedOryx says:

          Ah, okay. Yeah, these are Victorian homes or similar sized.

    • Talmonis says:

      It’s just a new setup to abuse the working class. Rent a cubby hole at a rate that even the minimum wage new normals can afford.

    • LEDZEPPELIN24 says:

      WHO would rent that place??? $500 for a CLOSET?! :(

  4. Extended-Warranty says:

    Am I reading this wrong? It seems to me as if this is a story about not meeting building code, not “illegally splitting the rooms into 44 units”.

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      building code probably dictates how many rooms can be placed in what amount of space. Also once a house is X bedroom Y bath, you can not make it 5X bedrooms without at least getting permits I’m sure.

  5. HalOfBorg says:

    What we need is more “Open Spaces” rules for building codes, more restrictions on what can be built, and more rules controlling what MUST be built IF you build.

    THEN we won’t have these problems anymore, because…… wait, then people could build REAL apartment buildings for a price that works instead of doing this crap. (except for the scumbags who would do it anyway)

    • Chmeeee says:

      Your statement that we need more building codes carries the implication that this guy was following any kind of building code in the first place, which he most definitely wasn’t. There are plenty of open space rules in building and zoning codes, and a lot of times they have unintended negative consequences. The “public open space” in my neighborhood is a wooded area hemmed in on all sides by back yards, meaning there is no public access to the public space.

      What they really need is clearly better code enforcement.

  6. Buckus says:

    How the…I don’t even…

    How do you subdivide 3 apartments into 44? Were they really huge to begin with? Even making them, say, 100 sq feet each, you’re talking 4400 square feet!

    • Extended-Warranty says:

      I can believe it. Demand for manhattan is very different than what it was when the units were built. You would be suprised at the number of people DYING to get any room in manhattan.

    • CalicoGal says:

      Say each of the 3 original apartments was 800 sq ft. Divide that into 44 and you get 54sq ft, or the size of a room, I guess.

      • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

        If you can stack two of them vertically, each unit could be 108 square feet.

      • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

        Maybe a “room” = bed

      • who? says:

        The typical prison cell is 48 sqft. (6×8 feet)

        For comparison, a small bedroom in a house is 9×11 or 10×12, or 100-120 sqft. A bedroom big enough for your queen size bed is closer to 12×15.

    • LEDZEPPELIN24 says:

      And are they three Joint Apartments, or are there different doors and walls disconnecting the apartments? Do you have to walk over Tim the Killer sleeping just to get to your closet? And is there a schedule in who showers? Is the bathroom an apartment? Questions…

  7. IndyJaws says:

    Donald Sterling has to be behind this somehow…

  8. Jawaka says:

    This guy certainly seems to have broken laws but why would people agree to move into these apartments in the first place? The easy lawsuit after the fact?

    • Talmonis says:

      Poverty. That’s the only explaination.

    • The Porkchop Express says:

      poverty, illegal immagrants, nowehre else that cheap. My friend rented out one side of his duplex to one guy (illegal immagrant), just one name on the lease. He started to see different guys all the time, never together only one at a time. never heard them, never saw more than one dude also never missed a payment and didn’t have to clean the place out when they left.

      • tinmanx says:

        This happened to a friend of mine. He rented an apartment to a couple of guys, and as time went on he noticed different people going up to the apartment. He asked them what’s going on with all these people and turns out they subleased it to a few other guys who worked out of state, so when they come back for a few days each month they have a place to sleep.

        Since they don’t complain (he keeps the heat low) and don’t make any noise, he just told them not to mess up the place and let it be. My friend doesn’t even know how many people technically lives in that apartment.

    • tinmanx says:

      New or illegal immigrants. I visited a few apartments like this (well, maybe not this bad) when I tagged along with a new immigrant family member, it’s pretty common, and apparently very easy to rent out.

    • who? says:

      His tenants would mostly be African refugees and/or illegal immigrants.

  9. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    “human hive” ;^)

    Hopefully this guy will be living in a human hive with two others in a 5′ x 9′ cell. Karma’s a bitch!

  10. Chmeeee says:

    Good Lord, they rented out for up to $500/month? Say they averaged $400, that would mean he was making $17,000+ a month. Apparently it pays to be a slum lord.

  11. shepd says:

    I have to assume $500 a month is cheap as cheap can be in LA. If so, sounds like the law just put 44 tenants on the streets. Smooth move…

  12. PragmaticGuy says:

    This is what in New York are called SRO (single room occupancy) apartments. Otherwise known as rooming houses. And though they were an important part of the city’s housing 70 or so years ago they’re not so much now but….it takes about five years to get the permits to change them over to two or three family buildings because the city doesn’t want to lose any of them as they’re still considered important.
    Hell, years ago on the Bowery you could rent a bed for a night at a Lyons house for 25 cents. Aaah, the good old days.

  13. Warren - the Original Chocolate Cake with Eyes! says:

    Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really THINK SO!

  14. Foot_Note says:

    ah slumlords..

  15. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    My question is why would you sign a lease for $500/monthly for a CLOSET? You’d have to do it sight unseen, and that’s just insanity.

  16. Sophie2000 says:

    I live in a two bedroom apt, converted into a four bedroom. One of the rooms is a sunroom, and the other is a large walk-in closet (that has it’s own exit).

    In my city, this is the only way to afford an apartment in a good neighborhood and near public transportation (thus, eliminating the cost of a car).

  17. kwheless says:

    Get everything in writing. Keep it forever. Identity theft is like a zombie – it keeps popping up when you least expect it. I had a dozen credit card accounts opened fraudulently. I filed all the paperwork, police reports, etc., and eventually they were deleted from my credit history. Everything seemed to be settled. But then a couple of years later, they popped back up again! Thankfully I had the letters from the credit card companies confirming that the accounts were fraudulent, and I was able to get them deleted fairly easily. This happened three more times before they finally died for good. (It’s been more than 10 years but still, I wouldn’t be shocked if they came back from the dead once again.) Get it in writing. The phone and email are convenient but it doesn’t count unless it’s in writing.

  18. yankinwaoz says:

    There is (or was) a guy in my home town of Santa Barbara that did something similar to his house. He must have had 12 tenants in the main house. He himself lived in half the attic space in the detached garage. He rented out the other half of the garage’s attic. That space alone was about 3 feet tall. He had a porta-potty in the back yard for himself and his garage tenants. I think there some people living in tents in the back yard too.

    The reason I knew about this place, is because a friend of my wife’s rented a space in there. For $400 a month he got a crawl space In the main house under the stairs. It was about 3 feet by 8 feet, and a sheet hung up along the stairs to give him privacy. He had enough space to roll out his sleep bag and put a box with his belonging. When I saw the first Harry Potter Movie, the space where Harry lived at his uncle’s house reminded me of it.

    The living room was divided up. The bedrooms were all divided up at least 3 ways. There was one indoor bathroom.

    There were other houses in the neighborhood with similar insanity. My grandma lived near there and there was one house down the street that we think had 40 people living it. All Mexican, and we were sure most were illegals. And we suspected they were hot bunking. They were all young males working gardening jobs. Once day I saw inside the front door at it was all bunk beds. They were probably paying $300 a month for 12 hours of a bunk bed. Their cars were all over the nearby streets in various states of repair.

    • Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

      I have family that lived like that; 19 people in a tiny house. Multiple bunk beds in each room. After a while, they moved into a multimillion dollar mansion. Now, each have large beautiful homes of their own. They saved all their money for their down payments.

      We lived with family in a 3b 2+bath 1400 sq ft condo for a few years. There was the 33′ motorhome, too. It went from three brothers and added in our parents, wives, kids as our families grew. Now we each have nice homes. It may be the only way to get into a home of your own for a lot of Californians.

  19. evilpete says:

    Not as bad as the Hayward urban landlord that had well water for his apartments AND regularly dumped gallons of bleach into the well to hid it of mold

    Or the Oakland / SF landlord that was *so* bad they were banned from renting in city limits

  20. Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

    Jesus. If the “apartments” were $500 apiece, what the hell was the incentive to rent? I could see people dealing with living in a closet if they really couldn’t afford a regular place, but only if it meant the rent was only $200 or something. For this kind of money you could find a roommate on Craigslist. I don’t even pay that much and it’s a really nice house.

    • shepd says:

      You rent a house for $500 a month in a large Californian city? Really? What’s the secret?

      • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

        Being a roommate in the house like I . . . mentioned?

  21. WilliamWykeham says:

    And now a whole bunch of people have gone from a very bad cheap situation to a much worse free one.

  22. FurryStapler says:

    Found a pic of the house, it’s actually pretty big. But still….. Damn.
    http://realestate.aol.com/blog/2012/06/27/l-a-landlord-charged-with-turning-a-triplex-into-44-rental-unit/

  23. buzz86us says:

    well there is always people who only really sleep in their apartments like medical interns, if you really need a living room you could always just use a public building or a book store.