FOX 11 Investigates: Tenant Trouble - Fox 2 News Headlines

FOX 11 Investigates: Tenant Trouble

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It was a devastating fire, springing up from a first floor entryway and quickly starting to consume a building at 78th and South San Pedro Street in a part of Los Angeles that isn't celebrated in Randy Newman songs. In the early morning hours of December 17th of last year, the two story stucco building was saved from complete destruction, and tenants’ lives were saved, by the quick work of the L.A. Fire Department. A subsequent investigation by the arson squad left little doubt as to the cause. One investigator wrote in a search warrant obtained by FOX 11 News ''I observed a red colored gasoline container on the ground... I smelled the strong odor of gasoline.. I observed burn patterns... consistent with the ignition of... an ignitable liquid.''

No arrests yet, but former tenants like Richie Salazar says justice needs to be done. ''The tenants were not just willing to pack up and leave. They ain’t got no money, so someone took it upon themselves to burn it down, that my opinion.'' He claims the fire was the last step in a long-running campaign of intimidation, which included his apartment door being screwed shut and threats to burn the place down. Why? Salazar believes it was to the old tenants out, so new tenants could be charged higher rents.

Under rent control, to evict people, you have to go through an expensive (thousands of dollars per person relocation fee) and time consuming process. So, if the building's suddenly empty because of a fire, well, that’s no longer a problem. It's an allegedly extreme example of something that's being done in many places, according to lawyer Elly Kugler, who until recently was with the Inner City Law Center and helped Salazar. ''You have some landlords who think this building is not making much money as I'd like so I'll take things into my own hands so I can make more.''

The building, now a boarded up eyesore, is the subject of competing lawsuits, the seller accusing the would-be buyer of arson, alleging it would make it more convenient when he takes it over. The would-be buyer saying through his lawyer, ''that's ridiculous”.

While the LAPD ruled the cause of the fire is arson, no one has been charged. The person (or persons) who set the fire is unknown.


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