Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, October 1, 2002


Page 4


Governor Signs Bill Making Landlords Liable for Crimes


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Gov. Gray Davis has signed a bill that bolsters the power of prosecutors and courts to clean up neighborhoods by holding landlords responsible when they permit their property to be used for drug trafficking, gang activity, illegal gambling or prostitution.

Assembly Bill 1868, the Neighborhood Protection Act of 2002, was backed by Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and sponsored in the Legislature by Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood.

“We’re in a battle for our neighborhoods,” Delgadillo said. “We’re going to need all the tools we can use to fight this battle,” he said, including the bill Davis signed Sunday night.

A property documented as a haven for drug dealers, gangs, prostitution, and gambling is considered a nuisance under the new law, which amends the narcotics abatement law in the Health and Safety and the red light abatement law in the Penal Code.

Under current law, Koretz explained, a nuisance abatement order expires when the property was sold. Under the new law, which is effective Jan. 1, landlords can no longer escape responsibility for the conditions of their property by selling, or “flipping,” the property after an injunction requiring the property owner to address the problem has been issued. 

Now the injunction will run with the land, making the new owner legally responsible for correcting the nuisance.  “You can have bust after bust after bust by the LAPD, but the problem is how to get the property owner to take responsibility for that,” Koretz said.

The law also makes a new remedy available to the courts in cases where landowners have failed to address the use of their property for drug trafficking.  It will allow judges to order the defendant-landlord to reside in the property until the nuisance is abated.

Koretz said that this tactic has proven to be very successful in other areas because if a building poses a danger to its inhabitants “they [landlords] don’t want to risk their own safety.” 

Such orders are “an absolute last resort and...not something we expect to see very often,” the lawmaker said, calling the new remedy “just another tool in the arsenal.” Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Asha Greenberg agreed that this remedy will be applied only in the “really egregious types of situations.”

Although the City Attorney’s Office deals with a great number of nuisance-ridden properties each year, fewer than 20 cases are brought a year because most nuisances are voluntarily abated, Greenberg said.

Koretz said that he was not surprised the bill was signed by the governor given the unusual coalition supporting the measure.  The bill received bipartisan support, and was backed by both leading tenant and landlord associations.

Los Angeles attorney Harold Greenberg, president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, said the act allows prosecutors and courts to punish innocent purchasers of property. This will create a disincentive for private investment in poor neighborhoods where rent control prohibits the land owner from increasing rent to finance the expense of making the improvements. 

He also criticized the fact that the new law holds landlords responsible for the wrongdoing of their tenants. Asha Greenberg, however, called that a “vast oversimplification of the problem, while Koretz noted that the bill affects those landlords who in fact intentionally perpetuate the nuisance by attempting to evade court orders by selling the property to friends or family members.


Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company