“Mittelman said he would waive his attorney’s fees if Nijjar lived one month in the apartments.”
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
FONTANA – Nicole Carr plugs her ears with toilet paper to keep the roaches out while she sleeps in her one-bedroom apartment downtown.
Sometimes she hears rats scratching in the walls behind the kitchen sink. There have been plenty of black widows, she says.
Then there’s the alleged mold the 37-year-old Bible College student believes has given her bronchitis. She’s been to the hospital for an upper respiratory infection.
On Wednesday, Carr sat in the living room under patched holes in the wall where the roaches breed.
She uttered three words that described her seven years in the Olive Grove Apartments at 16975 San Bernardino Avenue.”It’s been hell,” she said.
So much so that Carr and other tenants are represented by two attorneys who believe the apartment’s management company has retaliated against those who launch complaints.
April R. Blackman, a Tustin-based attorney, and John Mittelman, a lawyer out of Temecula, plan to file lawsuits on behalf of tenants who claim that El Monte-based Pama Management is targeting those who complain about the conditions by filing eviction notices the day after a tenant is late on rent.
Pama Management runs apartment complexes throughout San Bernardino County for various owners.
Authorities in San Bernardino shut down a Pama Management-run complex there in 2004, after they found 72 fire code violations and 88 general building code violations.
Two weeks prior to that, a Pama Management complex on Arrowhead Avenue in San Bernardino was cited for 208 code violations.
Pama Management is a subsidiary of Nijjar Realty Inc., which is owned by Swaranjit “Mike” Nijjar.
“I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve to make money … but not like this,” Mittelman said. “I just really feel it’s horrific.”
Mittelman said one tenant received a notice even though for four years he paid rent in two installments plus a late fee after making the arrangement with a previous manager.
The lawyers believe the notice came because the tenant was spotted in court supporting Carr in her case with Pama Management.
Carr and the company have battled for months over eviction notices and repairs.
Mittelman said Carr hasn’t paid rent since November because the company has refused to make all the repairs needed in the apartment.
One of Mittelman’s goals is to get the company to pay for the tenants’ expenses to move out.
Mittelman said he would waive his attorney’s fees if Nijjar lived one month in the apartments.
Nijjar declined to comment Wednesday and deferred to Everet Miller, the company’s chief financial officer.
Miller denied that the company is targeting anybody because they have complained about conditions in the complex.
“Nobody gets to live for free,” he said.
A code enforcement officer from the Fontana Police Department visited Carr’s apartment on March 3 and found several housing code violations.
The officer notified Nijjar’s company that it needed to repair or replace the heater, patch all holes in the exterior and interior walls “to prevent roach infestation,” and disconnect electrical plugs that had been covered by carpet.
Attorneys said that’s part of the problem in apartment complexes such as Olive Grove – landlords only fix problems when lawyers get involved.
“They don’t care about these people that live here,” Blackman said. “And these people are poor and they take advantage of them.”
Blackman and Mittelman said a work crew happened to show up last week when they met with attorneys for the company.
The crew plugged sewage leaks and planted flowers, patched holes and painted walls.
Miller said maintenance is “an ongoing issue” for the apartments, but many of the problems are caused by tenants.
“If the people’s lifestyle is clean and they take care of themselves, then they’re fine,” Miller said. “We’re not the cleaning lady police.”
He said he’s not aware of a mold problem, but perhaps mildew is an issue for some tenants, again, because of their lifestyles.
Part of the problem in Carr’s unit is that she keeps pets, which is prohibited in the complex, Miller said.
The animals attract pests and create sanitation problems, he said.
Carr said cats were brought in to eat the pests.
Miller rated the condition of the complex as “average to good.”
“If the conditions are so bad, would you stay?” he said.
Ted Porlas, code compliance manager for the Police Department, said the city inspects rental units only on the complaints of citizens.
Most tenants don’t complain out of fear of getting kicked out, he said. Those that do usually have a gripe against the landlord, Porlas said.
“A lot of times it’s disgruntled folks who are being evicted.”
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