A writ of possession (eviction notice) lay on top of the kitchen counter inside apartment 14 of a multi housing complex located at 2995 Mountain Avenue in San Bernardino. Left behind were empty bottles of liquor, several packages of top-ramen soups, and graffiti with the statement, “YB Nation” scrawled on the walls throughout.

Weeks ago on June 6, the apartment’s occupant Branden Ross was evicted, according to San Bernardino County court documents. He’s among several dozen residents who have been removed by property management company MR Investments in the past year and a half.

“We have about nine people at our complex on Citrus Street that are on eviction status,” said Maria Nambo, one of the company’s supervisors. “We tried to work with these people for months, but they insist on causing problems.”

Jesse Ceballos, 23, and Krystah Laguardia, 21, are among the nine facing removal from the Cedarwood Apartments on 1414 Citrus Street. They both believe they were misled and lied to by MR Investments, who promised to deal with their living concerns.

“We’re trying to live as comfortable as possible, but we can’t even do that here,” Laguardia exclaimed. “We’ve been promised air conditioning and we’ve been told our issues with mice, cockroaches, and water leaks would be resolved. Nothing has been done.”

Many complexes rife with crime, blight

According to San Bernardino Police spokesperson Lt. Rich Lawhead, there are a little over 1,000 multi-housing complexes in the city.

In order to better deal with both tenants and landlords, Lawhead said the Code Enforcement department, with the help of the Police department’s crime analysis division, have identified the top 100 buildings that provide them with the most crime and code enforcement problems.

The Cedarwood Apartments complex is on the list–along with a neighboring property at 2995 Mountain Avenue and other small complexes at 150 E. King Street, 2669 W. 5th Street, and the River Glen Apartments, located at 1277 E. Lynwood Drive.  

According to the city’s crime mapping data, approximately 120 criminal incidents took place 1000 feet or less from both the Cedarwood and River Glen Apartments from March 1 through August 20 of this year.

Data/San Bernardino Police: Calls within 1/2 mile from location (Graphic: Anthony Victoria)
Data/San Bernardino Police: Calls within 1/2 mile from location (Graphic: Anthony Victoria)

Data also demonstrates that 17 incidents took place within 500 feet of the duplex on 5th Street, and 34 incidents occured 1,000 feet from the complex on King Street in the same time frame. Incidents of assault, drug violations, theft, robbery, and vandalism were listed for all four complexes.

“There are a high number of problems coming out of those complexes,” said Lawhead.

He explained that Code Enforcement is inundated with cases dealing with sub-standard conditions. Issues confronted by code enforcement officers include vermin (mice, rats, cockroaches, bed bugs, termites), roof leaks, molded wood, and improper maintenance.

Lawhead is aware landlords uphold a “minimum standard” at their complexes–meaning they do the very minimum to meet Code Enforcement guidelines. He believes more can be done to encourage property owners to improve living environments for residents.

Photo/Anthony Victoria: A member of the Laguardia family holds up a bed bug they kept to show as evidence.
Photo/Anthony Victoria: A member of the Laguardia family holds up a bed bug they kept to show as evidence.

“The only thing I can hold them to is a guideline,” Lawhead said. “Not one entity could solve this issue. It becomes an effort with us all working together.”

A River Glen tenant, who went by the name of Tonie, said living conditions were fair. Nonetheless, she suggested to stay away from the area.

“This area is kind of ghetto if you ask me,” she said. “I would try the north end by Kendall or something. It’s much nicer, with less problems.”

What is crime-free housing?

About 900 of multi-housing complexes are designated as crime-free buildings. However, not all of them are certified explained Community Policing Specialist Matthew Gillespie.

“In order for a complex to be designated as a crime free zone, it must meet specific requirements to receive certification,” said Gillespie, who oversees the city’s Crime Free Multi-housing Program. “We give property owners tools to help them deter crime.”

Photo/Anthony Victoria: The pstatement, “YB Nation” scrawled on the walls throughout an apartment that was leased to a Branden Ross, according to court documents.
Photo/Anthony Victoria: The statement, “YB Nation” scrawled on the walls throughout an apartment that was leased to a Branden Ross, according to court documents.

The City Council adopted an ordinance in 2011 to prioritize the stability of neighborhoods and reduce crime and blight in rental properties. Under the citywide ordinance, managers and owners of properties of four or more units are mandated to undergo training to understand crime prevention and learn of safety issues.

Gillespie, with the help of law enforcement officers, attorneys, and San Bernardino County Fire officials, helps landlords learn of fire prevention, health and safety issues, tenant screening, and the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) standards.

CPTED standards mandate landlords to upkeep their property by following a lengthy checklist. Inspection items include ground and exterior walkways, lighting, swimming pools, spas, recreational facilities, building infrastructure, and signage.

After undergoing training, landlords are required to issue a Crime-Free Lease Addendum for all new tenants–informing them of criminal activities (drug, gang, and prostitution activity) will not be tolerated. Gillespie said any tenant who violates the addendum will be subject to eviction.

According to the city’s website, 62 complexes are considered crime free properties–meaning they undergo certification annually, maintain CPTED standards, and actively engages with tenants through community events.

Photo/Anthony Victoria: The Loma Vista Apartments, at 2575 Steele Road, is one of 62 complexes that is designated as "Crime Free", according to the San Bernardino Crime Free Multi housing web page.
Photo/Anthony Victoria: The Loma Vista Apartments, at 2575 Steele Road, is one of 62 complexes that is designated as “Crime Free”, according to the San Bernardino Crime Free Multi housing web page.

Juan Orozco, property owner of the Parkdale Apartments, said the Crime Free Multi-housing Program is a straightforward and self-explanatory process.

“I think it’s nice because if we ever have problems with a tenant, [Code Enforcement] shows up,” explained Orozco. “It’s for our protection.”

Lawhead was unable to pinpoint how many calls for service are made by certified properties, but did point out that incidents do occur at these complexes. “Just because they are certified, it doesn’t mean there aren’t issues,” he said. “It just helps us deal with it better. The program has helped reduce calls.”

Property owners who aren’t certified are not restricted from utilizing their own addendums for tenants. However, Lawhead explained they may not have the same enforcement privileges or capabilities as certified properties. He also said Code Enforcement officers are still required to address concerns at uncertified locations.

“The whole idea is to educate managers that don’t understand all the obligations, tools, avenues, that there is something out there.”

Landlord or slumlord?

MR Investments, a limited liability company (LLC) out of North Hollywood, owns four of the six properties that sit on a square block surrounding Lynwood Drive and Loma Avenue in the northern part of the city.

Rami Grinwald, who supervises Nambo, mentioned at the outset, is among the company’s management partners. Nambo said the company invested in the properties because they wanted to “branch out to the Inland Empire.”

“[Rami] doesn’t see this as an investment,” Nambo said. “We’re investing about $500,000 in remodeling and refurbishing units. He simply wants tenants to be happy.”

However, Grinwald has been labeled as a “slumlord” in the past for his misdealings with various properties in Los Angeles County. The Los Angeles Times reported back on July 30, 1995 that Grinwald was charged with 10 violations of fire, health, building and safety codes inside a two story, 37-room hotel complex in Westlake.

Photos/Anthony Victoria: Jesse Ceballos points to water bubbles on the wall inside his Cedarwood Apartment. Ceballos and his girlfriend Krystah are facing eviction.
Photos/Anthony Victoria: Jesse Ceballos points to water bubbles on the wall inside his Cedarwood Apartment. Ceballos and his girlfriend Krystah are facing eviction.

Violations included missing heaters, damaged doors, damaged walls and ceilings, defective and missing light fixtures and smoke detectors, faulty plumbing, cockroach and rodent infestation and accumulated trash on the premises. Two years prior in 1993, Grinwald was also held responsible for 10 code violations inside a  60-unit Highland Park apartment complex.

Repeated attempts to reach Grinwald went unanswered.

Lawhead said Grinwald and his partners have so far cooperated with the Code Enforcement department.

“The new owners are working with us to stay on top of things,” he said. “They come to our monthly meetings to find out what’s going on.”

Editor’s Note: The apartment at 2995 N. Mountain Avenue is number 14, not number 44 as previously mentioned. 


Next week: The Human Toll

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