Cases Pile Up Against Alleged Slumlord

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Two days before the landlord agreed to pay tenants $2 million, a courier approached him outside the L.A. courtroom where he was on trial – and served him with two more lawsuits.
     Without hesitation, the middle-aged man in a brown suit and black cotton skullcap scribbled his signature on the form. Behind the courtroom door, his attorneys defended him before a jury.
     It was Wednesday afternoon on April 29. The claims against Franco Haiem were stacking up. But he was as unruffled now as he had been on the witness stand the day before, maintaining a pleasant demeanor as the courier went in one direction down the corridor, and he went in the other.
     Haiem was taking a break during the third day of a trial in which he was defending against the negligence claims of 91 former tenants in a South Los Angeles apartment building.
     It had been a long day in Superior Judge Michael Linfield’s courtroom. Haiem must have been glad to come up for air – until he found himself facing two more lawsuits.
     The portrait Haiem presented to jurors when he took the stand that Tuesday was beguiling. He wanted to help his tenants, he said, but they’d refused to cooperate.
     He’d put his “heart and soul” into the building and treated his tenants like family. He never heard a complaint, he said, only requests.
     “As a reward, they come and put a knife in my back,” Haiem testified in a video deposition played to the jury.
     But details of living conditions at Maple Avenue were shocking, and belied Haiem’s claim that he was an in-over-his-head businessman, so unsophisticated he ran his firm Bracha Investments from the trunk of his car.
     Tenants said that under Haiem’s ownership until 2012, their 26-unit apartment building on Maple Avenue was so infested with roaches and mice they had to throw out food, clothing and electronics riddled with bugs and feces.
     A mother said she sprayed her children’s bed with Raid before tucking them in at night.
     An elderly lady said she woke up one morning to find that a roach had nested in her ear. When a doctor killed the bug, she could feel it squirm
     That was in addition to open sewage, mold and other deplorable living conditions.
     Perhaps just as damning, witnesses made unflattering comparisons between Haiem and the building’s previous owner, convicted slumlord Frank McHugh.
     Under Haiem, conditions in the building did not improve, the jury heard: they got worse.
     “First, it was the cockroaches,” tenant Guadalupe Quiroz told Courthouse News in April. “And then the rats and then the bedbugs. The condition of my bathroom was that it didn’t work. The thing we were going through there was terrible.”
     As attorneys built the case against Haiem over four days, the three women and 12 men in the jury box listened intently to witnesses, but before they could deliver a verdict, or even deliberate, the case was over.
     On Friday, May 1, the tenants’ firm Kirkland & Ellis announced it had reached a $2 million settlement with Haiem.
     But that was not the end of Haiem’s legal troubles. It might just be the opening chapter.
     First, there’s the matter of the two lawsuits served on Haiem in the middle of trial.
     In court documents obtained from Riley Law Group, tenants in apartment buildings Haiem’s firm Mayan Ganem Investment owned on West 10th Place and West 12th Place claim they tool lived in rodent- and bug-infested rooms.
     On top of that, there is another jury trial against Haiem, his brother Farzad Haiem and his wife Orit Haiem. That case is to begin this week in the Stanley Mosk Courthouse.
     Orit’s cousin Gabriel Barazani filed a complaint for breach of contract against the family, claiming he was cheated of his $535,000 investment and returns in four apartment buildings and in Mayan Ganem.
     Barazani is standing in line behind McHugh, who still has a $2.7 million interest in the properties, according to receiver Stephen Donell, who appeared at a final status conference Tuesday in Judge Rita Miller’s courtroom.
     Last year, the Superior Court appointed Donell receiver for the properties. Donell also testified as an expert witness for Kirkland & Ellis in the Maple Avenue case.
     “Horrible doesn’t begin to describe the living conditions that these tenants endured for years,” Kirkland & Ellis attorney Sharre Lotfollahi said after the settlement.
     “We are thankful that justice has been served and hopeful the compensation our clients will receive will help change their lives for the better.”
     Haiem will return to the stand as a witness in the next case, Barazani’s lawyer Martin Horwitz told Courthouse News. Representatives for Haiem did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.
     Calls to Mayan Ganem Investment were not returned.

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