Sunday's L.A. Times unloaded on Frank McHugh, the 84-year-old owner of, once upon a time, about 200 vermin-infested properties mostly located in Pico Union and South L.A. For half a century he had weathered lawsuits and wriggled around court orders until 2007, when a judge forced him to sell off his apartments or face prison. With the real estate market in freefall, his tenants — the poorest of the poor — can rest assured he's been in no hurry to divest himself of these personal ATMs, however. You may remember one particular McHugh Koreatown fourplex, which last January simply gave up the ghost and collapsed into a pile of rubble, leaving 20 people homeless.
Los Angeles is home to about half a dozen of such richer-than-God rentiers who, occasionally, are hauled into court and, just maybe, ordered by a judge to spend a week or two in one of their own dilapidated properties. McHugh's lived a charmed legal life in that regard, although since 2006 his nemesis has been SAJE — Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, an activist group helping low-income renters who mostly reside along the Figueroa corridor. SAJE has tried to force the city to force McHugh into making more than cosmetic repairs on his rundown properties.
Last Halloween SAJE organized Pico Union tenants and their kids to a trick-or-treating at the Marina Del Rey townhouse where McHugh and his wife live. It was a lively affair and the 50 slum kids, who were dressed as the rats found in their landlord's buildings, seemed to enjoy themselves — going door to door asking for candy from people who had running hot water and no bedbugs. But no one answered McHugh's door when the group arrived with a giant invoice for building repairs to be done on their apartments.
No one knew if McHugh was actually home that night but they brought
their shaming campaign to his doorstep any way. After perusing the Times piece,
however, readers might suspect that shame is not a word found in
McHugh's moral vocabulary. Mold, rats and cockroaches — these are just
some of the things, after all, he doesn't charge for.
McHugh refused to speak to the Times for
the feature, but his lawyer, Harold Greenberg, provided this golden
quote: “Everybody talks about slumlords. Who talks about the tenants
from hell, tenants who literally destroy things?”