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City of Santa Maria Lawsuit Seeks to Force Repairs at Dario Pini Properties

Inspections of 10 residential sites finds more than 5,000 violations, according to documents filed in court

The Woodhaven Apartments are among dozens in Santa Maria that city officials allege are rife with code violations. A lawsuit filed by the city aims to force landlord Dario Pini to make improvements to 10 rundown residential properties in Santa Maria. Click to view larger
The Woodhaven Apartments are among dozens in Santa Maria that city officials allege are rife with code violations. A lawsuit filed by the city aims to force landlord Dario Pini to make improvements to 10 rundown residential properties in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Citing more than 5,000 violations and substandard conditions — ranging from mice and mold to faulty plumbing and hazardous electrical systems — a lawsuit aims to force landlord Dario Pini to make improvements to his 10 rundown residential properties in Santa Maria.

The legal action filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court by the city of Santa Maria came after decades of complaints — dating back to the late 1980s for one site — and unsuccessful efforts to resolve concerns raised by tenants and others.

Named as defendants were Dario L. Pini, Deanna Pini, and Alamar III LLC, in addition to a number of financial institutions linked to the properties.

The Santa Maria lawsuit alleging unlawful and unfair business practices and seeking abatement of public nuisance is similar to the action take by the city of Santa Barbara against several of Pini’s properties there.

As a result of Santa Maria lawsuit filed in October, and per a signed stipulation by the parties, Judge Timothy Staffel has appointed a receiver to oversee repairs to three properties deemed to have the most troubles.

They include 150 units at Vineyard Apartments at East Jones Street and South Concepcion Avenue, 65 units at Woodhaven Apartments at 1415 N. Miller St., and 19 units at SM Cottages, a converted motel at 1311 N. Broadway.

But the court-appointed interim receiver, Fullerton attorney Dean Pucci, raised concerns last month about the landlord’s ability to complete the fixes, citing unpermitted work, work performed by unlicensed and inadequate contractors, and more.

“At this juncture, Mr. Pini’s team does not appear to have the ability to effectively manage, coordinate and retain all of the necessary resources to implement Phase 1 (or further phases for that matter), in a timely, organized, code-compliant and, perhaps most importantly, safe manner that protects the tenants most directly impacted by this work,” the receiver said. 

The size and scope of the repairs needed plus limited number of housing options for tenants led Pucci to implement a phased approach to completing the rehabilitation. 

Other problems spotted during the city's inspections include infestations of cockroaches, mice and rats, overflowing sewage, lack of hot water, broken windows, leaky gas lines, and missing or inoperable safety alarms.

During inspections last year, the city staff recorded thousands of flaws at Pini’s properties, with more than 2,000 alone at Vineyard Apartments, followed by 800 at Woodhaven.

The Vineyard Apartments are among dozens in Santa Maria that city officials allege are rife with code violations. A lawsuit filed by the city aims to force landlord Dario Pini to make improvements to 10 rundown residential properties in Santa Maria. Click to view larger
The Vineyard Apartments are among dozens in Santa Maria that city officials allege are rife with code violations. A lawsuit filed by the city aims to force landlord Dario Pini to make improvements to 10 rundown residential properties in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The lawsuit also cites significant concerns at Twin Palm Apartments, West Alvin Apartments, the Parkside Apartments, East Tunnell Apartments, West Cook Apartments, Santa Maria RV Park, and the Laz-E-Daze Boardinghouses, his most recent acquisition. 

“The violations and substandard conditions at the subject properties endanger the life, limb, health, propertys, safety and welfare of the tenants, occupants and the general public,” the lawsuit said, adding plaintiffs failed to remedy the problems.

In addition to seeking the court-appointed receiver, the city is asking to recover its costs related to the inspections, investigation and lawsuit, while also imposing civl penalties.

The city has asked a judge to rule on a development agreement, issued to prior owners seeking to turn the former Laz-E-Daze property into farmworker housing under the federal H-2A ag employee program. The city maintains the agreement has been terminated.

On Tuesday, Pini referred questions to his attorney, but denied the allegations.

“There’s nothing substandard about any of those units,” Pini told Noozhawk.

Pini owns residential properties in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Joaquin counties, court documents said. 

The city hired Upland attorney Eric Beatty as special counsel to assist in the lawsuit. The Pinis and Alamar are represented by Santa Barbara attorney Paul Burns.

On Tuesday evening, Burns said they agreed to have Pucci work in a limited capacity because he had the qualifications to oversee repairs of existing violations and get cooperation from the city, tenants, lenders, Pini and the community.

"Our experience in Santa Barbara proved that without a cooperative effort with and from,  the municipal government more than one year and millions of dollars of attorney fees in sharply contested litigation will result in little or no repairs or remodeling of the properties," Burns said. "We disagree in general with the city of Santa Maria's premise that any receiver was ever needed.

"We believe that certain advocacy and contingency fee attorneys fomented the controversy in Santa Maria in light of the highly publicized Santa Barbara case," Burns added. "And while we disagree, we have reached some common ground with the city of Santa Maria and its attorneys through Mr. Pini's team and Mr. Pucci, so that extensive repairs, upgrades and remodeling of the three apartment buildings is now well under way.

Also named as defendants when the lawsuit was first filed were Bank of the West, Nuvision Federal Credit Union, Plumas Bank, Ventura County Credit Union, MUFG Union Bank and Commercial Bank of California. 

The case returns to Staffel’s courtroom on April 18, when several matters are on calendar.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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