The misdemeanor charges were filed by City Attorney Mara Elliott against John Nobel, 78, his wife, Mahin Nobel, 70, and Devdatt Niranjanbhai Patel, 34, earlier in December. The couple are the owners and Patel is a property manager.
Through their attorneys, all three people pleaded not guilty Dec. 18 in San Diego Superior Court and a future hearing was set for Jan. 23 in the new courthouse at 1100 Union St. The three were not required to appear in person because the charges are misdemeanors.
"They were extremely surprised (to be charged)," said attorney Richard Katzman, who represents John Nobel on Dec. 28.
Katzman said the couple hired a management company to oversee the apartment complex, located at 5344 Rex Ave. in City Heights. He said Nobel's wife had nothing to do with the apartment complex.
"I need to do research on what the word 'maintain' means," said Katzman, adding that was the reason the couple hired a management company to oversee it.
"Did the owner maintain it or the management company?" said Katzman.
The exact wording of the 10 charges alleges they "did unlawfully maintain, use, and permit the use of a building... in such a condition that it endangers the life, limb, health, property, safety and welfare of the public and the occupants thereof."
A Dec. 20 press release from the city attorney says seven refugee families from the Republic of Congo moved into the complex with a Swahili interpreter and assistance from Catholic Charities in June through Sept., 2016. The families repeatedly complained about bathroom leaks, old equipment, broken doors, a severe roach infestation, and a few said there were rats in some units.
In a separate proceeding, an administrative law judge ordered the couple to pay $34,278 in relocation and other costs to the seven families plus a $10,000 civil penalty on July 17. The couple were represented by another attorney, who could not be reached for comment.
The seven families were relocated by the city, and the city wants John and Mahin Nobel to pay the city back. They filed an appeal, but it was denied on Dec. 8, according to an order by an administrative law judge.
A city code inspector cited the property for exposed electrical wiring, mold, lack of heating, presence of trash, debris, infestation of roaches, spiders, rodents and expired fire extinguishers.
The property was developed into a 12-unit apartment complex in 1980, and the Nobels purchased the property in 2004 under the name of Casa De Las Palmas, LLC. Court documents say JN Financial Services manages the apartment complex and John and Mahin Nobel are officers for this firm with Patel as the property manager.
"Exit and fire violations were created when the apartments were illegally converted from two-bedroom units into three-or four-bedroom units," according to the city attorney's press release.
John and Mahin Nobel and Patel all remain free on their own recognizance. They have waived their right for a speedy trial and a trial date has not yet been set.