Suit seeks cleanup of West Valley blight
By Brent Whiting
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 13, 2002
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office has sued the landlord of a West Valley apartment complex that has been a trouble spot over the years for drugs, prostitution and other lawlessness.
The warning in the lawsuit is clear: Shape up or ship out.
County Attorney Rick Romley said Thursday he wants the landlord, Daryl R. VanderHam, to take steps to deter crime at a six-unit complex that is magnet for trouble and a neighborhood blight.
VanderHam owns two three-plex units in the 7000 block of North 80th Avenue, just north of Glendale Avenue.
They are in an unincorporated Maricopa County island that officials have described as a mecca for drugs and gangs.
VanderHam, 60, admitted there have been problems at the complex, but he has worked with legal authorities and community activists to eradicate problems.
Some residents in the area said Thursday that VanderHam has been trying to clean up the area.
"They want to blame me for problems in the entire neighborhood," VanderHam said. "I'm not the only landlord there, but I'm the only one who has been singled out."
Romley said the lawsuit stems from work by "slumlord task forces" that have been established in Glendale, Peoria and Tempe to go after crime-ridden properties and irresponsible landlords.
The program is modeled after a slumlord crackdown in Phoenix, and a successful lawsuit that was filed earlier this year against the Nile Theater in Mesa, another problem property, Romley said.
The action against the downtown theater, once the site of all-night rave parties and problems with the law, ended with it going out of business.
"The building the Nile Theater formerly occupied is now a church facility," he said.
Romley said he will sue irresponsible landlords if they turn a blind eye to crime.
"We are not asking that owners become police officers, but we are asking them to take reasonable action such as screening tenants, evicting tenants who commit crime and doing whatever else necessary to create a crime-free environment," Romley said.
The lawsuit against VanderHam, filed last month, says that since 1999 his complex has been the site of repeated crack cocaine sales as well as robberies, prostitution, gang activity and a shooting.
Sgt. Bill Knight, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, said there have been repeated raids and enforcement actions directed at the troubled property.
On Nov. 19, Judge Michael Yarnell of Maricopa County Superior Court issued a restraining order that directs VanderHam to take corrective action at the complex.
VanderHam, a Peoria resident, said Thursday he is looking for a lawyer.
Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant to Romley, said that, if VanderHam has any misgivings about the lawsuit, he can explain them to the judge.
In the meantime, Melissa Macias, 31, one of VanderHam's tenants, said things are on the mend. Instead of crack dealers hanging around the complex, children now can be seen playing, a welcome sight.
Rick Lopez, 41, a neighborhood merchant and activist, said VanderHam and other landlords have stepped to the plate to address problems.
Just two months ago, a cleanup was organized in which 11 tons of debris were hauled away, Lopez said.
"Daryl has not been a model citizen all of his life there," Lopez said. "But he is moving in a positive direction, and I think that we're probably at about 90 percent right."