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No use in filing complaints with LA gov’t about fires set by homeless

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A homeless person, whose tent is pitched nearby, salvages his belongings on January 10 in the wake of a fire at the warehouse in downtown LA. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

A Korean-American-owned clothing warehouse in downtown Los Angeles has suffered two fires in five months, both suspected to be arson committed by homeless individuals. The landlord expressed her frustration that the city government had not taken action despite multiple reports. She was also unable to file a claim for compensation due to fear of being denied insurance.

In the early hours of January 10, a garment warehouse owned by a Korean-American landlord, located near South Broadway and 32nd Street, caught fire. “The tenant came to work around 8 a.m. and told us that the exterior walls of the building were burned from floor to ceiling,” said Joseph Jeon, a son of the landlord. “A homeless man in the neighborhood told us that another homeless man was trying to steal electricity and started the fire.”

Fortunately, an inch-thick coat of paint applied to erase graffiti on the building’s exterior walls acted as a protective barrier, preventing the fire from spreading inside. “The building is used as a wholesale warehouse for clothing and as an office for a clothing company. If the fire had spread inside, the damage would have been enormous,” he added, visibly distressed.

The landlord’s frustration began to mount after the fire was extinguished. She called 911 to report the fire, but the fire department directed her to call 311, stating that it does not respond to extinguished fires. “It could take 90 days for a damage inspector to do an on-site inspection,” the 311 operator informed her.

This was not the first such incident. In early August 2023, a homeless person set fire to the same warehouse. Fortunately, workers inside the building promptly extinguished the fire.

The cost of repairing the blackened building fell entirely on the landlord. She said her insurance company declined to renew her policy following a recent spike in homeless-related fires in LA, and she struggled to find a new insurer. “My premiums have gone up by 48% since then,” she said, “and I can’t afford to file a fire damage claim this time for fear of being denied again.”

Even with repairs, concerns persist. The risk of recurrence is increasing, with more than a dozen homeless tents now pitched around her warehouse. “They’re accumulating televisions, large furniture, and bicycles, which I suspect are stolen,” she said. She also mentioned an incident where a homeless man threatened a warehouse worker with a weapon.

The city government did not dispatch anyone to respond to the situation until eight hours after the fire. “I sent a complaint email to the office of my local city councilman, Curren Price,” she said. “They promised to remove the tents within two months, but I’m skeptical.”

The landlord plans to install fences and plant cacti around the property for security. “We’re willing to accept the fine for installing these without a city permit if it means ensuring the safety and security of our building.”

By Yejin Kim [kim.yejin3@koreadaily.com]