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Fatal fire landlord had running battle with county inspectors

7:43 PM, Dec 8, 2013   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO - The owner of a boarded-up house that caught fire Thursday, killing a mother of four, had been warned by county inspectors of potentially deadly conditions at the property.

Multiple sources told News10 the property owner not only knew people were living there, but had previously granted permission for them to enter.

Rosalea Trejo, 35, died and three others suffered burns and smoke inhalation in the house at 4510 Stockton Boulevard.

PREVIOUS STORY: 1 dead, 3 injured in Sacramento 'vacant' house fire

Witnesses said boards on the doors and windows prevented the victims from getting out quickly.

"We saw people pulling on the boards.  There was screaming about people being inside," said Sam Hernandez, who had been visiting the nearby public library. 

Last summer Sacramento County sued the property owner, Raghvendra "Raj" Singh, over conditions at the house and at a triplex he owns around the corner at 4929 Baker Avenue.

In the Stockton Boulevard house, inspectors noted "exposed hot light and switch boxes throughout, bedrooms being slept in without approved emergency escape, all windows boarded up, people living on site without occupancy approval, and no approved heat source."

Inspectors found similar substandard conditions at the nearby triplex.

Property records show Singh and his wife, Kiran Rawat, using the name Sitaram Trust, paid $65,000 cash for the Stockton Boulevard house in 2009 and $80,000 cash for the Baker Avenue triplex in 2011.  Both properties had been bank-owned.

In October, a judge took the extreme measure of placing the two properties under the supervision of a court-appointed receiver, J. Benjamin McGrew.

McGrew said he's seeking a contempt order from the judge because Singh refuses to cooperate in the transition of management.

"He just has a blatant disregard for the community, putting them in these properties," McGrew said.  "Slumlord is the best way to sum him up."

Neighbors of the Stockton Boulevard house said the victims told them they had been there with Singh's permission.

Eloise Velasquez, 69, who was staying in the boarded-up triplex on Baker Avenue with no electricity or running water said she, too, had been told by Singh she could live there rent-free if she helped keep the property clean.

"Yes.  Yes, he told us," Velasquez said, shortly after being removed from the triplex by sheriff's deputies.

In a long telephone conversation with News10, Singh blamed the county for the fatal fire because inspectors had blocked his attempts to bring the property up to code.

"They want to destroy me.  They suspended my permits," Singh claimed.  "I hope Rosa's mom goes after them."

Singh admitted that during his legal battle with the county he told tenants there was nothing he could do to keep them from going inside the boarded-up houses.

"You can live here at your own risk," Singh recalled telling the tenants.  "They were there to prevent vandalism."

Sacramento City inspectors have also had problems with Singh over a run-down house he owns at 7809 Cotton Lane. 

City records show Singh has been assessed more than $11,000 in fees and penalties for code violations.

During a visit by News10 on Friday, two Sacramento police officers happened to be at the Cotton Lane house responding to a complaint from neighbors about the tenant's erratic behavior.

Singh has also come under fire from regulators for a former dump site he owns on 63rd Street near Elder Creek Road.

The Sacramento County Environmental Management Department levied a $404,000 penalty for Singh's failure to deal with hazardous levels of lead and zinc in the soil along with exposed waste on the surface.

Singh, who bought the property with his wife in 2001 for $275,000 under the name Krishna Trust, said he was duped by the sellers and was unaware of the waste issues when he closed escrow.

Tax records show Singh and his wife own at least 26 properties in Sacramento, Placer and El Dorado Counties in her name or the names of various trusts.

Most of the properties were purchased with cash and were previously bank-owned or sold at a tax auction.

Despite his substantial real estate portfolio, Singh filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 and sought a financial waiver for filing fees. 

Singh signed a court document claiming he owned no real estate and had only $72 in cash.

by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net

News10/KXTV

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