CA “Slumlord” Who Received $3.6M in State Funds Owns Collapsed Mill in Pawtucket UPDATED

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

 

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The Pawtucket mill that partially collapsed during rehab on Monday is owned by controversial California developer Lance Robbins, who has been tagged as one of the worst slumlords in Los Angeles history.

Three people were injured - one critically - when a floor in the mill on Esten Avenue collapsed. The incident and the contractor working for Robbins, Metric Corporation, is being investigated by state and federal officials.

In September 2016, GoLocalProv unveiled that Governor Gina Raimondo and the Board of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation voted to provide Urban Smart Growth — which is run by Robbins — up to a maximum of $3,569,657 in Rebuild Rhode Island Tax Credits.

"OSHA is inspecting the general contractor Metric Corporation. OSHA’s inspection is ongoing. I’m checking to see if any subcontractors are being inspected," said Jim Lally, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor for Region 1.

"The employer of the injured workers is the subcontractor, AD Contracting Services Corp. OSHA is also inspecting this company," added Lally.

Commerce RI on Record

Commerce RI issued the following statement on Tuesday to GoLocal.

“Developers and contractors of all projects are responsible for complying with relevant laws and regulations. The Commerce Corporation’s involvement is limited to the project’s financing; we will begin issuing our tax credits when construction is completed and the project receives a certificate of occupancy. In the meantime, we continue to monitor the work of our municipal, state, and federal partners," said Commerce.

But Robbins history is tied to a series of controversies in Rhode Island and across the country. SEE SLIDESHOW BELOW OF ROBBINS ISSUES

One of the top advocacy lawyers in the country, Lauren Saunders, told GoLocalProv.com in 2016 that “Robbins was one of the most dishonest and unscrupulous people I have come across in my career working for vulnerable tenants and consumers. I cannot imagine entrusting any (public) money to him.”

Saunders, who is Associate Director of the National Consumer Law Center in Washington, DC, had battled with Robbins when she represented tenants in Los Angeles, CA where Robbins operated before relocating to Rhode Island.

The National Consumer Law Center, whose mission is "serving low-income consumers," states that it is "committed to supporting and advancing diversity inside and outside the organization." Saunders clarified that her comments on Robbins were hers, and not of the center's.

Lance Robbins was the worst slumlord in L.A. history. The city's Slum Housing Task Force prosecuted him numerous times for horrible conditions at his buildings. He also ran up huge water bills at his buildings that he refused to pay, and the city was reluctant to shut off the water for fear of harming the tenants. I filed a False Claims Act case against him and he was forced to pay $1 million in back water bills," Saunders told GoLocal.

Robbins’ company also owns the Hope Artiste complex and was criticized by former tenants. Lee Forbes of Nosh previously told GoLocal how she opened in 2014, but by 2015 was fighting Robbins to try and stay in the mill space, despite having always paid rent on time, she claims. 

"[Commerce] didn't do their due diligence. Were there meetings open to public input on this? If so I would have been present," said Forbes Raimondo and Commerce awarding the tax credits. "This guy is as low as they go."

Forbes complaints follow the claims by a range of other former female Hope Artiste Village restaurant owners Rosinha Benros (Rosinha's), Deana Martin (Bread Lab), and Phyllis Arffa (Blaze) who all told GoLocal of difficulties working with Robbins -- and ultimately losing their businesses. 

Pawtucket Investigation in Ongoing

"It’s too early to estimate a completion date at this time, but OSHA has up to six months to complete an inspection. If an inspection identifies violations, then OSHA could issue citations and propose fines for the employer," said Lally.

This story was first published 10/23/18 1:43 PM and was updated 4:43 AM on October 24, 2018.

 

Related Slideshow: Lance Robbins Controversies Through the Years

There are dozens of issues and hundreds of articles about Robbins controversies. GoLocal has broken down a dozen of the conflicts that have taken place across the country over the past 30 plus years.

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TENANTS WHO BATTLE ARMIES OF RATS SUE LANDLORD

LINDA DEUTSCH, Associated Press
Jun. 5, 1986 

Residents of a dilapidated building who say they regularly fight off armies of giant rats, swarms of cockroaches and youth gangs that roam their hallways have sued the building's owner for $10 million.

Attorneys for the Spanish-speaking residents related nightmarish stories of cockroaches biting sleeping children, a rat they said tried to drag a baby from its bed and another that allegedly attacked a man in the shower.

They said tenants feel rats crawl over them at night and some stand guard over babies all night, fighting off the rodents with brooms and slingshots.

The lawyers opened roach traps on the front steps of the South Union Street building near downtown to display dozens of huge cockroaches, some still crawling, which they said were caught in the building overnight.

The lawsuit, filed jointly in Superior Court by four private and public- interest law firms, accuses building owner Lance J. Robbins and his associates of refusing to make repairs, curb vermin infestation or provide reliable water, electricity or security in the 40-unit building, which houses large families in one-room apartments.

Robbins said Wednesday that none of his employees in the building have seen any rats and, ''I wouldn't be a bit surprised if a lot of this at the news conference was staged.''

READ MORE HERE

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Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1986, "Landlord Issues 5 More Violations"

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Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2000 PART 1 on the article Titled, "City Attorney Joins Lawsuit Against Landlord"

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Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2000 PART 2 on the article Titled, "City Attorney Joins Lawsuit Against Landlord"

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Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2000 PART 3 on the article Titled, "City Attorney Joins Lawsuit Against Landlord"

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Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2000 PART 4 on the article Titled, "City Attorney Joins Lawsuit Against Landlord"

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Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2002, "Slumlords Donated to Delgadillo"

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Los Angeles Times, Oct 25, 2005

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Los Angeles Times, Nov. 1, 2005, "State Moves to Pull Real Estate Liense of L.A. Landlord"

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Robbins Loses Real Estate License

Realty Times, January 18, 2010

Real estate broker and attorney, Lance Robbins, both owned and managed numerous "slumlord" apartments in the city of Los Angeles. This, as acknowledged by Robbins's attorney, was an extremely lucrative business. The record suggests, though, that Robbins took less than adequate care of the apartments under his control. Between 1985 and 1995, Robbins had been convicted of some 50 municipal building code violations. He was twice disciplined (1991 and 1994) by the State Bar for "facts and circumstances surrounding habitability violations in properties" that he owned.

In January of 2001, Robbins pleaded nolo contendere and was convicted of three misdemeanor violations of the fire protection and prevention provisions of the Los Angeles Municipal Code. He was fined $100 and placed on summary probation for 18 months. In March of 2003 the Department of Real Estate filed an accusation alleging that Robbins's convictions constituted cause for the suspension or revocation of his license as a broker.

http://realtytimes.com/todaysheadlines1/item/2962-20100119_licenseREAD MORE HERE

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Lauren Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center is one of the top tenant advocacy attorneys told GoLocal on Tuesday. 


Robbins was one of the most dishonest and unscrupulous people I have come across in my career working for vulnerable tenants and consumers. I cannot imagine entrusting any city money to him.

Lance Robbins was the worst slumlord in L.A. history. The city's Slum Housing Task Force prosecuted him numerous times for horrible conditions at his buildings. He also ran up huge water bills at his buildings that he refused to pay, and the city was reluctant to shut off the water for fear of harming the tenants. I filed a False Claims Act case against him and he was forced to pay $1 million in back water bills.

He was also extremely ingenious about using a complex web of sham corporations to avoid liability. After the fines from his slum violations and his back water bills started adding up, he started foreclosing against himself and putting his buildings into receivership to escape accountability. His buildings were in numerous different corporations and partnerships and he put loans in other names against his own buildings, then started a foreclosure action. He then asked the court to appoint a "neutral" receiver who he chose who actually just let Robbins stay in control of the building.  We detailed that in the same lawsuit.

 

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Developer Getting $3.6M in RI Tax Credits Sued by N. Carolina Town for Backing Out of Project

Urban Smart Growth (USG), the developer who just received nearly $3.6 million in tax credits from Governor Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, was sued by the Town of Belville, North Carolina, in 2015 for backing out of a project, GoLocal has learned...

Robbins and USG stated on Monday that they are intending to utilize the Rhode Island tax credits to complete a $38.9 million project to develop 150 loft apartments at Hope Artiste Village in Pawtucket. 

However, in North Carolina, a stalled USG project has led to the Town of Belville to seek arbitration, following its 2015 lawsuit against USG, who in 2007 had entered into a twenty-year agreement to develop a mixed-used project along the town's waterfront.

Not only did the project never come to fruition, press reports show that USG engaged in discussions with the adjacent town of Leland to annex Belville's downtown and undertake the project with them instead. 

"We need to bring [Robbins] to light. It's really a shame-- he goes and buys up cheap property and tries and hoodwinks the local city councils to fund this kind of development," said Peter Schardien, who is the husband of Belville Commissioner Donna Schardien, of Robbins. "He's an attorney, or he used to be, and he knows how to get around things. He's no good."

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Former Business Partner of Robbins of USG Sued and Received $28M - and Warns RI

Frank Gamwell, a former business partner of Lance Robbins of Urban Smart Growth (USG), has said that he would "never do business with him again" after suing Robbins for $28 million and ultimately receiving the amount in arbitration.

Now, Gamwell is warning that Rhode Island should be doing its "due diligence" in dealing with Robbins. 

On Monday, USG was awarded $3.6 million in tax credits from Governor Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to develop lofts at Hope Artiste Village. 

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"This Just Isn't Fair,” Says Restaurant Owner About Developer Robbins Getting $3.6M in RI Tax Credits
 

A former restaurant owner at Hope Artiste Village said that she "wished she had sued" Urban Smart Growth (USG), the management company that was awarded $3.6 million in tax credits from the RI Commerce Corporation this week.

Rosinha Benros, who had opened and owned the restaurant "Rosinha" at Hope Artiste Village, said she had a number of issues with USG -- including having had gas being turned off due to USG not having paid their National Grid bill.  

"I opened that space, I created that place," Benros told GoLocal on Thursday, of the restaurant she ran for over three years. "I can't even drive by, I loved that place so much. It just breaks my heart."
Benros said that issues with the change in management, coupled with having problems with The Met being located next door, led in part to her closing the restaurant.
USG's CEO and principal is controversial developer Lance Robbins, who in California was cited with 105 health and building-code violations, piled up 32 convictions, paid a $1 million fine, to name a few of his legal problems, according to press reports.

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RI Security Firm Says Developer Robbins of USG Won’t Pay $23K Bill

A former security services vendor for Hope Artiste Village is claiming that owner Urban Smart Growth (USG) never paid them $23,583 for  services in a six-month span starting in 2013.

“We started services on December 13, 2013 and ended services on June 21, 2014. They paid a total of six invoices during our services,” said Karen Voisard with Metropolitan Public Safety, who provided the check stubs from USG. “As of current standing with the company we are owed $23,583.00 for eighteen overdue invoices. That doesn't include any of the late charges as stated in our contract.”
 

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Former Owner of Blaze Restaurant: USG’s Robbins “Threatened to Bankrupt Me”

Phyllis Arffa, the originator and owner of the restaurant Blaze, said that Lance Robbins of Urban Smart Growth threatened to bankrupt her when her business was struggling at Hope Artiste Village.

Arffa, who owned and operated Blaze on Hope Street in Providence before moving to Hope Artist Village in 2015, said that she has had to go back to working in a kitchen to pay back $70,000 in debt that she accrued while trying to make Blaze work under Robbins, which she said she ultimately had to step away from due to financial and health reasons. 

"I wish I never met [Robbins]. I had money in the bank, we were all set to relax for a little while," said Arffa after moving from Hope Street to the Hope Artiste village.  "Now, I'm working 12 to 12 to just to pay back what I owe."

Arffa showed a text sent by Robbins threatening to bankrupt her.  

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Robbins Crushed Local Baker

The former owner of the Bread Lab at Hope Artiste Village, which is owned by controversial developer Lance Robbins, said she found him to be “morally bankrupt” as she was forced to close her operations in 2015. 

Deana Martin, who had owned the Bread Lab with her husband, said that she battled with Robbins over a number of issues -- including the insurance money following the destruction of her bakery equipment due to the mill’s sprinklers going off one night. 

“If you don't give him what he wants, he'll use whatever leverage he has to get what wants,” said Martin.  “If it furthers his benefit, he'll take it from you, and the legal proceedings are just that — if he wins, he claims he’s not ‘guilty.’

 
 

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