Local non-profit linked to fatal W. Oakland fire may face criminal charges in Stockton

STOCKTON, Calif. (KTVU) -- The city of Stockton has taken action against the non-profit group known as Urojas Community Service, the same Oakland-based organization that has drawn scrutiny after four people died earlier this year in a West Oakland fire.

The Stockton Fire Department last week cited the property owner of 322 N. California Street and main tenant Urojas for "multiple fire hazards and other serious life safety violations that threatened the lives of the families that were living there."

Stockton Assistant City Attorney Susana Wood said all of the violations can be prosecuted as criminal misdemeanors.

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Dozens of people live in the property including children and at least one infant, according to Urojas. Recent video of the property show rundown conditions like boarded up doors and trash outside.

Urojas Community Services is a non-profit that provides housing to veterans, the homeless and mentally ill. It is the same master tenant for the West Oakland property that caught fire in late March, killing four people. 2 Investigates found a decade worth of complaints and fire/structural code violations for that property.

2 Investigates requested a copy of Urojas’ lease agreement with the Stockton property dated May 2015.

It shows Urojas Community Services and Rev. Dr. Jasper Lowery are listed as a tenant and that the "Tenant will be responsible to make all and any needed repairs or replacements."

Also, "Tenant will be responsible to remove all his clients upon expiration of lease."

In Stockton late last week, city officials learned that in addition to the multiple fire hazards and serious life safety violations, the utilities were also cut off to the families because Urojas hadn’t paid the bill.

Past inspection records obtained by 2 Investigates show, last year, residents reported issues like "no smoke or CO2 dectors" and “water that smells and tastes like mold."

The attorney "didn’t give you the full background information. At one point the owner and Stockton legal aid told people not to pay Urojas and, yeah, that definitely made them go behind the eight ball," said James Cook, the attorney for Urojas Community Services.

"This is an extension of Ghost Ship then an extension of the San Pablo fire," he said. "This is going on all around the Bay Area. It’s indicative of our landlor tenant laws. We got to sit down with city leaders whether it’s in Oakland or Stockton or whomever and re-create these laws."

The attorney for the landlord said Urojas is $73,000 behind in rent and they’re working with the group and Stockton to make sure the tenants will still have access to housing.

"If they don’t allow us to move the people or give us a realistic price to move the people, I imagine they will become homeless," Cook said.

Urojas, the landlord and Stockton city officials negotiating and trying to reach a solution.

One of the options on the table is relocating the families to Urojas’ other locations in Sacramento and Oakland.

By 2 Investigates reporter Candice Nguyen.

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