Skid Row building owner uses sprinklers to drive away homeless residents

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Property owners in the Skid Row area have long held that the city does too little to prevent homeless residents from camping outside of their buildings. Now, as the LA Downtown News reported last week, one landlord has installed sprinklers to soak people living and sleeping around the building.

The building, located at the intersection of Third and Crocker near the border of Skid Row and Little Tokyo, is owned by Downtown developer Steve Lee.

Lee tells the Downtown News the sprinklers are in place to keep homeless residents away and that installing them was necessary to make employees of the nonprofit program housed within the building feel safe.

That program is operated by Special Services for Groups, which also manages homeless outreach efforts from a separate office.

Drenching homeless residents to prevent them from camping near buildings is not a new tactic. Recently, it’s been employed at a cathedral in San Francisco—and probably a luxury auction house. As a Los Angeles Times article from 1992 makes clear, sprinklers targeting the homeless were also once common on Skid Row.

At least two city ordinances appear to bar the practice, including one that prevents property owners from installing sprinklers or other devices that would spray water “across any public sidewalk in such manner as to prevent or interfere with the free and uninterrupted passage of any person upon such sidewalk.”

Frank Mateljan, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, tells Curbed that the City Attorney hasn’t been presented with a case related to the sprinklers on Lee’s building, but that “[i]t is possible for our office … to proactively send a letter to the owner advising him of [the ordinance]”

Mateljan could not find record of any instance in which a property owner had been cited for violating the sprinkler restrictions.

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