Garcia gave notice and left before the problem was fixed and is now seeking assistance from legal aid to try to recover his deposit, which he says the management company is withholding.

Other tenants in the building say they were aware of Garcia's requests and had also sent e-mails and letters, like he did, which rarely, if ever, elicited a response.

Lisa Russell recently moved out because the patches of mold creeping down her wet, bulging bathroom walls, plainly visible during a visit to her unit in late January, were never dealt with, despite her repeated complaints. When she arrived in late 2006, she was told her heating system would be repaired before winter, but it never was. Russell says the requests she included with her rent check were never heeded. "They certainly received the checks and cashed them," she says.

Aguila again denies any record of requests for maintenance. "There's no mold in that unit," she declares. Some of Bustamante's tenants say they aren't satisfied with his absence, given his prominence in the city.

"It's his property, his business," says Andrea. "You're not going to tell me he doesn't know how things get done."

daltan@ocweekly.com

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