10 Freeway fire: Subtenant, leaseholder say Caltrans knew about their business for years

More than a dozen subtenants are picking up the pieces after the fire that closed a portion of the 10 Freeway near downtown Los Angeles. The state says that they were all illegally renting the property under the freeway from Anthony Nowaid, who holds the lease for the property from Caltrans. But one of those subtenants says Caltrans has known he was there for years.

Rudy Serafin is one of the business owners who lost much of his business when the pallet yard caught fire early on the morning of Nov. 11. He provides the Garment District with hangars, cardboard and other items. Now, he said he's out about $800,000 in equipment and trucks, and is still making deliveries, trying to keep what's left of his livelihood afloat.

Earlier this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state was in litigation with Nowaid and his Calabasas-based Apex Development Inc. Court records show Nowaid owed Caltrans more than $78,000 in back rent for the property, which he's leased since 2008.

"On Oct. 3, we were served by the courts that we were mentioned," Serafin said. "And he (Nowaid) still sends someone over on Nov. 1 to collect the rent. And we told him we were not paying."


In August, the state served Nowaid and his subtenants with a three-day notice, and in September filed a lawsuit to evict, alleging Nowaid had stopped paying his more than $6,500 monthly rent. 

Serafin said Caltrans told him that Nowaid was defaulting on his rent, but when they withheld payment, Nowaid brought backup and locked them out of their business. 

"He was in our place. He kicked my kid out, pushed him out. He pushed out other people," Serafin said.

Records showed that in addition to the owed back rent, the lease states that Nowaid can't sublet the property without state approval. Yet, Serafin said he's been renting from Nowaid for 14 years, and that he's even showed representatives from Caltrans around the property.

Serafin said "the guy that represents Caltrans comes like once or twice a year," saying that he'd been coming since Serafin had been at the property. He says because of this, Caltrans knew about Nowaids subtenants.

Serafin also said that Nowaid never told him the lease barred the storage of flammable items. A record search shows the Secretary of State has repeatedly suspended Apex Development Inc.'s license.

Now, Serafin and the other subtenants who rented from Nowaid say they feel caught in the middle. Serfain said he's called the governor and LA Mayor Karen Bass multiple times for help, but has gotten nowhere. 

In a statement to FOX 11, Apex Development's lawyers said that the company is being scapegoated, and that Caltrans and the California Fire Marshal were well aware of their subtenants and their operations. Lawyers also said the company is suing Caltrans for breach of contract and that they believe that the eviction proceedings are retaliation for that.

FOX 11 has reached out to Caltrans multiple times and has not yet heard back.