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News from Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

City Attorney Files Emergency Tenant Protection Suit Against Landlords Who Engaged In Unlawful Self-Help Eviction During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Oakland, CA –On Friday, May 15th, City Attorney Barbara J. Parker filed a Tenant Protection Ordinance lawsuit charging local landlords with engaging in an unlawful, self-help eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic in violation of state and local laws. Under the guise of a fraudulent City notice, the landlords removed all of their tenants’ belongings from their home and changed the locks.

“During our current public health crisis, it is more important than ever that we do all that we can to ensure that all Oaklanders have a safe and stable home to shelter-in-place,” City Attorney Parker said. “In the midst of this devastating pandemic, housing stability is even more critical. Yet, the defendants initiated a campaign of harassment to remove these tenants from their home. Not only does this violate these tenants’ rights and break state and local laws, the defendants’ actions endanger the health and safety, and the very lives of everyone in our community.”

Defendants Afamefuna and Anwulika Odiwe own a three-bedroom home in the Maxwell Park neighborhood. During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health authorities across our state and county have ordered residents to shelter-in-place, and Oakland and many other jurisdictions have halted evictions as an emergency public health measure. Despite the eviction moratorium, Defendants sought to force all seven tenants from the property without regard for their legal rights, health, or safety.

In late April, a counterfeit City of Oakland “red-tag” notice was posted on the front door of the property, telling the tenants that the house was unsafe for occupancy and that they needed to leave within ten days. The City has never authorized a red-tag for the property. The code inspector named on the red tag had never visited the property and was working remotely on the day the red-tag was posted.

On May 6, movers entered the home and removed the tenants’ belongings, including their beds, furniture, and clothing without notice or the tenants’ permission—and despite their protests. Defendant Anwulika Odiwe told Oakland police that she did not believe a civil eviction action was necessary to remove the tenants, despite the eviction moratorium and the COVID-19 pandemic. Although defendants have not obtained building permits for the property, Ms. Odiwe also threatened to proceed with renovation work, declaring that if tenants wanted to live “with no windows and no doors and no toilets … that’s on them.”

In addition to the co-owners, Pete’s Moving Company and Rigomero Manzanarez, the property’s master tenant, are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Defendants were warned that they must return the tenants’ belongings and cease their efforts to evict them through illegal, self-help means. Instead, defendants continued to harass their tenants, including by changing the locks to the house.

More than a week later, the tenants remained without their possessions and unable to use their kitchen. They were forced to sleep on the floor and could not lock their doors. Defendants only returned the tenants’ beds, clothing, and other personal items this past weekend after the City filed this lawsuit.

This case was filed by the Neighborhood Law Corps and Community Lawyering and Civil Rights Unit as part of City Attorney Parker’s Housing Justice Initiative. Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker launched the Housing Justice Initiative to significantly expand work protecting vulnerable tenants in Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods and holding abusive landlords accountable.

The City Attorney’s lawsuit asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction and to appoint a receiver to prevent immediate harm to tenants from continued violation of state and local law, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties, punitive damages, and fees, to be determined by the court.

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