People of California and City of Oakland v. Oakland Redevelopment Group, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17858121
OAKLAND, CA – The City Attorney’s Neighborhood Law Corps has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a property near Lake Merritt who illegally demolished a tenant’s home while he was living in it.
The lawsuit filed April 26 charges the owners, Eugene Gorelik and Jessica Sawczuk, with violating Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance and California’s Bane Act for harassing, threatening and unlawfully evicting tenant Jahahara Alkebulan-Ma’at, who lived at the property at 369 MacArthur Boulevard for 22 years before the owners demolished his home in March.
“The owners of this property have demonstrated zero respect for the law, and zero regard for the rights or the well-being of the tenant and his minor son,” City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said. “If this case was used as a hypothetical in law school, no one would believe it because it would be too preposterous.”
The facts of the case are as follows:
The owners first contacted Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at in April 2016. They said they intended to purchase the property and move in, so Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at would have to leave. In anticipation of moving out, Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at began looking for alternate housing. In fact this was a ruse. The owners apparently never intended to move in. Instead they submitted plans to the City to build more rental units on the property. In October 2016, they gave Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at an eviction notice that stated he would have to be out on Christmas day.
Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at, 64, is disabled and lived at the property with his minor son. The owners filed an unlawful detainer action in January 2017, and began shutting off all utilities. By mid-March, Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at and his son had no heat, no hot water, no electricity, no cable and no internet.
On March 16, the owners changed the locks. Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at’s medication was locked in his home. On the same day, one of the owners sent him an e-mail threatening that there would be “consequences” if he “set foot on the premises again.” The next day, the owners began demolition of the unit while Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at’s property was still inside. Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at slept in the partially demolished unit for two nights, and on both nights, one of the owners showed up in person and made threats against his safety.
“Changing the locks, shutting off utilities and demolishing a tenant’s home in the middle of an unlawful detainer action are of course illegal under Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance,” City Attorney Parker said. “The owners’ campaign of threats and harassment is especially outrageous in a city that is struggling with a historic housing crisis. This is exactly the type of situation the Neighborhood Law Corps was created to address.”
City Attorney Parker also thanked Neighborhood Law Corps Attorney Kevin King for his work on the case.
The Neighborhood Law Corps (NLC) is an award-winning program in the City Attorney’s Office that uses lawsuits and other actions to improve quality of life in Oakland. Since its inception 15 years ago, the NLC has fought for social, environmental and economic justice with a focus on abusive landlords, substandard housing, human trafficking, violence and public nuisances including illegal dumping.
Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at remains homeless to date. His property remains on the premises in storage. Several of his items have gone missing or are damaged, including his wedding ring and family photos.
The lawsuit is seeking an injunction requiring the owners to obtain permits before commencing further construction on the property, to offer Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at a unit upon construction completion and to install a property manager. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties and restitution for Mr. Alkebulan-Ma’at.