OAKLAND, CA – Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker has filed two lawsuits to protect tenants from abusive and unlawful actions by landlords.
The first lawsuit, filed June 9, charges the owners of a four-unit building in East Oakland with violations of the City’s Tenant Protection and Just Cause for Eviction ordinances, along with California’s Bane Act.
See: City of Oakland v. Miller, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG16818951
The City Attorney’s Office also joined a coalition of civil rights organizations and attorneys to sue the owners of a Single Room Occupancy (“SRO”) building in Oakland’s Chinatown on June 17.
See: City of Oakland v. Kilpatrick, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG16820040
“Skyrocketing rents and housing costs have created a housing crisis in Oakland,” City Attorney Parker said. “This crisis has been ongoing for some time and threatens the very fabric of the Oakland that we love – our great diversity based on race, age, sexual orientation, incomes and professions. In the midst of the housing crisis, renters are especially vulnerable. Too many families are being priced out of Oakland, in more and more cases leading to homelessness.”
The lawsuits filed this month reflect the City’s commitment to enforcing Oakland’s 2014 Tenant Protection Ordinance (“TPO”). The City Attorney filed the City’s first lawsuit under the TPO in 2015 to improve deplorable and inhumane conditions at the Empyrean Towers, a more than 90-unit building located at 13th and Webster streets in downtown Oakland.
The lawsuit filed on June 9 charges the owners of a building on 69th Avenue with waging a campaign of harassment to unlawfully remove each of the building’s four tenants.
After buying the building in 2015, the owner misappropriated City of Oakland stationery in an apparent attempt to mislead tenants and filed a series of retaliatory lawsuits against one tenant who refused to move out. And tenants have reported that the owner’s partner threatened them with physical harm.
The City’s lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the owners from continuing harassment and abuse of tenants, as well as civil penalties of up to $25,000 and damages to be determined by the Court.
On June 17, the City Attorney, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and civil and housing rights law firm Sundeen, Salinas and Pyle filed another Tenant Protection Ordinance lawsuit against the owners of a SRO building on 8th Street. The lawsuit charges the owners with making living conditions unbearable in an effort to force tenants out, renovate the building and make way for higher rents.
“The majority of the tenants at this Chinatown SRO are monolingual Chinese immigrants and of the fourteen tenants filing the suit, six are elderly,” said Katherine Chu, housing rights attorney at the Asian Law Caucus, and one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case. “These tenants are vulnerable in so many ways and they are being bullied and forced out of their homes. This is a prime example of the predatory displacement and gentrification taking place all over the Bay Area, and it needs to be stopped.”
The owners of the SRO have demolished kitchens and bathrooms, leaving them gutted and unusable for months. The owners issued a notice of demolition in English, although almost all of the tenants read only Chinese. Tenants also complained that the landlords threw away tenants’ clothes, shoes, a child’s tricycle and other items. Tenants had no hot water for several weeks and still do not have an adequate hot water supply.
The owners, who purchased the property in 2015, have publicly expressed the hope that remodeling the building will draw a “new demographic” of tenants including tech workers, and will allow the owners to rent the SROs with in-unit bathrooms at a premium.
“Although many Oakland landlords treat their tenants fairly and follow the law, some landlords use abusive and illegal tactics to evict tenants,” Parker said. “Our City must do more to increase affordable housing and protect tenants in Oakland. I am committed to filing lawsuits to hold landlords accountable when they break the law.”