OAKLAND, CA – The Oakland City Attorney has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a large East Oakland apartment complex where tenants have struggled for years with inhumane living conditions and rampant crime.
The City Attorney’s Neighborhood Law Corps unit filed the lawsuit against the Walnut Creek-based owners of the Hillside Apartments, a complex with almost 100 rental units in two buildings. Oakland Police Department says the complex, at the end of Hillside Street where it dead-ends into the back fence of Castlemont High School, has become a base of operations of a violent gang known for robberies, drug sales, shootings and other crimes in East Oakland.
The lawsuit alleges that Hillside owners Grant Alvernaz and Douglas Moore, along with the company they hired to manage the Hillside complex, have allowed the property to become a major public nuisance through negligence and a failure to maintain basic standards of habitability and security.
“Landlords have a responsibility to their tenants and our community to make sure their properties are a public asset, not a public nuisance,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said. “Every family that rents a home in Oakland has a right to safe and humane living standards, whether they live in the Hillside Apartments or a condo in Montclair. The City of Oakland will not tolerate property owners who refuse to maintain basic standards of habitability.”
Safety and blight problems have plagued the Hillside Apartments for years. When the current owners bought the property in August 2010, they entered into a settlement agreement with the City that required them to hire security guards, evict problem tenants, maintain humane living conditions and generally keep the property safe and clean. At first the owners met their obligations under the agreement, but by 2011, they allowed security and maintenance to collapse, leaving the property in a blighted nuisance state.
The Neighborhood Law Corps worked closely with the Police Department’s Area 5 Problem Solving Unit to document evidence for the lawsuit. According to police, Hillside is notorious for criminal and nuisance activity. Stolen vehicles are often stripped, abandoned and sometimes burned in the parking lot. Officers say that robbery suspects flee into the complex, where they can duck into apartments and hide from police. Gang members openly carry firearms and intimidate tenants on the property. According to the police, at least one shooting has occurred on or near the apartments every month during the four months leading up to the filing of the lawsuit in August.
On Saturday, September 20, a man was shot and killed in a vehicle directly in front of the Hillside Apartments. Police said that one of the other people in the car was a resident of the Hillside Apartments, and that at least one bullet missed its intended victim and struck one of the apartment buildings.
On July 30, Oakland police executed a search warrant on one of the apartments. They recovered cocaine and heroin packaged for sale and arrested one person.
In addition, the owners and property manager, Parawest Community Development, have failed to maintain even basic standards of habitability for tenants. Debris dumped at the property has remained for long periods of time. Units have broken plumbing and heating, and the majority of fire extinguishers were missing. Parawest has failed to evict problem tenants, as required by the owners’ settlement agreement with the City, and tenants say the company often does not even collect rent.
“The residents of Oakland deserve safe neighborhoods and the Oakland Police Department is dedicated to working with the community and the City Attorney’s Office to increase public safety,” Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent said. “This case is a great example of our commitment to collaborative strategies.”
The City’s lawsuit charges the owners of the Hillside Apartments with breaching their 2010 agreement with the City by failing to hire a sufficient number of security guards and by failing to maintain security lights, fencing, gates and other barriers around the property. The ongoing blight, loitering and inhumane living conditions also are violations of the owners’ agreement with the City and their legal responsibilities as landlords. These failures have contributed to a situation that is dangerous to tenants and a public nuisance to the neighborhood.
The City’s lawsuit asks the court to order the owners to immediately abate public nuisances at the property. The lawsuit also asks for significant damages, and asks the court to extend the settlement agreement for an additional three years.
Hillside owners Alvernaz and Moore are both facing unrelated federal criminal charges for their participation in a real estate bid-rigging scheme involving foreclosed properties. Both recently pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to rig bids at foreclosure auctions in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Alvernaz and Moore bought the Hillside Apartments at a foreclosure auction during the time period when they admitted to participating in the criminal conspiracy. They have acquired at least a dozen properties in Oakland alone since January 2004.
For more information about the criminal case, see the U.S. Department of Justice press release.