Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Alameda Superior Court Judge: Landlord Acting "Unbelievably Callous" in Chinatown SRO Harassment Case

By Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 6:16 PM

click to enlarge 524 8th Street. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • 524 8th Street.
Residents of an Oakland Chinatown SRO won some relief in court today against their landlord who they accuse of engaging in a campaign of harassment to drive them out of their homes.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman ordered the landlord to immediately restore certain services that had been removed, and to quickly repair bathrooms that have been completely demolished and left inoperable for six months.

"This problem is gonna get fixed, and fixed quickly," Seligman told the landlord's attorney about the bathrooms. "It's completely intolerable and unacceptable that the bathrooms have not been operating since last February."

About a dozen of the building's residents, all Chinese immigrants who speak little or no English, sat in the courtroom today watching the proceedings.

"This can't happen. What is in this record is simply not tolerable," Seligman said about the landlord's actions.

The building, a three-story residential hotel located at 524 8th Street, was purchased last year by the Green Group, LP, an investment company. James Kilpatrick, who helped Green Group purchase the building, and who owns a five percent stake in the company, told the San Francisco Business Times that he and his business partners plan to upgrade the 38-unit SRO and rent it out to students and tech workers.

Tenants in the building alleged that Kilpatrick and his colleagues have engaged in a campaign of harassment to drive them out. The tenants sued in June with help from the Oakland City Attorney, the Asian Law Caucus, and attorney Robert Salinas.

According to court records, after purchasing the building, the Green Group issued new rules that barred the building's residents from keeping personal belongings in the kitchen and other common areas, as many had traditionally done. Then on February 8, the beginning of the Chinese New Year Festival, the landlord's property manager went through the building and ripped down scrolls, tangerines, and other decorations tenants had placed in their doorways to celebrate the holiday.

Then the landlord's contractor demolished four shared bathrooms that served many of the building's residents. The contractor also tore out a communal kitchen, leaving only three bathrooms and one kitchen for all of the building's residents. In statements filed with the court, residents said the demolitions have made the building close to uninhabitable.

The landlord also installed surveillance cameras in the kitchen and other common areas within the building.

Salinas told Judge Seligman that it would have been a reasonable security measure to install surveillance cameras at the building's entrance or outside, but the landlord instead placed the cameras inside the building to watch the tenants. Salinas said the residents have a right to privacy in their homes, and they shouldn't have to worry that they're being watched by their landlord while they're in their kitchen, or walking to their bathroom.

The landlord also offered $2,000 to residents if they would waive their rights and move out of the building, according to court records.

Kate Morrow, an attorney representing the Green Group, told the judge that the cameras were not being constantly monitored by the landlord.

She also said the six month-long delay in repairing the demolished bathrooms was the fault of the city's planning and building department, which isn't allowing the landlord to proceed with restoration work.

The judge didn't appear to buy the landlord's arguments. 

"It is unbelievably callous in the court's view that any landlord would have twenty-five units down to one bathroom," said Seligman, who added that he will personally visit the building to ensure the bathrooms and other services are quickly restored.

Another hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday to make a final ruling in the case.

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