SF accuses landlord of forcing out rent-controlled tenants

  • 1c0fc 920x920 SF accuses landlord of forcing out rent controlled tenants

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Dale Duncan and his wife Marta Munoz play with their 6-year-old daughter Emilia at their Mission District apartment in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Duncan, who’s lived in the same unit for 21 years, is battling eviction by a controversial landlord that purchased the building last year.


Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle


Dale Duncan and his wife Marta Munoz and 6-year-old daughter Emilia are seen in their Mission District apartment in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Duncan, who’s lived in the same unit for 21 years, is battling eviction by a controversial landlord that purchased the building last year.


Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle


Dale Duncan and his wife Marta Munoz and 6-year-old daughter Emilia are seen in their Mission District apartment in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Duncan, who’s lived in the same unit for 21 years, is battling eviction by a controversial landlord that purchased the building last year.


Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle


Dale Duncan and his wife Marta Munoz and 6-year-old daughter Emilia are seen in their Mission District apartment in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Duncan, who’s lived in the same unit for 21 years, is battling eviction by a controversial landlord that purchased the building last year.


Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle


Dale Duncan and his wife Marta Munoz play with their 6-year-old daughter Emilia at their Mission District apartment in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Duncan, who’s lived in the same unit for 21 years, is battling eviction by a controversial landlord that purchased the building last year.


Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle


Dale Duncan and his wife Marta Munoz and 6-year-old daughter Emilia are seen in their Mission District apartment in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Duncan, who’s lived in the same unit for 21 years, is battling eviction by a controversial landlord that purchased the building last year.


Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle


Surveillance cameras in common areas. Special “house rules” that tenants break “at their peril.” Utilities suddenly turned off. Uncashed rent checks turned into accusations of nonpayment.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera says those are the practices employed by a local property owner who has “waged a war of harassment, intimidation and retaliation” to illegally chase out longtime tenants in San Francisco apartment buildings. Herrera sued the landlord Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court.

dbfe1 460x1240 SF accuses landlord of forcing out rent controlled tenants

In the court documents, Herrera charges that Anna Kihagi, who manages and partially owns nine properties in the city, has employed “strong-arm and unlawful tactics” to displace tenants in rent-controlled apartments to rerent the units at much higher market rates. In the past two years, Kihagi’s group has invested $24 million in San Francisco real estate, assembling a residential portfolio with 50 units.

Herrera said the legal action is directed at halting the “pattern of intimidation and harassment that is terrorizing folks throughout the city.” The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering the property owners to cease unlawful harassment and eviction of tenants, to remove illegally performed construction, correct health and safety violations, and pay fines for numerous “unfair or unlawful business acts.”

“The conduct we have seen in this case is on par with the most egregious I have seen in my 13 years as city attorney,” Herrera said.

Kihagi, a native of Kenya who also goes by Anne Kihagi and Anna Kihagi Swain, started buying properties in June 2013 in Noe Valley, the Castro, the Mission and North Beach. She had previously invested in multifamily properties in West Hollywood, where she was also sued by the city for violating rent-control regulations.


From the beginning, her business model has been clear. According to Herrera, Kihagi focuses on buildings with longtime, rent-controlled tenants paying below-market rents and then seeks to get rid of them. Typically she offers to buy out tenants, and if that doesn’t work, the city’s lawsuit said, she threatens an “owner move-in” or a “relative move-in” eviction, both of which are allowed under the state rent-control laws.

‘A whole bag of tricks’

Meanwhile, according to Herrera and the tenants, she makes life miserable, with surveillance cameras in the common areas and elaborate “house rules” governing such things as pets, use of storage rooms, backyard access, parking rights, laundry and storage of large items, such as bicycles. Gas, electric and cable services get shut off. Rent checks are not cashed, and the landlord then claims payment was not received.

“She is an eviction specialist, and she has a whole bag of tricks,” said Dale Duncan, whose family was served a 60-day relative move-in notice on April 17.

Karen Uchiyama, an attorney representing Kihagi, says her client has done nothing illegal, and everyone evicted from Kihagi’s properties was breaking rules.

“Anna is going to enforce the rules,” Uchiyama said. “She is fearless, and the law is on her side.”

Uchiyama conceded that Kihagi buys buildings with “loose management and bad tenants” because they cost less.

“Anna buys buildings with bad tenants in them, and they deserve what they get,” Uchiyama said. “Some investors want move-in-ready, beautiful buildings with perfect tenants. Other landlords have no problem buying cheaper buildings with bad tenants because they are going to enforce the rules and be able to kick them out.”

Denied laundry access

For more than two decades, Duncan, a cabinet maker, lived in a five-unit Edwardian building at 69-75 Hill Street on Liberty Hill, a fashionable neighborhood that borders Noe Valley and the Mission. He never had any issues with his old landlord.

But shortly after Kihagi bought the Hill Street building in August, things started going wrong, Duncan said.

After numerous complaints, a team of city inspectors, escorted by a police officer, showed up on March 4 to inspect the Hill Street property. At first, a trio of security guards Kihagi had hired refused to let the city inspectors in, the lawsuit states. But three of the tenants were home and invited the city workers to inspect the units. As the inspectors walked in, Kihagi pointed to the unit of one of the cooperating tenants and said, “I’m going to move my sister in there,” according to the complaint.

As soon as the city inspectors left, a truck full of workers showed up with construction materials and, under Kihagi’s direction, “boarded up access to the laundry room and garage … and changed the locks on the main garage door there,” according to the complaint. “The laundry is done,” she said.

“It was retaliatory. It was obvious. We let the city in, and an hour later she is taking our laundry away,” Duncan said.

Kihagi has gone on the offensive against the city. In March she filed a complaint, saying that city inspections of her properties amounted to “illegal searches and trespassing.” She said she has been “singled out and targeted due to a personal animus toward her, motivated in part by the city’s opposition to a female, African American immigrant owning property.”

‘I am crying every night’

Tenants who have been either evicted or allegedly forced from their units include a teacher, a professional skydiver, a retired school crossing guard, a 65-year-old Army veteran with cancer, a bedridden 91-year-old, and a 68-year-old employee of SS Peter and Paul’s Church, according to the lawsuit.

Mery Rose, a 61-year-old Brazilian immigrant, was evicted from an apartment on Filbert Street in North Beach and could afford a new place only near Highway 580 in Richmond.

“It’s noisy and dirty. There is a lot of drugs and car alarms all night long,” she said. “Anna broke my life. I miss my neighborhood. I miss my apartment. I miss SS Peter and Paul’s Church. I am crying every night.”

Nick Reggars, who works in advertising, also moved out of the Hill Street building because he and his wife felt threatened and harassed. He ended up exchanging his $2,900-a-month, two-bedroom apartment on Hill Street for a Bernal Heights one-bedroom that costs him $3,600.

“The stress and anxiety level was getting crazy,” he said.

Problems in West Hollywood

On April 17, Duncan was told that his family — which includes his 6-year-old daughter — had 60 days to clear out to make way for one of Kihagi’s sisters. Duncan, who pays $1,300 a month, was offered a different unit for $4,200, but it wouldn’t be available until four or five months after the eviction. Duncan said he was tempted to pack up and move, but decided the right thing to do was stay and fight the eviction in court.

“We realized all the people who got mowed down before us couldn’t see it coming. Some of them were elderly, some didn’t speak very good English,” Duncan said. “It’s our social obligation to fight this.”

Meanwhile, the city of West Hollywood has multiple criminal and civil cases pending against Kihagi, said Jonathan Holub, an attorney for the city. The cases involve tenant harassment, illegal evictions and unpaid fees and penalties. “It’s been constant problems with her,” he said. “She is very much on our radar.”

J.K. Dineen is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

E-mail: jdineen@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @sfjkdineen

Article source: http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/City-charges-landlord-with-forcing-out-6308190.php

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