OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Five separate lawsuits were filed in Superior Court Tuesday against a billion-dollar real estate investment firm, Mosser Companies, with tenants accuse Mosser of carrying out harassment and violating Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance.
“I want to live in peace,” tenant Boualem Bechiri said about why he and his wife Zakia Hachoud joined a group of 17 tenants suing Mosser Companies, their landlord.
A large portion of the tenants living on East 18th street are from Algeria, the sense of community has helped bring them closer, and made it easier to organize for a lawsuit, but they’re also alleging their nationality is leading to discrimination.
“As soon as they hear your accent they ignore you,” Bechiri said.
“When I call them they are disrespectful because I do have an accent,” tenant Razika Tougaouga said.
Mosser tenants in San Francisco have raised similar concerns about harassment, they believe this harassment is meant to drive them out of their rent controlled homes.
“I see a notice paper stuck on my door every day,” Tougaouga said.
Tenants Razika Tougaoua and her neighbor Lemya Hamar say throughout the pandemic unscheduled visits from their landlord became a regular thing.
“They never call me, they never send me anything, they just knock on the door and come,” Hamar said.
She says most recently she was caught off guard while changing her clothes.
“I was almost undressed so I was yelling at them ‘please don’t do that again’ you don’t have a right to come like that,” Hamar said.
The lawsuit regarding 18th street tenants is made up of mostly low-income families living in rent controlled units paying between $839 and $1,057 a month. If they move out, the landlord can raise the monthly rent by at least $1,000, the current market rate is around $2,300 a month for a one bedroom in Oakland.
“That is an additional $1000 a month they’re making so there’s a large incentive to make life not so great for tenants and encourage them to move out,” Ethan Silverstein, an attorney with ACCE Institute said.
ACCE is also representing the tenants.
“This building is using a lawsuit as a last resort. These tenants have lived with this for years,” Silverstein said.
Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance is one of the strongest in the country. Some of the ways landlords can violate it are if they fail to perform repairs, abuse their right of access to a renter’s apartment, or attempt to influence a tenant to vacate through intimidation or coercion.
The lawsuit also depicts a series of habitability issues from cockroaches, to broken elevators, a lack of security leading to mail being stolen, and no ramp access for disabled tenants.
Tenants also expressed concern over windows on the second floor without screens that they worry their children could fall out of.
In a statement Mosser Companies said:
“We are a minority and woman-owned family business with over 65 years of deep roots in the Bay Area community. We are continuously working to maintain secure and quality housing for all residents and preserve their tenancy regardless of rent status, length of occupancy or any other condition.”
“Mosser is actively supporting residents under financial duress as a result of the COVID economic crisis so they can benefit from our government’s program to relieve their stress of carrying this debt. We are committed to maintaining and improving properties so residents have a quality place to call home. We have maintenance and management team members who live and work on site at 425 East 18th Street. We are deeply committed to this community and since taking on ownership, we have made significant upgrades, including the electrical systems, painting common areas, installing new carpets, providing new high-security mailboxes, enhancing the exterior yard and dog run, deep cleaning for COVID, upgrading to more efficient appliances, and increasing building security, especially in response to vandalism, and other crimes which have been exacerbated during the shelter-in-place in Oakland.”
These tenants say it’s suffocating to not feel welcome in your own home, but for now, there’s nowhere else in the region they can afford to move to.
“I feel harassed to the point where you want to leave but you have no choice,” Bechiri said.