Landlord Agrees to Pay $1 Million to Renters and City of Oakland in Settlement of Tenant Protection Case


524 8th Street. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • 524 8th Street.

A real estate investor accused of harassing and pressuring elderly Chinese tenants to move out of a downtown Oakland SRO hotel has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the building's tenants.

The settlement, filed yesterday in Alameda County Superior Court, requires the landlord to pay the building's 14 tenants and the city of Oakland $1 million, and to abide by a permanent injunction that protects the tenants against displacement.

The hotel at 524 8th Street was purchased by the Green Group, LP in 2015 for about $2 million. Shortly after, Green Group's manager James Kilpatrick told the San Francisco Business Times that he and his co-investors planned to upgrade the 38-unit SRO and rent it out to students and tech workers.

The building's tenants, mostly elderly Chinese immigrants, filed a lawsuit against Kilpatrick and his company in 2016 alleging that they were being harassed as part of a plan to displace them, and that the building was being made unlivable with kitchens and bathrooms taken out of service for renovations and repairs.

According to the lawsuit, Kilpatrick’s company tore out a communal kitchen in the building and removed bathrooms. The new landlords also installed security cameras against the tenants' wishes, and removed people's property from common areas.

One tenant described having a Chinese New Year decoration he placed outside his door thrown away, including tangerines, curtains, and scrolls. His bicycle was also taken along with clothes that he later found discarded in the parking lot.

"I feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, worried, and disturbed. I feel that I am being harassed," the tenant attested in court documents.

Kilpatrick said at the time that his company wasn't trying to harass or displace anyone. Instead, they were simply trying to make repairs to a dangerous property with numerous code problems.

“We repaired basement, hired a pest company to cure the rodent and roach issues they were having,” said Kipatrick in 2016. “If we were really trying to be jerks and push people out, those aren’t steps we would have taken.”

Kilpatrick didn't immediately respond to a request for comment today about the settlement agreement.

Attorney Robert Salinas, who represented the tenants alongside the Asian Law Caucus and Oakland City Attorney, told the Express that the building's tenants have a "strong sense of community" that helped them stay in their homes.

"Almost all of the tenants, when they were approached about possibly vacating, refused," said Salinas. "They banded together and they didn’t allow themselves to be bought out for some small amount of money."

Under the settlement's terms, Kilpatrick's company may not take more than one of the building's communal bathrooms out of service at the same time to make repairs or renovate.

The injunction also bars the landlord from removing and disposing of the tenants' property that is kept in communal areas like hallways and kitchens. And the landlord cannot place security cameras in the kitchens, bathrooms, and hallways of the property.

The injunction also requires the landlord to notify the Oakland City Attorney anytime they file a petition with the rent board for any reason, which could include a petition to increase rents above the annually adjusted amount for rent-controlled units. Any unlawful detainers to evict tenants also have to be sent to the city attorney's office.

The lawsuit was brought under Oakland's Tenant Protection Ordinance, which was drafted by Councilmember Dan Kalb and approved in 2014.

"It's important for landlords to know that there are consequences for disregarding housing and tenant protections laws and for everyone to see the real impact discrimination can have on tenants," said Katherine Chu, Housing Rights Staff Attorney & Program Manager at Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus.

"It’s very refreshing to see these rules work the way they’re intended to," Salinas said about the Tenant Protection Ordinance.