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"There should be a limit to how much your landlord can increase your rent," Packnett said in his living room a few weeks ago.
There is in fact a limit to rent increases in Oakland, but it only applies to apartment buildings built before 1983. Marr's company is appealing the rent-board decision on the grounds that the units in question were constructed in 2003, which would allow an increase of any amount. Packnett and Martin feel like they're going lose on appeal.
Marr's attorney for Community Realty, Timothy Larsen, didn't dispute that Marr is asking for big rent increases. But Larsen said the increases are legal, and that Marr's company bought the building with unnamed investors who assumed the rents being paid by the existing tenants were much higher.
"My clients are not the sole owners and have other investors involved, decisions are not being made solely by my clients," Larsen wrote in an email.
Ironically, Packnett actually helped build the house he lives in. And Martin lived on the property in an older cottage that was demolished to make way for the new three-unit building. Their previous landlord hired Packnett as part of the construction crew in 2003.
The two men think that Marr's company is passing along the costs of upgrading the other two units on the property to them, even though they gain no benefit from that work. And they suspect something else also: Martin said it seems like Marr might be squeezing his rental properties for cash, in order to pay his legal bills to fight the federal government's bid rigging case. The two are now trying to figure out how Marr's legal problems with the feds might relate to their situation.
In Martin's petition to the rent board, arguing against the $1,000 rent increase, Packnett wrote that he's working to find out whether his apartment is a part of the federal investigation. "If so, I think no decisions should be made until this case with Marr is over," he wrote.
"I think Oakland rent control should check into this incident."
Bedbugs, Mold, Evictions
Maria Naborh also lives in one of Marr's properties, and she alleges that his company has been unresponsive to substandard living conditions.
Naborh, her husband, and their two kids used to reside in an apartment on 98th Avenue. But the family sought more space, so last year they moved into a single-family home owned by Marr near the San Leandro border. They had to sell one of their cars to raise $3,000 for the security deposit and first month's rent of $1,800.
When she first saw the little house, she knew it would take a lot of work to make it habitable. But when they finally moved in, Naborh said there was mold in the carpets, no refrigerator, cracked and dirty floors, missing cabinets, and rat feces in the kitchen and living room.
But the biggest problem resulted from two used sofas and the soiled carpet, which was left in the house when her family moved in. After a few weeks in their new home, she and her husband began itching at night and feeling little pains in their arms.
They soon discovered that the house had become infested with bedbugs.
Naborh insisted that the pests were lodged in the furniture and carpet. She threw away clothing, cleaned the house incessantly, but the insects kept coming back.
She explained how, for more than eight months, they complained to one of Marr's employees about the insects, but that Community Realty did not take care of the problem.
Marr's attorney Larsen said the bed bugs were likely the tenant's fault. "Obviously no landlord is going to bring bed bugs into their unit. It's usually the case that they are brought in by the tenants themselves, or they had a friend or neighbor come by, or it's not a detached unit, and someone down the hall or upstairs did it," he explained.
Larsen said in cases of bed bugs and other pests, Marr has always worked fast to resolve issues.
"My clients have a contract with Applied Pest Management to treat any pest complaints received from tenants," Larsen wrote in an email. "Numerous reports and work orders can show they are extremely proactive and aggressive when it comes to treating pest control issues in our units." Larsen also said that the Naborh's hadn't contacted Community Realty about the bed bugs until a year after they moved into the house.
Alameda County Superior Court records show that Marr and his company have been sued four times by other tenants, who have alleged similar problems with his buildings.
One of the cases involved a building owned by Marr on 96th Avenue, where tenants alleged leaky ceilings, wet sub-flooring, mold, gas leaks, rodents, bed bugs, a broken security gate, and numerous other problems. Oakland Building Department records confirm that the building has been the subject of multiple complaints. For example, on September 14 of last year, building inspectors flagged the property for "blight" because of "insufficient garbage bins," causing trash to pile up in common areas.
Denielle Allen is another one of Marr's tenants who thinks authorities should pay more attention to how he runs his rental properties. She's a working mom with two boys, and moved from Alameda into an East Oakland duplex owned by Marr in 2012. She said her problems with Marr began in the fall of 2013, when she tried to get a broken window and plumbing problems fixed. "It was like pulling teeth to get things done," Allen said about the window, which leaked water into her children's bedroom.