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Oakland's Biggest Landlord is Fighting For His Life in Federal Court

Fed-up tenants now rebelling against him, too, and looking for the city for help.

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And, in addition to selling the foreclosed homes, the banks were also buyers in this market, meaning that Marr's competition included not just other scrappy investors like himself, but also the very banks that held all the information about the real estate up for grabs, she said. "The banks in effect were both the exclusive supplier of foreclosed properties and the defendants' largest, most powerful, and most successful direct competitor," Boersch wrote to the court.

U.S. attorney Albert Sambat fired back against this argument, however, in an opposition brief submitted to the federal court last month. According to Sambat, the characterization of the banks as "power buyers that withheld information in order to gain advantage at the auctions" is misleading. The banks were only buyers of foreclosed real estate at the auctions in the event that bidders such as Marr didn't purchase the property.

As to whether Marr was jointly bidding with others to acquire properties that he could not acquire on his own, Sambat wrote that there is no evidence he pooled his resources to acquire shares in individual properties up for sale along with other bidders, as the term joint-bidding would imply. Instead, he had a prior agreement to "refrain from bidding against one another for selected properties and instead designated which conspirator would win the public auction."

Mark Abueg, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said he couldn't provide any more information about the government's case against Marr because it is still pending. But DOJ records show that 56 people have already been charged and pleaded guilty to bid-rigging at foreclosure auctions in Northern California.

Marr's tenants aren't waiting around for his trial date later this summer. Last month, several of Marr's tenants and a dozen supporters gathered in the parking lot of the Farmer Joe's supermarket in Oakland's Dimond District. They circled around tenant Martin, who explained what was about to happen.

"What we're gonna do is, a few of us will walk in advance of the group and go into the office, and I'll ask for the head manager, and we'll give him our demands," Martin said.

Everyone nodded in agreement. He then read the group's demands off a sheet of paper.

They included an immediate rent freeze for all of Marr's properties, pending the conclusion and final verdict of the federal indictment; a commitment to selling his properties to the Oakland Land Trust, a nonprofit property manager that provides permanently affordable housing; and immediate resolution of five specific complaints regarding rent increases, mold, and bed bugs.

"Everyone ready?" Martin asked. The group nodded in unison and started marching up the street toward the office of Community Realty.

Martin and two organizers with ACCE walked ahead of the group and knocked on the door. A man answered, peering out cautiously, his eyes darting past Martin toward the sidewalk where he could see a few of the protesters. He came outside and listened as Martin told him about the big rent increase he was facing and the other complaints. He finished by reading the tenants' demands, and then handed over a letter addressed to Marr, accusing him of exploiting the foreclosure crisis and mistreating tenants.

The man, who identified himself as the manager of the office, took the letter and said he'd pass it off to Marr, along with the tenants' request for an in-person meeting.

After a few minutes, the protesters walked back down Fruitvale Avenue and debriefed. "They accepted the letter," Martin told the group. "We should know soon what's going on."

Just a few days later, tenant Naborh said a pest exterminator showed up at her home to try to take care of the bugs and rodents. But she said most of the livability issues around her home still haven't been resolved.

And, as of last week, Martin and Packnett said they were still facing rent increases. They sat in Packnett's living room on a recent weekday evening mulling their options. Give up? Move away?

"Investigate," Packnett said. "That's what the authorities need to do."

"We're going stand up and fight it," Martin said.

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