Oakland tenants receive $1 million settlement

A judge has approved a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit filed on behalf of tenants of a single room occupancy hotel in Oakland’s Chinatown district alleging that the owner was trying to force them out, Oakland city prosecutors said Thursday.

The suit, which was filed in June 2016, asked the court to order that the owners of the residency hotel at 524 Eighth St. maintain tenants’ units in a habitable and safe condition and enjoin them from discarding tenants’ property and gutting their kitchens and bathrooms.

The suit alleged that Green Group LP, which bought the building in 2015, intentionally made living conditions unbearable for their elderly and Chinese-speaking tenants in an attempt to force them to vacate their units so they could renovate the building and increase rents to dramatically higher market rates.

The settlement approved by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman on Tuesday calls for $795,000 to be awarded to the 14 tenants who are the plaintiffs in the suit and $205,000 to the city of Oakland for costs and attorneys’ fees.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement:

“This lawsuit puts unscrupulous property owners on notice that Oakland will hold them accountable for violations of tenants’ rights and will not tolerate owners who make living conditions so miserable that tenants are compelled to move out.”

Parker said:

“Displacing tenants from their homes frequently plunges families into poverty and homelessness and uproots them from the community. Every family that pays rent in Oakland is entitled to decent housing free from harassment and exploitation.”

According to Parker, Green Group LP publicly expressed its hope that remodeling the building would draw a new demographic of tenants including tech workers, who would pay premium rents.

Parker said that to achieve their goal, the owners demolished kitchens and bathrooms, leaving them gutted and unusable for months at a time, and issued notices of demolition in English even though most of the tenants only read Chinese.

Parker also said the tenants complained that the landlords threw away their clothes, shoes, a child’s tricycle and other items and tore down Chinese new year decorations and they often had no hot water.

Judge Seligman also approved a permanent injunction requiring the owners to maintain an adequate number of working bathrooms at the property, to adhere to a set policy regarding personal property in common areas and to notify the City Attorney’s Office of any future rent adjustment program petitions and eviction actions.

Katherine Chu, an attorney and program manager at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus who represents the tenants, said:

“The struggle for justice in the housing market is happening all over the Bay Area.”

Chu said:

“We’re glad that these tenants successfully stood up for themselves and achieved a great victory. This is a big step forward in ensuring tenants’ rights against malicious landlords.”

Green Group LP officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.