City Attorney Files Tenant Protection and Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Local Landlords
Oakland, CA – On Thursday, May 28th, City Attorney Barbara J. Parker filed a lawsuit under the Tenant Protection Ordinance and state civil rights laws against three local landlords who forced tenants to live in potentially life-threatening conditions and attempted evictions through unlawful, discriminatory, and violent means.
“This case presents some of the most extreme harassment and exploitation we’ve encountered in our tenant protection actions,” said City Attorney Barbara J. Parker. “Defendants have behaved as if they are immune from the most basic rules of property ownership and management—flouting numerous city notices, exposing their tenants to hazardous conditions, locking residents out of their units, and resorting to violence to intimidate a tenant into leaving her unit once they learned that she is transgender. Defendants’ conduct is unconscionable, violates several local and state civil rights laws, and we will not tolerate this flagrant abuse in Oakland.”
Defendants King V. Chau, James H. Chau, and Judy N. Chau own and manage several properties in Oakland. Three properties—1130 East 11th Street, 1442 8th Avenue, and 1030 Foothill Boulevard—are the focus of this action. At each of these properties, Defendants rented out multiple unsafe, unpermitted units and subjected their tenants to horrific harassment. Collectively, the City has issued Defendants over thirty-five notices concerning code violations at the properties.
1130 East 11th Street is a single-family home that has been subdivided into three units. At one point, there were also two or three additional units constructed out of plywood and around an outhouse at the rear of the property. The City issued Defendants James H. Chau and Judy N. Chau, the owners of the property, at least five Notices of Violation concerning dangerous conditions on the premises—including lack of smoke or carbon monoxide detectors—before it caught fire in May 2018. At the time of the fire, an estimated sixteen residents—including children—lived in the building, which received stolen power directly from the street’s electrical pole through a jackhammered hole in the sidewalk. Although the City “red-tagged” the property and declared it unsafe to occupy, Defendants quickly made a number of unpermitted repairs to the building and re-rented the units. In November 2019, a second fire broke out at the property, and the City once again red-tagged the premises. Tenants reported that Defendants later locked them out of their units, refusing to allow them to retrieve their possessions.
1442 8th Avenue is a single-family home that contains at least thirteen sleeping rooms, including an illegally converted garage and an unpermitted detached structure at the rear of the property. In the main house, door openings have been sealed off to create separate rooms, showers have been installed in closets, and kitchens and bathrooms have been constructed without permits. Code Enforcement has issued Defendants James H. Chau and Judy N. Chau eighteen notices and sought three abatement warrants to address code violations at the property, including lack of heat, carbon monoxide detectors, and smoke detectors; unapproved building, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical alterations; and extensive blight. The City has also received reports of appalling discrimination against a transgender tenant at 1442 8th Avenue. After Defendants learned that the tenant is transgender, they embarked on a campaign of intimidation to remove her from the property, locking her out of her unit, throwing away her possessions (including her medications and medical documents), and hiring knife-wielding men to threaten her into leaving. Earlier this year, Defendants sold the property without making any of the necessary repairs to bring it up to code.
1030 Foothill Boulevard, which is owned by Defendant King V. Chau, is a four-unit residential complex with at least two unpermitted units at the rear of the property. The City has documented numerous code violations at 1030 Foothill Boulevard, including lack of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a unit without a functioning toilet, and persistent blight on the premises. Since 2018, the Fire Department has responded to two fires at the property, which at one point contained an illegal marijuana growing operation. The tenants at the property are believed to have been without power since the second fire, which occurred in August 2019, and rely on generators or battery powered lanterns for limited electricity and light at night.
The City Attorney’s lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction and appoint a receiver to correct the code violations at the property and halt Defendants’ harassment of their tenants. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties, punitive damages, and fees, to be determined by the court.
This case was filed by the Neighborhood Law Corps as part of City Attorney Parker’s Housing Justice Initiative. Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker launched the Housing Justice Initiative to significantly expand work protecting vulnerable tenants in Oakland’s diverse neighborhoods and holding abusive landlords accountable.
Post based on press release from City of Oakland to Zennie62Media
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