SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/ BCN)-- A San Francisco landlord who is allegedly bullying elderly and disabled tenants into surrendering their rent-controlled apartments has been sued by the city.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a complaint in San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday against landlord Anne Kihagi, alleging a pattern of unlawful business practices that include waging "a war of harassment, intimidation, and retaliation" against tenants in order to force them from their rent-controlled homes.
The city attorney's office maintains that Kihagi, who goes by various spellings of her first and last names, practiced a predatory business model along with her business associates Julia Mwangi and Christine Mwangi, and the numerous companies under their control.
Litigation involving Kihagi's West Hollywood properties in Los Angeles County is also pending, according to court documents.
Since 2013, the defendants have acquired 50 rent-controlled units in nine multi-unit residential properties in San Francisco and, "in defiance of numerous state and local laws protecting tenants," Herrera said, have used illegal tactics to bully tenants into surrendering their rent-controlled apartments.
The properties at issue in the lawsuit, so far, include residences on 18th Street, Church Street; Eureka Street, Guerrero Street and Hill Street, as well as a property on Filbert Street in the city's Russian Hill neighborhood.
Herrera's complaint alleges that once Kihagi forces her tenants out of their apartments, she offers the units to new tenants at substantially higher rents.
This, Herrera said, is an unfair competitive advantage over other property owners and management companies in the city.
The complaint seeks as injunction and other relief against Kihagi.
Herrera's complaint maintains that at least six elderly and disabled renters were among those residents targeted for harassment by Kihagi or her agents.
"Anne Kihagi is among the most abusive and lawless landlords I've encountered in my tenure as City Attorney -- and I've gone after a lot of lawlessness by landlords," Herrera said in a statement released today.
Among the tenants allegedly targeted for harassment by Kihagi is a bedridden 91-year-old great-grandmother, according to the complaint.
Herrera said the alleged harassment is even more appalling because the city is in the midst of a severe housing crisis and tenants might not be able to afford a different unit in the city.
The harassment tactics, according to the complaint, have included interrupted gas, electric, water, and cable service, and disrupted mail service.
Other alleged harassment techniques included sending unprofessional text messages to residents and using unprofessional language during interactions with them, the complaint states.
The landlord allegedly violated tenants' privacy by entering their apartments without required notice, failed to abate building maintenance issues in a timely manner and allegedly retaliated against tenants who cooperated with city inspectors. The complaint also alleges that she failed to cash rent checks and then later claimed them as untimely rent payments.
The complaint alleges that Kihagi renovated units without requisite permits, refused access for inspections, defied notices of violations, failed to register businesses for tax purposes and repeatedly provided false information to San Francisco's Rent Board, Assessor/Recorder's Office and the San Francisco Superior Court.
"Kihagi's apparent contempt for her tenants seems rivaled only by her contempt for the law," Herrera said, explaining that she has defied city enforcement orders and deceived city agencies.
All but one of Kihagi's nine San Francisco multi-unit properties where tenants have alleged harassment are located in or near the Castro neighborhood in District 8.
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has actively engaged with Kihagi's tenants, said in a statement released today that this lawsuit will help stop such illegal behavior against tenants.
"There is no place in San Francisco for landlords who harass and intimidate tenants to drive them out of their homes," Wiener said.
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