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Oakland Building Residents Feel Pressured To Move Amid Renovation

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- The Bay Area's economic boom is transforming the face of Oakland. Priced out of San Francisco, thousands of young tech workers are crossing the Bay to find affordable places to live. But the migration comes at a cost.

In April, a new landlord took over the Hotel Travelers, one of the last residential hotels for low-income residents of Oakland. "I like to call this hotel my old girl, because she has great bones but she just hasn't had any work done for years and years," said Dion Ross, who manages the building for the new landlord.

ALSO READ: Oakland Residents Displaced From Building Under Renovation File Lawsuit

He took a KPIX 5 crew on a tour to show why a complete remodel is so sorely needed. "Look at these pipes, the fixtures. I mean, why anyone would not want us to repair things is beyond me," he said, showing us around a room just vacated by a former resident.

But some tenants aren't impressed. "If they were just upgrading the things that need to be upgraded that's one thing," said Hotel Travelers resident Peter Howe. "But these rooms didn't need to be torn down to the studs."

The new landlord, Danny Haber, is in the tech hostel business. His properties, called The Negev, advertise as "the new type of apartment that's revolutionizing cities."

"His whole idea, as far as we can tell, is to completely gut the building, then bring in new tenants that can afford to pay $2,000 a month, $1,500 a month, which is way out of my reach," said Howe.

Meanwhile, Howe is living in a construction zone. Workers even busted through one tenant's wall while doing demolition. In addition, the elevator's been out of service for months.

Despite it all Howe doesn't want to leave. "This is my home, there's no place for me to move to," he said. "Anything in Oakland is going to be over $1,000 a month and I can't afford that and I really don't want to end up in a tent somewhere," said Howe.

Bo Knapp isn't budging either. He's the last resident left on the top floor. "They have not evicted anybody, technically," said Knapp. "What they have done is offer them pittance money."

Knapp said it's hard cash, along with a contract. It states, in part, that the owner has not asked them to leave; in other words they asked the landlord if they could, not the other way around. "If it's the tenth time they have been approached, and it's phrased, 'You need to move,' they don't have the wherewithal to say, 'Go away!'" said Knapp.

A group of Travelers tenants have filed a lawsuit, claiming the building's no longer habitable and that the new landlord is violating Oakland's tenant protection ordinance by allegedly pressuring them to leave.

"You feel like you are on the spot and you can't do anything," said James Vann, head of Oakland's Tenants Union. He says tech workers priced out of San Francisco are setting their sights on his city. "Their six-figure salaries and above make them eligible to pay whatever," said Vann. "I mean, any rent in Oakland is a bargain to them."

It's also a bargain for real estate investors cashing in on the trend. Vann said there's virtually no rent control in Oakland, and even the tenant protection ordinance lacks teeth. "We got the council to pass it but they stripped it of its implementation and funding," said Vann. "So the law stands that there are these things landlords are not supposed to do. But there's no one enforcing it."

We tried to talk to Haber at his San Francisco office. But he wasn't around and the employees there didn't want to talk to us. But Haber did reply to our email. He said, in part, "Although we are offering buyouts to individuals, which is a significant sum enabling people to live rent free, we are also happy for whoever wants to remain in the building both during the construction work and then after the work to stay."

Ross told us there's nothing shady going on. "No one here I can tell you has been pressured to do anything," said Ross. "This has nothing to do with tech people ... It has to do with renovating a building that is in dire need of renovation."

One of Haber's tech co-ops in San Francisco also used to be a residential hotel like the Travelers.  Former residents there were not allowed to return. A group of them sued Haber for wrongful eviction and received a settlement of $475,000.

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