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Oakland Chinatown SRO Tenants Allege Elder Abuse, Wrongful Eviction In Rental Lawsuit

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- A lawsuit filed Friday in Alameda County Superior Court alleges that the owners, landlords and managers of a single-room occupancy building on the edge of Oakland's Chinatown are making living conditions unbearable to force out the tenants and rent to better-paying ones.

But a part owner of the property said that is false.

The Oakland City Attorney's Office, housing rights law firm Sundeen, Salinas and Pyle and Asian Americans Advancing Justice -- Asian Law Caucus filed the lawsuit on behalf of 14 tenants of 524 Eighth St.

The suit claims fair housing violations, habitability defects, wrongful and constructive eviction and elder abuse.

A majority of the 14 speak only Cantonese and six are seniors, Robert Salinas, one of the attorneys for the 14, said.

He said demolition of some of the hotel has left the occupants of 25 units with two and a half bathrooms and one kitchen when there were two.

But owner James Kilpatrick, who could not say how many communal bathrooms were operable, confirmed that one kitchen is being remodeled and the other is usable. Kilpatrick is a five percent owner in the property, which has 38 or 39 units.

Kilpatrick argued that when he and his partners took over there were many problems in the building, such as raw sewage in the basement, no smoke detectors and no carbon monoxide detectors.

"It was a death trap," Kilpatrick said.

Attorneys for the 14 said that the tenants' belongings have been destroyed and a celebration of the Lunar New Year prohibited. Those are violations of Oakland's Tenant Protection Ordinance, according to the tenants' attorneys.

Kilpatrick said some clothing outside the residents' doors may have been thrown out, but no belongings from inside a unit were thrown out.

Salinas said shoes that tenants left outside the doors to their rooms were thrown out.

But Kilpatrick said nothing was thrown out until three notices were issued in both English and Chinese.

"We're scared and mentally drained and it's especially difficult for elderly tenants like myself" tenant Mark Wong said in a statement.

Kilpatrick said the owners are not trying to displace the current tenants so they can rent to higher-paying tenants. He said the owners will likely try to raise the rent by $8 to $15 per unit.

"This will never be any kind of luxury housing," he said.

But Asian Law Caucus staff attorney Katherine Chu said the owners are harassing the tenants in order to force them to move.

"This is a way to evict without using eviction notices and the eviction process," Chu said.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said many landlords in Oakland are responsible and treat people fairly and follow the laws. However, her office will not tolerate landlords who abuse tenants and violate the law.

"Everyone who is a tenant in Oakland has a right to decent and humane housing and that includes tenants in SROs," Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said.

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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