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SF Tenants Say Non-Stop Renovations To Rent-Control Property Amount To Eviction Harassment

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- It's not an easy job to get tenants on rent control to leave a building. In fact, in the past few years San Francisco has passed even stricter eviction laws. But more than 100 tenants of the city's biggest landlord tell us they think he's trying to annoy them into self-eviction.

Jon Kessler is living in a constant state of construction at his apartment building on 1064 Dolores St. He's forced to stand idly by as workers roll in tarps, move furniture around, hang plastic sheets and start hammering away, tearing down his walls for "exploratory demolition."

It's part of a project to transform some garage space into living units. To be clear, he doesn't think the demolition was necessary. But it's just the latest of many disruptive repairs and remodels he has had to endure. "It's constant," said Kessler. "Two weeks ago, they were in four days out of a five-day work week."

ALSO READ: Tenants Say Renovations Are Pushing Them Out Of Rent-Controlled Housing

Upstairs, Adrian Anzaldua knows exactly how Kessler feels. "At one point they had a renovation below us, [and] a renovation down the hall," said Anzaldua.

The tenants say it all started five years ago when a company called Veritas Investments bought their building through an LLC. It's one of dozens of LLCs connected to Yat-Pang Au, CEO of Veritas and the biggest landlord in San Francisco. In a pension real estate association interview, Au explained his strategy is to attract a new kind of tenant, young tech workers from out of town.

Au has an ownership stake in nearly 250 rental properties throughout the city with more than 5,000 apartments, available through the company's leasing arm, RentSFnow.

Kessler and Anzaldua are among the six remaining rent control tenants left in their 12-unit apartment complex.

While their monthly rents range from $1,600 to $2,500, the renovated units are fetching up to $5,000 or more. "Do you think they want you out of here?" we asked Kessler. His answer: "Oh, absolutely."

"You get the sense that you're not wanted and that there are other people who can pay more who are more desired," said Anzaldua.

During their time on Dolores Street Kessler and Anzaldua endured what they claim in a lawsuit against Veritas is harassment in the form of construction. Tenants have come up with a word for it: Renoviction.

They regularly receive 24-hour notices that they won't be able to park in their garage, that the water is being shut off or their power is being shut off, that the fire escape needs securing, that contractors and prospective buyers need to tour their place.

"There's a tremendous incentive for a landlord to get them to move," said attorney Ryan Vlasak. He's heard this story time and time again; 165 times to be exact. His law firm, Bracamontes & Vlasak, represents 165 tenants including Anzaldua and Kessler, who are all suing Veritas and Au. "This many people would not be mad at the same landlord in the city for no reason. I think that means something," said Vlasak.

Au would not agree to an interview for this story. Instead his company sent us a statement addressing Anzaldua and Kessler's building specifically. It reads in part: "We are confident this litigation will be dismissed. These tenants are living in a great building in the heart of Noe Valley with a landlord that is committed to the highest standards."

The company also sent us before and after photos of dry rot repair work they did on Anzaldua and Kessler's building to illustrate the kind of improvements they made. As for existing tenants, they told us "We have one of the lowest eviction rates of any landlord in the city so these tenants are welcome to stay."

That's exactly what the current legacy tenants intend to do because they say leaving this building would mean leaving the Bay Area. "If I were to leave here I would have to leave here," said Kessler. And as the chaos of construction whirrs around them, they're determined not to stay silent.

"At the moment we're going to try to stay, not only because this is community, we know each other, but because it's important we all keep doing this work," said Anzaldua.

The company says the lawsuit is just a way for the lawyers to make more money by recruiting more tenants. Veritas gave us a copy of a flyer that they say has been posted in several of their buildings, encouraging tenants to sign up.

Spokesperson Ron Heckmann sent us the following statement:

"We are confident that the failing Evander litigation will be dismissed in due course, and, indeed, the San Francisco Superior court has already held that  "there is no viable cause of action alleged by any of the plaintiffs."  Two of the plaintiffs in Evander, Adrian Anzaldua and Mirra Schwartz, have made statements to KPIX that do not fairly reflect conditions at 1064 Dolores street.  Since acquiring 1064 Dolores in 2014, Veritas has  greatly improved the building, including updates to the lobby and interior, a fire alarm upgrade, and the repair of dry rot found after acquisition.  We are now working on improving earthquake safety.  We have also provided these particular tenants with a new stove, a new refrigerator, new shower doors, new light fixtures, new screens and painted some of their windows and are replacing other windows.  So these tenants are living in a great building in the heart of Noe Valley with a landlord that is committed to the highest standards.  An independent firm that tracks resolution of complaints made with the department of building inspection found that "Veritas is definitely one of, if not the most proactive property management companies in San Francisco in dealing with building code complaints/violations," and pointed to public data maintained by the Department of Building Inspection to substantiate it.  Contrary to plaintiffs' allegations that Veritas seeks to drive out tenants, we have one of the lowest eviction rates of any landlord in the city, far less than 1% (0.18%) and almost exclusively due to continuing nonpayment of rent.  So, these tenants are welcome to stay and enjoy living at 1064 Dolores."

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