OAKLAND, CA – Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker has secured an injunction against the owners of a Fruitvale area apartment building where for years tenants have complained that they had no heat, no working smoke detectors, bedbug and cockroach infestations, faulty electrical wiring and other habitability problems, including a fire in July 2016 that caused extensive damage to several units.
The injunction issued by the Court on January 19 is the result of a lawsuit that the City Attorney’s new Community Lawyering and Civil Rights Enforcement Unit filed in 2016 in collaboration with the Office’s Neighborhood Law Corps unit. The lawsuit against the owners and operators of the 30-unit apartment building at 1620 Fruitvale Avenue (Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG16829447) is the latest in a series of actions the City Attorney has filed to enforce Oakland’s 2014 Tenant Protection Ordinance.
“Oakland’s ongoing housing crisis is forcing so many families to survive in their cars, on the streets, in our parks, or in unsafe, substandard buildings,” City Attorney Parker said. “It is critical that the City hold accountable landlords who violate tenants’ rights and turn a blind eye to inhumane conditions that persist at their properties. Every Oakland family has the right to habitable, dignified and safe housing.”
After buying the Fruitvale Avenue property in 2007, the owners have consistently failed to address tenants’ complaints about illegal and inhumane conditions.
The City’s lawsuit includes a declaration from a family that slept in a closet and on their kitchen floor for nearly a year and a half to avoid being bitten by bedbugs. Alameda County Vector Control confirmed pest infestations at the property on numerous occasions, and City of Oakland Code Enforcement cited the owners multiple times over the past few years for sewage backup and other plumbing problems, a lack of working heat and smoke detectors, holes in the walls, broken or missing windows, failure to provide functioning locks and the accumulation of raw sewage under the building, among other issues. The owners failed to remedy the problems.
In August 2016, Code Enforcement again cited the owners after a fire damaged the building and forced tenants to vacate several apartments. A tenant who was at home with her 8-year-old daughter when the fire occurred said she did not hear a fire alarm and did not know what was happening until she saw smoke and flames coming out of the walls of her bathroom. Luckily, she and her daughter were able to escape the building unharmed, and no other tenants were injured. To date, the owners have not fully restored the damaged units.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith’s final ruling on January 19 enjoins the owners from continuing to operate the building in violation of Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance and state and local public nuisance laws.
The owners have approximately forty days to address the health, safety and habitability issues at the building. If they fail to do so, they will face contempt of court charges and sanctions.
In March 2016, the nonprofit Centro Legal de la Raza filed a lawsuit against the same owners for similar violations at the property (Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG16806249). Centro Legal also assisted the City Attorney’s Office with declarations and other aspects of its case.