One of The City’s largest landlords, CitiApartments, allegedly employs armed men to intimidate renters, a series of lawsuits filed against the company claims.
On several occasions, according to the City Attorney’s Office, armed "agents" of CitiApartments arrived at the doors of tenants to harass them.
The company's security personnel uses "strong-arm tactics" such as after-hours visits, phone calls and utility shut-offs to persuade tenants living in rent-controlled apartments to leave, according to a lawsuit filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera Wednesday that included CitiApartment’s parent company Skyline and eight other limited liability companies.
One tenant, who lived in a CitiApartments building on Buchanan Street for 11 years, was denied maintenance because his rent was too low, The City's lawsuit alleges. When he persisted, three men, including Andrew Hawkins, who is named as a defendant in several lawsuits against the company, met him outside his building. One of the men, identified in the latest lawsuit as Dan Molieri, told the tenant the men "all have licenses to carry guns," and that he should stop making trouble.
In another lawsuit, tenants alleged that Hawkins showed up at the door of a couple living in a CitiApartments building on Bush Street carrying a gun. Hawkins allegedly demanded the residents’ passports, offered them money to move out, then subjected them to a "tirade of anger," while wearing military fatigues.
CitiApartments, which owns at least 150 buildings and has 5,000 tenants, has been hit with at least three lawsuits from tenants since April of this year, previous to the lawsuit leveled by City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Wednesday.
The City’s lawsuit alleges CitiApartments intimidated tenants to get them to move out, then renovate units without building permits so that they could illegally re-rent those units at much higher prices.
Herrera said Wednesday that Skyline Realty, which owns CitiApartments, paid too much for its buildings. The only way the company could recoup its money was to illegally remove tenants from rent-controlled apartments, then jack up the rents, he said. In a statement Thursday, CitiApartments maintained that it provides "safe, clean and well-maintained apartments." The company refused to comment further, indicating it "chooses not to try this matter in the press." Lawyers have previously denied any illegal activity on the part of CitiApartments.
The City’s lawsuit also alleges that Skyline and CitiApartments also used intentionally lax cleaning and maintenance, as well as "unreasonable and excessive construction noise and disruptions" to clear apartments of unwanted tenants. The lawsuit alleges further infractions, such as a tenant who went on vacation and came back to find the locks changed on his apartment, and another whose apartment was entered as she slept.
Ladra Tankha, a disabled woman who also lives in the building on Buchanan Street, said she has been trading letters with the company since they bought her building nearly a year ago. It was shortly after the sale that "weird, creepy, intimidation things" began happening, she said.
She received a late-night visit from a man who did not introduce himself but simply said he represented the owners, she said. The man told her the owners had gotten reports that she had had a guest, and told her she needed to send a letter to CitiApartments indicating that she didn’t plan on subletting the apartment.
Two men returned later, Tankha said, stating they were there to check the smoke alarms.
"They didn’t have a ladder. The guy asked to borrow my chair to check the smoke alarms," she said.
Louis Martin, a publisher who rents a $1,895 studio apartment in the Nob Hill Tower at 1221 Jones St., which is named in The City’s lawsuit, said conditions deteriorated when CitiApartments took over its management.
"We found the services that we’d come to expect with the high rent here stopped," he said.
The City’s lawsuit identifies the Nob Hill Towers as an example of the defendant’s alleged illegal conversion of residential units into short-term tourist rentals.
Tankha and Martin will both be added to a lawsuit, separate from Herrera’s, against CitiApartments. That action seeks an injunction against the company, prohibiting it from engaging in illegal tactics. It also seeks court and attorney fees and "such other and further relief as the court deems just and proper."