In 2015, an investor named Green Group LP purchased a single room occupancy (SRO) building at 524 Eight Street in Oakland’s Chinatown district. SROs are small, one-room rentals where tenants share bathrooms and kitchens as common areas. The rent is generally inexpensive, making SROs a popular option for low-income individuals and families.
The tenants of the Oakland hotel filed a lawsuit in June 2016, claiming that the new owners were attempting to force them to vacate the property by making the building uninhabitable. According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, the owners of the building publicly announced that the building would be renovated to attract higher-income tenants who would be charged higher rents. The suit claims that Green Group LP started renovating the building by demolishing common areas, including kitchens and bathrooms, leaving them unusable for tenants. Some of the renovations lasted for months, with little to no notice for residents. The suit also claims that, though the residents are almost exclusively Chinese, demolition notices were in English and the tenants could not read what the notices said. Residents were also without hot water for long periods of time.
In addition, the residents claim the owners threw out private property, including clothing, children’s toys, Chinese New Year decorations, and other personal items.
The case has been settled for $1 million. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman approved the settlement. The 14 tenants who filed the suit will receive $795,000, while the remaining $205,000 is awarded to the city of Oakland for their legal expenses.
In addition to the settlement, Judge Seligman approved a permanent injunction that requires Green Group LP to provide adequate bathroom facilities for tenants, provide a standard policy for personal belongings within common areas of the building, and notify the city of Oakland in the event of future rent adjustments or evictions.
The city’s attorney, Barbara Parker, stated,“This lawsuit puts unscrupulous property owners on notice that Oakland will hold them accountable for violations of tenants’ rights and will not tolerate owners who make living conditions so miserable that tenants are compelled to move out. Displacing tenants from their homes frequently plunge families into poverty and homelessness and uproots them from the community. Every family that pays rent in Oakland is entitled to decent housing free from harassment and exploitation.”