No Scarcity of Tenant Horror Stories

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on May 14, 2008

They came to tell their horror stories to members of the Land Use Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. They were tenants from units owned by Skyline/Citi Apartments, an outfit that has been rapidly acquiring rent-controlled property in San Francisco. Supervisor Chris Daly, in conjunction with several community organizations, arranged the May 12 hearing.

According to testimony by tenants and a representative of the City Attorney’s Office, Skyline buys buildings and then harasses or intimidates the long-term renters into leaving or accepting buyouts. That way they can jack up the rents on their units. SF does not have vacancy control. Once a rent-controlled apartment is empty, the sky’s the limit on how much the landlord can raise the rent.

Doing business under many names, Citi owns about 300 buildings, with 6,300-7,500 units that house an estimated 12,000 tenants, making them one of the City’s larger landlords.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera has filed suit against Citi, alleging, among other things, that their conduct of trying to push out long-term tenants paying below-market rents is “an unfair and illegal practice.” Many individual lawsuits have also been filed against Citi. Some of those suits have settled but with gag orders.

Tenants complained that when Skyline/Citi purchased their buildings, they subjected them to living with constant construction as well as ignored repair problems. Debbie Acosta, a Citi Apartment tenant, described the aftermath of her building’s acquisition by Citi as a “non-stop construction zone.”

Ana Maria Ramirez said that when Citi took over, management allegedly tossed out the tenants’ possessions that were in the storage area. The previous landlord had allowed tenants to use the space. When she developed a leak in her kitchen, the new management didn’t respond “for three months, until mushrooms began to grow.”

“We need legislation around this issue,” said Robert Haaland of Pride at Work, a group that has been mobilizing tenants in Skyline buildings. Pride at Work is part of CitiStop, a coalition of tenant and other concerned groups.

Jane Martin, also of CitiStop, explained the group’s efforts: “We visited over 50 buildings, we’ve seen over 200 tenants and seniors who live in abject fear of losing their homes.”

One Spanish-speaking tenant recounted how six families on one floor of her building were displaced. “This country has opened its doors to me and Citi wants to close them,” she said.

Citi’s attorney, Tara Condon denied that buyouts are a form of “coercion” to get tenants out of their apartments.

“I think we really have endeavored over the last year and half — frankly, since the filing of the city lawsuit — to really do a great job,” she told the SF Examiner.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical southern Italian queer tenant activist with a website: www.avicollimecca.com

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