The largest private landlord in Oakland began his trial on Monday, both inside and out of federal court on Clay Street.
As Michael Marr walked into court on the day jury selection commenced in the government’s case accusing him of rigging foreclosure auctions, he was greeted by his angry East Oakland tenants, who say the trial only tells part of his misdeeds.
Marr, who owns more than 300 properties, mostly in Oakland’s flatlands, is one of four men accused of working together to suppress the prices of bids on foreclosed homes at courthouse auctions.
He is facing charges of bid rigging and multiple counts of mail fraud in Contra Costa and Alameda counties stemming from his 2014 indictment.
Federal prosecutors said the men decided who would win the bidding for specific properties by agreeing not to compete with each other before the auction. They would then hold a second private auction to determine who would get the properties, according to prosecutors. Payoffs were given to those who agreed not to compete with them.
Marr and others used the scheme from 2008 to 2011 in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, just as foreclosure rates skyrocketed during the subprime mortgage crisis.
Now, residents at the same homes Marr purchased in East Oakland are claiming he is raising rents, sending eviction notices and collecting back rents as his trial unfolds. Rent control does not apply to single-family homes under state law, but the tenants who showed up to protest outside of court Monday say what Marr is putting them through is criminal.
Billy Martin, who lives in a home on 72nd Avenue that Marr purchased in 2014, said the landlord raised his rent from $800 to $1,500. Martin lost a hearing to fight the rent increase and afterward Marr and his business, Community Realty, asked for $7,400 in back rent. Martin has lived in the home with his wife and two sons for 15 years.
“This is the only place we have. We have no money to move anyplace else,” Martin said Monday. “I’m a stone’s throw away from being on the street. I am going to fight Michael Marr at this place right here, every day.”
Irene Wilson, an 84-year-old who has lived in her home for 30 years and runs a boarding home there, is fighting an eviction, according to ACCE Action, a nonprofit which organized Monday’s protest.
Omar Taylor’s family lives in another home purchased at auction by Marr. Under a settlement they were able to stay as tenants and are now trying to buy back the property, Taylor said.
“We all have that common bond here of being victims of his business,” Taylor said.