The city is suing a landlord who authorities say tried to bypass Oakland’s rent control ordinances and nearly triple his tenants’ rent by pretending to move into the duplex.
The city attorney’s office, alongside tenant rights legal firm Centro Legal de la Raza, filed a lawsuit March 20 against landlord Rong Fu Lee alleging that he claimed to be living in the downstairs unit of the duplex in 2016 and attempted to drastically increase the rent for Salvador Sotelo — who had lived at the West Oakland duplex with his family since 2003.
Efforts to reach Lee and his attorney this week were unsuccessful.
Oakland’s rent control and eviction ordinances allow landlords to evict a tenant or significantly increase their rent if they move into the property, according to a city attorney’s office news release.
“In the midst of Oakland’s housing crisis, some landlords are violating the law by claiming they will move in, or by moving into the property for a brief period, in order to evict tenants or increase rents by exorbitant amounts,” the release said.
Despite Lee claiming he had been living in the duplex for a year in 2016, the city attorney’s staff found that utility bills showed months with zero water usage in the unit during that time period, according to the release. Neighbors testified that Lee had infrequently visited the property, and Lee’s father — Yan Hua Lee, who is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit — was videotaped bringing trash to the property from elsewhere, “apparently to make it look like the downstairs unit was occupied,” the release said.
Sotelo filed a petition with the city’s rent adjustment program in October challenging the rent increase, the news release said. The increase was found to be unjustified.
Sotelo is seeking for repairs to be made, including fixing long-standing water leaks and mold and mildew; for Lee to “refrain from verbal and written threats” to Sotelo and his family; for Lee to hire a separate property manager for the property; and for Lee to clarify his compliance with the city’s rent control and just cause eviction ordinances every month for the next two years, according to the civil complaint.
Sotelo is also seeking general, special and statuary damages according to be determined at trial, reimbursement of attorney’s fees, costs and expert witness fees; and for the city to be reimbursed for costs and expenses incurred during the case. The plaintiffs also are demanding a jury trial to assess civil penalties, impose damages and enter a judgment.