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News from: City of Oakland

March 4, 2015

Oakland City Attorney secures settlements to clean up problem properties 

Settlements require owners to address subpar living conditions and safety issues at properties in East & West Oakland

Oakland, CA — Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker announced today that the City Attorney's Neighborhood Law Corps has secured settlements that will force landlords to address unsafe and inhumane living conditions at two rental properties in West and East Oakland.

In August of last year, the City Attorney’s Neighborhood Law Corps filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the Beverly Hills-based owners of the West Grand Hotel, a single room occupancy rental property notorious for drug sales and appalling living conditions. Later that same month, the NLC filed a separate lawsuit against the Walnut Creek-based owners of the Hillside Apartments, a large apartment complex in East Oakland also known for unacceptable living conditions and rampant crime. The Oakland Police Department also described Hillside as a base of operations for a violent gang known for robberies, shootings and other crimes in East Oakland.

Both lawsuits charged the owners with failing to maintain basic standards of habitability and security at their properties as required by law.

In February, the City Attorney's Office secured settlements in both cases that will improve conditions for tenants and neighbors of the properties. The settlements require the owners to clean up the properties, hire professional management and pay major payments to the City – $40,000 in the Hillside case and $100,000 in the West Grand case.

“These settlements are a clear victory for tenants and neighbors of these properties, and they are an unmitigated loss for slumlords who exploit tenants in Oakland,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said. “Landlords have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure their properties are a public asset, not a public nuisance. Every family that rents a home in Oakland has a right to humane living standards, whether they live in the Hillside Apartments or a condo in Rockridge.”

West Grand Hotel Settlement (Superior Court Case No. RG14735473)

Hillside Apartments Settlement (Superior Court Case No. RG14737036)

For years, the West Grand Hotel at 641 West Grand Avenue operated as a nuisance to the neighborhood and a danger to the dozens of people who live there. The property has long been a center of drug activity, including sales, storage and distribution of cocaine and heroin.

City inspectors also repeatedly documented dangerous building and fire code violations, including a complete lack of fire extinguishers or alarms, exposed and unsafe wiring, broken windows, infestations of mold and cockroaches, overflowing dumpsters, nonworking toilets and showers, cooking appliances used in the hallways and conditions unfit for human habitation.

As part of the settlement, the court appointed a receiver with authority over the property to oversee fixes, including prevention of drug sales. Additionally, the settlement requires the owners to pay for a professional property manager for the next five years.

Safety and blight problems also have plagued the Hillside Apartments, located at the end of Hillside Street where it dead-ends into the back fence of Castlemont High School.

According to police, stolen vehicles are often stripped, abandoned and sometimes burned in the Hillside parking lot. Police said robbery suspects sometimes flee into the complex, where they can duck into apartments and hide from police, and gang members openly carry firearms and intimidate tenants on the property. There was at least one shooting on or near the property every month during the four months leading up to the filing of the lawsuit in August.

Hillside owners Grant Alvernaz and Douglas Moore both pleaded guilty to unrelated federal criminal charges for their participation in a real estate bid-rigging scheme involving foreclosed properties. Both admitted to participating in a scheme to rig bids at foreclosure auctions in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Alvernaz and Moore bought the Hillside Apartments at a foreclosure auction during the time period when they admitted to participating in the criminal conspiracy. They have acquired at least a dozen properties in Oakland alone since January 2004 (U.S. Department of Justice press release).

The Hillside settlement also requires the owners to hire a local professional property manager and licensed security guards to patrol the complex. The owners must personally conduct regular inspections with a neutral monitor overseeing compliance. The settlement includes a requirement for the owners to install security gates and 54 high definition security cameras, and maintain the property free of blight and building code violations. The City has the right to approve any buyers of the Hillside property and the settlement is binding on any future owners.

The City’s lawsuit is ongoing against defendant Parawest Community Development, the current property manager of the Hillside complex.