Herrera Obtains Back-to-Back Judgments to Protect Mission District Tenants, Neighbors

Crackdown on Nuisances Involving Drug Activity, Resident Safety Nets $675K in Combined Penalties and Costs, Tough Civil Injunctions

SAN FRANCISCO (Mar. 17, 2008) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today announced two judgments recently obtained by his office’s Neighborhood & Resident Protection Division that have established tough, enforceable injunctions against Mission District property owners charged with flouting state and local laws intended to protect the health and safety of tenants and neighbors. The dual civil actions additionally won combined penalties, fees and costs in excess of $675,000.

“These back-in-back judgments send a clear message to negligent property owners in San Francisco that neither the City nor the courts will tolerate code violations that endanger the lives of tenants and neighbors,” said Herrera. “As these cases demonstrate, public nuisances can range from abiding rampant drug activity to flouting health and building codes. In fact, we are very lucky that no lives were lost when fire forced one of these properties to be vacated. Nuisances such as these are serious threats to neighborhood safety — in the Mission District and elsewhere — and I intend to continue to pursue them aggressively.”

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Mahoney entered a stipulated injunction and judgment on Friday, March 14, against owners and managers of the Grand Southern Hotel at 1939-1943 Mission Street. In his original civil suit filed in October 2006, Herrera charged defendants Ruben M. Salem, Zahira Salem and Muhammed Salem with operating the single-room occupancy residential hotel at Mission and 15th Streets as a public nuisance based on longstanding narcotics activity, in violation of the Drug Abatement Act, and multiple violations of the California Health and Safety Code and San Francisco housing, electrical, plumbing and health codes. One of the most egregious violations at the residential hotel, which houses a number of immigrant families with children, was the lack of working shower or toilet rooms for weeks at a time.

As provided in the stipulated injunction, the Court has ordered the installation of security gates, locks and a video surveillance system; the posting of English- and Spanish-language signage warning against drug-related and other nuisance activity; and the satisfaction of all abatement orders and notices of code violations by the Department of Building Inspection within 30 days. The court additionally directed the Grand Southern Hotel to employ a property manager “with significant, verifiable experience,” and ordered current building manager Muhammed Salem to complete at least 8 hours of property management training by the San Francisco Apartment Association within 30 days. Adult tenants and occupants will be required to sign rental agreements prohibiting “the unlawful sale, service, storage, manufacture, distribution, or use of controlled substances,” with violators subject to eviction. The defendants must also attend at least two neighborhood or community meetings involving Mission District neighborhood issues per month, with at least one being the San Francisco Police Department’s Mission Station Captain’s Meeting. Total penalties, fees and costs ordered in the case involving Grand Southern Hotel total $275,000, in addition to any currently due and owing assessment fees to the Department of Building Inspection.

In a judgment issued March 5 against the owner of a property at 330-332 South Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos ordered James H. Chau to pay $400,000 in penalties, fees and costs for a variety of illicit conduct including operating a public nuisance and endangering the safety and health of tenants and neighbors. Chau’s tenants at the property were largely comprised of monolingual immigrants from Latin America, some with children, who rented tiny rooms with no leases. The four-unit building had to be vacated following an October 2006 fire, after a host of orders by the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission went unheeded. No lives were lost in the blaze.

As part of the stipulation with the City, Chau admitted to maintaining the property in an unsafe, overcrowded and dilapidated condition; converting a commercial space into residential housing without building permits; illegally performing construction to create additional bedrooms without building permits; and illegally converting the property into a rooming house. Chau additionally admitted to consistently ignoring directives from the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, including seven Notices of Violation, four administrative hearings, and four notices of abatement.

Judge Bolanos’s order will require Chau to obtain proper permits and correct all outstanding code violations to the satisfaction of the Department of Building Inspection within nine months; and to ensure that the property remains vacant, secured and free of public nuisances until after code violations have been fully abated. Failure to correct all violations within the allotted time will result in an additional $50,000 in civil penalties. Chau is additionally responsible to pay all currently due and owing assessment fees to the Department of Building Inspection.

The cases are: City and County of San Francisco and People of the State of California v. Ruben M. Salem et al, San Francisco Superior Court No. 456-808 (Neighborhood and Resident Protection Division Chief Alex Tse and Deputy City Attorney Jerry Threet); and City and County of San Francisco and People of the State of California v. James H. Chau, San Francisco Superior Court No. 457-494 (Neighborhood and Resident Protection Division Chief Alex Tse and Deputy City Attorneys Michael Weiss and Frank Brass).