Court rules against abusive landlord on every count in tentative decision; pending evictions to be cancelled, allowing those tenants to remain
SAN FRANCISCO (May 3, 2017)—City Attorney Dennis Herrera today announced he had secured a sweeping tentative ruling against a notorious landlord and her accomplices for waging a ruthless war to illegally force tenants from their rent-controlled homes so she could charge more money.
The decision, subject to only minor clerical corrections before it becomes permanent, places court-ordered constraints on the landlord, Anne Kihagi, and nullifies all pending evictions she is pursuing, such as one on a Guerrero Street property that is home to several seniors and a person with a medical disability.
“This is a resounding victory for San Francisco tenants and the rule of law,” Herrera said after the tentative decision was issued May 2. “I’ve gone after a lot of lawless landlords in my time, but Anne Kihagi has a special place reserved for her in San Francisco’s abusive landlord hall of fame. Her cruelty is stunning.”
Herrera filed a lawsuit against Kihagi and her associates in June 2015 for her egregious pattern of unlawful business practices that includes waging “a war of harassment, intimidation, and retaliation” against her tenants. Once forced from their homes, Kihagi routinely ordered unpermitted construction work before re-renting the uninspected and potentially dangerous apartments to unsuspecting new tenants at vastly higher rents.
“She bullied longtime residents, even elderly and disabled tenants, from their rent-controlled homes in the middle of a housing crisis just to line her pockets,” Herrera said. “She forced one tenant out of his longtime home as he battled terminal cancer. That breathtaking cruelty was matched only by her contempt for the law.”
Herrera added: “Ms. Kihagi violated court orders at will and lied repeatedly, including saying she or a relative was moving in, to unlawfully evict people. We caught her, and we put a stop to that. You can’t come to this city and lie, cheat and steal your way to massive wealth on the backs of residents. We’re not going to allow it.”
Kihagi started buying properties in June 2013 in Noe Valley, the Castro, the Mission and North Beach, amassing at least 10 buildings in San Francisco. This was after a similar campaign of illegal evictions and harassment against rent-controlled tenants in West Hollywood, California. Last week, a Southern California judge found Kihagi in contempt of court and ordered her to spend five days in jail.
The 154-page tentative decision from San Francisco Superior Court Judge Angela Bradstreet ruled in favor of the San Francisco on every count, voiding all evictions pending as of Jan. 12, 2017 and awarding almost $2.4 million in penalties. Judge Bradstreet also ordered the defendants to pay the city’s investigative costs and attorneys fees that remain to be totaled but are expected to run into the millions.
In her ruling, the judge denounced the illegal conduct of Kihagi and her accomplices in stark and powerful terms.
“The record is replete with outrageous, unlawful, and fraudulent violations that were specifically targeted against often long term tenants who were protected by San Francisco’s rent control laws,” Bradstreet wrote.
“Their reprehensible conduct had a terrible effect on the lives of multiple San Francisco citizens, even to the point of forcing one tenant to quit a cherished career and move out of state and, in another case, forcing a tenant out of his long time home as he battled terminal cancer,” Bradstreet noted in her ruling. “Defendants flagrantly and in bad faith flouted the laws.”
Kihagi, the judge found, told one tenant she was smiling because “I am going to be happy when your grandmother is dead,” and engaged in personal attacks against another tenant in a direct and calculated attack on her health to force her to vacate her apartment, knowing that she suffered from anxiety and panic attacks.
The judge found that when Kihagi and her associates sought to evict tenants, “defendants’ alleged grounds for eviction were false and in bad faith, and … their ulterior purpose was greed.”
In all, the judge found harassment, retaliation or fraudulent and wrongful evictions of tenants at seven different rent-controlled buildings in San Francisco. The judge found that the defendants harassed and wrongfully evicted 23 different tenants, and illegally harassed 10 other tenants – one of whom died.
Kihagi’s tactics included fraud; harassment; threats; intimidation; verbal abuse; interrupting gas, electric, water, and cable service; disrupting mail service; and failing to cash rent checks, only to later claim them as untimely rent payments. She and her agents also backdated correspondence and notices; violated tenants’ privacy by entering their apartments without required notice; refused to timely abate unsafe and substandard habitability conditions; and even retaliated against tenants who cooperated with city inspectors by installing video surveillance cameras aimed at the residents’ front doors. Well-known among tenants for her harassing text messages and shrieking, expletive-ridden personal interactions, Kihagi even made a veiled threat against a tenant’s cats, saying “it would be a shame if they got out.”
The ruling is also a validation of the city’s Department of Building Inspection, which documented scores of violations at Ms. Kihagi’s properties. The court found that the buildings were, collectively, noncompliant with state and municipal law for at least 4,487 days. About $1.1 million of the nearly $2.4 million in penalties were for building code violations alone. The court found another 1,251 violations of the state’s unfair competition law.
In addition to the financial penalties, the court ordered a tough, enforceable, 5-year injunction against Kihagi and her accomplices—her sisters Julia Mwangi and Christine Mwangi and her closely held LLCs—with the following terms:
- All pending owner move in evictions, relative move in evictions, “temporary” evictions for capital improvements, and Ellis Act notices are declared “invalid and without legal effect”
- Defendants are forbidden from contacting tenants
- Defendants must hire an independent manager that meets city approval to take over all property management, construction or maintenance responsibilities
- Defendants must remove surveillance cameras that point toward tenants’ units
- Defendants must disclose all San Francisco properties in which they have an interest, provide tenant lists and rent rolls
- Defendants cannot file litigation against tenants (including evictions) except with the approval and supervision of the independent manager
- City has the right to make unannounced surprise inspections every quarter
- Defendants must give a copy of the injunction to all of their tenants
- Court retains jurisdiction to make further orders to put the injunction into effect
The tentative decision was issued after a nearly three-month bench trial.
“I appreciate the court’s precision, patience and attention to detail in this very complex case,” Herrera said. “I also want to applaud the bravery and perseverance of the tenants who came forward and testified about what they had to endure.”
The case is: City and County of San Francisco and People of the State of California v. Anne Kihagi et al., San Francisco Superior Court No. 15-546152, filed June 4, 2015. Additional information on the San Francisco City Attorney’s office is available at: https://www.sfcityattorney.org/.
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