The city of Oakland has filed a tenant protection lawsuit against the owners of a local real estate empire, alleging that they've rented out dilapidated spaces infested with vermin to tenants who often are low-income immigrants who speak little English.
The city's suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court earlier this month, alleges that Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder Mann, a married couple with extensive business interests in Oakland, have subjected tenants, including families with young children and pregnant women, to grave risks to their health, safety and lives in violation of the city's Tenant Protection Ordinance.
The suit says at least one family ended up temporarily homeless because of what it describes as the Manns' "negligence."
The Oakland City Attorney's Office alleged in a news release that the Manns "have profited from this predatory business model by renting unsafe units to tenants who are desperate to find affordable housing, and often are unable to take legal action to defend their rights."
City Attorney Barbara Parker said in statements, "The defendants in this case are textbook predatory landlords who have profited for years from willfully violating the basic legal and human rights of tenants."
Parker said, "In the midst of a devastating housing crisis in Oakland, the defendants have used their wealth and power not to help vulnerable families, but to exploit these tenants in a way that is both illegal and inhumane. This business model, based on systematic abuse of tenants' rights, ends now."
The Manns didn't respond to a phone message seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The City Attorney's Office says that in Oakland alone the Manns own an estimated 150 properties, including vacant lots, commercial properties, single-family homes, duplexes, mixed-use buildings and apartment complexes.
The city says the suit focuses on six properties in East Oakland, where it says the Manns have received at least 22 notices from the city about serious violations.
It says three of those six properties were completely or partially red-tagged by the city's code enforcement unit.
The city says the core of its suit is a commercial storage warehouse at 276 Hegenberger Road that the Manns converted into 18 units and rented out as living space in violation of Oakland law.
According to the City Attorney's Office, after one tenant complained to the city, the code enforcement unit documented numerous serious health and safety violations, including no smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, no heat, no hot water, un-permitted and dangerous gas lines, serious fire hazards, roof leaks, no garbage removal services and infestations of cockroaches, rats and mice.
The city said the code enforcement unit also has documented at least 29 additional violations at 20 other properties owned by the Manns.
The City Attorney's Office said, "Time and again, defendants have refused to make repairs, despite complaints from tenants and notices from the city."
The suit asks the court to order the Manns to immediately and permanently fix all habitability problems at their buildings and seeks fees, penalties and restitution.