Chinese Immigrants Forced to Live in Deplorable Conditions Taking Oakland Building Owners to Court

Tenants of an East Bay building say they have been subjected to unacceptable living conditions, cultural harassment and an invasion of privacy.

Residents of the single-room occupancy building on the edge of Oakland's Chinatown have filed a lawsuit against the property owners. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman said he plans to visit the building Wednesday to assess the situation for himself.

“If you can, imagine 33 households sharing three bathrooms and one kitchen,” said Katherine Chu, a housing rights attorney. “They're waiting in really long lines to be able to use the basic household facilities.”

That's what the attorney representing more than a dozen Chinese immigrants says her clients have experienced for six months. Chu said the building’s new owners have removed four of seven shared bathrooms and one of only two common kitchens, tossing out the tenants’ personal belongings during the demolition.

“Their lunar New Year celebration decorations were torn down from their front doors,” said Chu, a member of the Asian Law Caucus. “Basic things in common spaces – shoes and floor mats – taken away and thrown out; cooking ware in the kitchen, taken away and thrown out as well.”

The building's owners have also installed surveillance cameras in hallways that residents say they have to walk through to get to the bathroom and shower.

Nina Castro owns a store across the street from building and is outraged.

“Even though they speak little to no English that doesn't give people the right to abuse people, abuse their basic human rights,” she said. “The need to use a restroom, the need to cook your food so you can feed yourself – this shouldn't be something that happens in America.”

Meanwhile, Seligman has the power to order the building owner to rebuild the additional bathrooms and kitchen.

For their part, attorneys representing the building owner declined to comment in court Tuesday.

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