The City of West Hollywood has prevailed in court against West Hollywood landlord Anne Kihagi, who has been ordered to serve five days in Los Angeles County Jail and to pay the city’s attorney fees and costs.
Kihagi was held in contempt of court on Feb. 21 for violating a preliminary injunction that prohibited her from re-renting certain units at her property, an eight-unit building located at 1263 N. Crescent Heights Blvd.
The preliminary injunction was obtained after the City of West Hollywood intervened in a case against Kihagi, filed by a former tenant, who contends he was wrongly evicted when Kihagi used the Ellis Act as a pretext to terminate all of the leases in the building. Kihagi violated the injunction by re-renting the former tenant’s unit.
The city has been engaged in a legal back and forth with Kihagi since 2008, when it filed a lawsuit alleging that Kihagi notified her tenants that she was evicting them and then rented one of the already empty apartments to a new tenant. When that tenant told the city what Kihagi had done, Kihagi retaliated, the city alleged, by cutting off his electricity and hot water.
The city and Kihagi settled that lawsuit with Kihagi agreeing to extend for 90-days the tenancy of those she was planning to evict and agreeing not to rent any of the eight units until 2019. However, in 2012 Kihagi rented two apartments in the building in an apparent violation of her agreement with the city because she failed to notify the evicted tenants that they could return at rent-controlled rates. A judge found Kihagi guilty of violating her settlement agreement with the city. However, the state Court of Appeals in 2014 overturned that decision. It determined that two of the four units that Kihagi later rented already were vacant when she withdrew the property from the rental market.
Kihagi also goes by other names, including Ana Swain and Ann Swain, according to Anti Eviction Map, a website that tracks alleged illegal evictions.
The Ellis Act is a California State Law enacted in 1985 that allows property owners to evict tenants without cause if they intend to remove properties from the residential rental market. Displaced tenants and local governments may file a legal action against landlords if the property is returned to the rental market without following the Ellis Act’s restrictions.
Ellis Act reform is a priority for the City of West Hollywood. An an announcement of the Kihagi decision from City Hall says “the city has advocated at the state level for reform or repeal of the Ellis Act, and the city has a strong commitment to taking actions at the local level to increase tenant protections wherever possible. Shortly after the city was incorporated in 1984, the West Hollywood City Council adopted a landmark Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which was one of the strictest tenants’ rights laws in the nation.”
Kihagi also owns apartments in San Francisco, where she has been charged with illegally evicting tenants in what a city official said was the “most egregious” conduct by a landlord that he had seen in 13 years.
An article in 2015 in SFGate.com reported that San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against Kihagi, alleging she “waged a war of harassment, intimidation and retaliation” to force tenants from rent-controlled apartments she owned in San Francisco so that she could raise the rents to market rates.
Herrera said Kihagi bought apartment buildings whose tenants were paying below-market rates and tried to force them out. Herrera said that Kihagi offered to pay tenants to move. If they declined her offer, Herrara said that Kihagi claimed that she or relatives were moving into the building. Under the state’s Ellis Act, a rental property can be removed from rent control quickly if it is to be occupied by its owner or his or her family. Otherwise the property must remain off the market for a specified period of time before it can be re-rented at market rates.
Herrera said Kihagi also tried to force tenants out by setting strict rules for their usage of storage rooms, laundry facilities and other things and was known to cut off utility services such as electricity and water.