A landlord who has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the City of West Hollywood for forcing out rent-controlled tenants now has been charged with illegally evicting tenants in San Francisco.
SFGate.com reports that San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera last week filed suit against Ann Kihagi, who allegedly “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.
A company owned by Kihagi in the past two years has spent $24 million buying 50 apartments in San Francisco, SFGate.com reports.
Herrera said Kihagi buys apartment buildings whose tenants are paying below-market rates and tries to force them out. Under state law, a landlord can raise an apartment’s rent to the market rate once an existing tenant moves out. Herrera said that Kihagi offers to pay tenants to move. If they decline her offer, Herrara said that Kihagi claims that she or relatives are 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 tries to force tenants out by setting strict rules for their usage of storage rooms, laundry facilities and other things and is known to cut off utility services such as electricity and water.
“The conduct we have seen in this case is on par with the most egregious I have seen in my 13 years as city attorney,” he said.
Kihagi has been accused of similar behavior in West Hollywood, where her company owns an eight-unit apartment building at 1263 N. Crescent Heights Blvd.
In a suit filed by the City of West Hollywood in 2008, Kihagi is alleged to have told the city in 2008 that she was removing the tenants from the building’s four occupied apartments under the provisions of the Ellis Act. Under the Ellis Act, a landlord who isn’t claiming to convert a building to her own private use must leave a rental property vacant for five years before she can re-rent it at a market rate. If she decides to return it to the rental market before then, she must offer the vacated units to the previous tenants at their former rents plus any annual increases authorized under the rent control law.
The city alleged that after Kihagi notified the tenants that she was evicting them she turned around and 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 the 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 Kihagi was found guilty of violating her settlement agreement with the city. The state Court of Appeals last year 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.