Landlords of a building that burned down at 14th and Stevenson streets in 2014 are paying out more than $1 million to tenants who were displaced by the fire and subsequently evicted.
The men who owned the 1441-1451 Stevenson St. warehouse at the time of the fire, identified in court documents as Albert Joshua and David Kimmel, have agreed to pay eight tenants — who were evicted through the Ellis Act after they were displaced — a $1.05 million settlement.
The settlement is a win for warehouse tenants who were kicked out of their homes amid a crackdown down on illegal dwellings following the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire in December 2016, said Joseph Tobener, a tenants’ rights attorney who represented the Stevenson tenants.
“The Stevenson Street fire award is critical for these warehouse tenants, because it shows that these tenancies have significant value under the law, even if they are unpermitted,” Tobener said.
The 2-alarm Stevenson Street fire broke out one early morning in January 2014, displacing 21 people, including an infant, and causing major damage to one of the last remaining artist live-work spaces in the Mission at the time.
The complaint filed against the landlord states that because the landlord failed to repair damaged caused by the fire and failed to legalize the building for residential use, the tenants permanently lost their rent-controlled units.
“As a result, they have suffered moving costs, rent differential, emotional distress, lost wages and incurred attorney fees and costs,” the complaint states.
It also alleges negligence, breach of contract, unlawful rent increases, constructive eviction, unlawful eviction, intentional infliction of emotion stress, nuisance, unfair business practices and unjust enrichment, and seeks injunctive relief.
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Although the fire didn’t destroy all six units in the building, none of the tenants were able to move back in, because their landlords had evicted them through the Ellis Act, which allows owners to evict tenants and take the property off the rental market. That, Tobener said, is where the tenants were able to recover value.
“The Stevenson Street tenants had lived in their units for many years, and the units had significant economic value to them,” he said. “The Ellis Act eviction cut off the future rent damages.”
In 2015, following the initial lawsuit filed by the tenants against the property owners, Joshua and Kimmel countersued the tenants to recover the relocation assistance they paid the tenants under a city ordinance sponsored by then-Supervisor David Campos.
The ordinance, which was struck down by a California Superior Court Judge in October 2015, had landlords pay the difference between their previous rent and market-rate rent for a similar unit for two years.
Tobener said his clients also get to keep the allowance they received: $190,000 for all eight clients.
Tobener said that the building wasn’t safe because of the tenants, but because the landlord didn’t not properly manage the property and let years of illegal construction to go unchecked.
“Tenants in these spaces are in a bind,” he said. “They cannot call the fire department or City inspector for fear that the unit will be red-tagged and they will be forced out.”