The owner of the two-story building that is the home of Sunrise Restaurant and two residential units on its second floor is being investigated by the city attorney’s office for allegedly violating San Francisco’s housing codes.
Since purchasing the 143-year-old property at 3126/3128 24th St. in March of 2014, Andrew Kong has racked up eight housing-code violations, including dry rot, a crumbling roof, missing smoke detectors and gaping holes in the ceiling of Sunrise Restaurant.
He is due back for his third hearing with city building inspectors on Tuesday, Nov. 6, for failing to comply with the current code violations in both apartments, and for purportedly living in an illegal unit in the back of the property.
Kong, who did not respond to requests for an interview, faces fines of up to $7,500, and costs associated with code enforcement — as well as potential penalties from the California Franchise Tax Board, which forbids taxpayers from claiming deductions from “substandard housing.”
From the day Kong purchased the property, tenants say they have had troubles with him. They claim he has failed to make repairs, and then moved to evict them.
Kong, who was profiled in Mission Local earlier this year, raised the rent for Sunrise Restaurant in February from $4,800 to $7,800. Proprietor Alba Guerra says that rent increase came without any repairs to the restaurant’s ceiling.
The space is at least 2,500 square feet, according to property records, which would make the increased rent just over $3 a square foot.
“A well-functioning building on 24th street could cost $3 a square foot, but someone who’s trying to rent a space with a leaking roof does not have a $3-per-square-foot space,” said Phil Lesser, a permit expediter and former president of the Mission Merchants’ Association.
“Water floods this back room,” she said, gesturing to the hallway behind the seating area. “My employee bathroom floods, too.”
Collapsed and eroded drywall, along with old beams and wire, is clearly visible in the ceiling in the bathroom. Guerra says Kong has made no attempts to fix anything. “He lives in the back of the property,” she said. “But he won’t talk to me. He doesn’t answer calls. He doesn’t do anything.”
Diana Ponce de Leon, the project manager from the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, worked with Guerra this year to “stabilize” her relationship with Kong throughout her lease negotiations. “Our goal is that Alba is in a stable position,” Ponce de Leon said, noting that the Sunrise received an SF Shine business grant of $150,000 to make improvements to her restaurant, including new equipment.
Ponce de Leon said her office was monitoring the situation and noted that OEWD considered the rent hike to be “steep.”
“Our partners, Working Solutions and Legal Services for Entrepreneurs, consider the rent increase to be above market rate,” Ponce de Leon said.
This year, Kong has received four Notices of Violation, including two on the same day. Public records show complaints dating back to March 9, 2015, just a year after Kong and his wife Aliana purchased the property from the previous owner, Glenda Gutierrez, who was also the subject of frequent complaints from her tenants.
Any hope the tenants harbored that habitability might improve with a new landlord vanished quickly.
According to Ligia de Leon, a tenant in one of the upstairs flats, Kong hasn’t paid for any of the repairs to her unit, forcing her to spend more than $8,000 in basic repairs. These include fixing her stove and the plumbing for her shower.
“I paid to fix everything,” said de Leon, who works the night shift for a shipping company. Her bathroom sink doesn’t still doesn’t drain, and her front windows are cracked and taped shut. There is no heat in the apartment, and a small crack, visible in the plaster surface of her living room ceiling, drips water every time it rains. She has no garbage can to use and says that although Kong bought one after the city required him to, he has forbidden her from using it.
Kong did purchase a water heater, she said. But it didn’t work. “I didn’t have hot water for two years.”
De Leon says Kong has attempted to bully her. “Six months ago, he came over here to see my water heater. He was so mad! He pushed my door open, and yelled at me and told me I use too much water!” Kong tried to take pictures of her, de Leon says, in an attempt to intimidate her.
Kong has a history of property neglect that extends beyond his troubled building on 24th Street: A property he owns at 1399 Plymouth Ave. in San Francisco’s Westwood Park neighborhood was cited for hazardous conditions in 2010 by the Department of Building Inspection.
A property that Kong owns in Sacramento is similarly troubled. According to Carl Simpson, the Code and Housing Enforcement Chief for the city of Sacramento, Kong has racked up $142,315 in fines for code violations dating back to 2005. The property is now listed as a “vacant building,” which allows for stricter penalties to be applied.
In August of this year, the Kongs, along with 70 other Sacramento property owners, appeared on a city resolution that listed the owners of “substandard and dangerous buildings,” and sought to recoup administrative fees associated with code enforcement.
Kong has repeatedly blamed his tenants for the dilapidated state of his building. In two hearings in 2015, held by the Department of Building Inspection, Kong blamed the lack of repairs on his tenants, claiming that he had no keys, and thus no access, to the building.
In a hearing held in May 2015 conducted by Chief Plumbing Inspector Steve Panelli, Kong told the inspector that after purchasing the building from Gutierrez, the keys he was given didn’t work.
Kong also said that the building inspector then assigned to the case told him not to change the locks.
“The tenants changed the locks without providing a copy,” Kong said in 2015, remarking that his tenants wouldn’t “communicate” with him. When asked about the condition of the second unit, Kong said he didn’t know.
“You need to find out how to get in and take care of it. You’re the owner — you bought the units. Wouldn’t you walk through the units and make sure they’re in working order?” asked Panelli, who pressed Kong to explain the wretched condition of the building.
At a second hearing in September 2015, Kong was found to be noncompliant with the city’s orders. His lawyer, Dale N. Chen, blamed non-cooperative tenants that Kong was purportedly attempting to evict.
“They don’t mind complaining about things, but they don’t want him to inspect or repair anything,” Chen said, adding that the tenants refused to let Kong or his contractor in.
This assertion was challenged by another city inspector, who said he had gotten access in August but neither the owner nor contractor showed up.
Public records show that on two subsequent occasions, Kong was described as a “no-show” at a scheduled re-inspection.
At the 2015 hearing, Chen asked for a “continuance,” so that he could begin eviction proceedings.
“We’re going to need time to evict. Evicting a tenant is not an easy task. We’re trying to do it peacefully,” Chen stated.
Panelli denied his request, citing Kong’s lack of action on the violations. “All you’ve done is ask me for more time so that you can get somebody thrown out of a unit,” Panelli said emphatically. “You haven’t done anything at this point to make any repairs. You haven’t gotten any permits.”
De Leon, who’s lived in the apartment for 24 years, disputes Kong’s assertion that he has no keys. “When he bought this building, he had the keys.” One of de Leon’s daughters gave him the keys, she says.
De Leon was shocked to hear that Kong in 2015 said he was attempting to evict her. But she wasn’t surprised. “He’s had so many excuses for not fixing something in my apartment I think he has the same attitude as the last landlord: When I push too much, he tries eviction. That’s why I don’t push.”
Back at the Sunrise Restaurant, Guerra worries about the future. “This building is not safe,” Guerra said. “When I say something, to [Kong], he doesn’t care. He don’t do nothing for this building. He says ‘write the letter. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else’. He says he has somebody else he can it rent it to.”