Court of Appeal affirms $2.7M judgment for city — which has accrued nearly $500K in interest since last year alone

The 1st District Court of Appeal yesterday affirmed a hefty 2017 ruling won by the City of San Francisco against Anne Kihagi, who has, in a comparatively brief tenure in San Francisco, earned a reputation as this city’s cruelest landlord.

Kihagi obtained nearly a dozen San Francisco buildings in a $30 million buying spree between 2013 and 2016. She has acquired properties — and spent time in court — in Los Angeles and West Hollywood as well.

Monday’s wholesale rejection of Kihagi’s appeal affirmed a 151-page 2017 ruling in the city’s favor, described by one of Kihagi’s own attorneys as being defined by “the numbing repetition of a judge being careful to nail down all the corners.”

Those corners remain nailed down.

That decision from Judge Angela Bradstreet hit Kihagi with a $2.73 million penalty for an astounding 1,612 separate violations; Kihagi systematically bought rent-controlled properties at comparatively low prices reflecting their limited income streams, then harassed and/or evicted their oft-elderly or disabled tenants out of the buildings, replaced them with new tenants and charged top dollar. She also undertook monumental amounts of unpermitted work on her many city properties, at times using the constant construction — and abrupt curtailments of water and power — as yet another means of tormenting her rent-controlled tenants.

A photo of Kihagi, via the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Yesterday’s ruling, affirming the massive 2017 ruling, isn’t quite as repetitious in damaging details as the original, but does contain an impressive variety of synonyms for “we disagree with the appellant.” The Court of Appeal systematically rejected every last argument put forth by Kihagi’s attorneys in their 134-page brief.

Kihagi’s decision to disobey “at least 10 discovery orders” — along with her practice, during depositions, of refusing to answer even rudimentary questions such as her name on her birth certificate — continues to leave a sour taste in a series of judges’ mouths. The landlord has demonstrated a habit of ostensibly replacing her attorneys on the eve of a deadline, and then pleading for an extension so as to allow new counsel time to get a handle on a case involving tens of thousands of documents. On Monday, the Court of Appeal found that no rules were broken in denying such extensions, as “the landlord’s lack of diligence was extreme.”

Very little, it seems, escaped the judges’ notice in Monday’s 60-page excoriation. At one point, the judges accused Kihagi and her attorneys of essentially cherry-picking quotes to present a false rationale as to why an aggrieved tenant left one of Kihagi’s properties on Guerrero Street in the Mission. While Kihagi’s brief claimed the ex-renter “chose to leave after breakup of a romantic relationship,” the panel of judges said this was a deliberate ploy to “pluck selective quotes” from the woman’s testimony.

That testimony is reprinted at some length in Monday’s ruling and, rather than the tenant choosing to leave after the dissolution of a relationship, the claim was far more insidious: The horrible conditions placed upon the couple by Kihagi instead fomented stress, an untenable living situation, and a breakup.

Yesterday’s ruling allows for the imposition of an injunction against Kihagi, which had been stayed until a decision was issued by the Court of Appeal. The terms of that appeal include mandating Kihagi and her co-defendant sisters reveal to the city all properties they own; invalidating some pending evictions; barring Kihagi from initiating new evictions; and, perhaps most significantly, requiring her to hire an independent management company to “be responsible for the day-to-day management of the properties for 60 months” (Kihagi stands to be barred from interacting personally with her tenants; a litany of such disturbing interactions form the basis for Monday’s ruling and the prior decision it affirmed).

Monday’s ruling validated both the $2.73 million judgment against Kihagi and the methodology for calculating that penalty — and adds to it, as nearly $500,000 in interest has accrued since June 2017. The City Attorney’s office will additionally attempt to wring legal fees for this appeal out of Kihagi, as well as other costs incurred. A separate appeal is pending regarding the city of San Francisco’s overarching legal bill, which should equal or surpass the above figure.

“If there is one thing Anne Kihagi is consistent about, it’s violating the law,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera following the Court of Appeal’s affirmation. “Once again, a court found that Ms. Kihagi’s predatory practices as a landlord subjected tenants to campaigns of harassment and unconscionable abuse. Now she has to face the consequences of her actions. This decision is a victory for San Francisco tenants and the rule of law, and it restores an even playing field for property owners who follow the law, unlike Ms. Kihagi.”