|Photo by Rink
After a massive lawsuit was filed by four law firms representing 20 tenants who charge Skyline Realty and CitiApartments with mistreatment of seniors, immigrants, and disabled renters, a group of protesters picketed the companyâ€™s headquarters at Church and Market Streets on April 29. The coalition known as CitiSTO -Â acoalition of community activists backed by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club; Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club; San Francisco Tenants Union; Senior Action Network; SEIU Local 790; San Francisco Labor Council; and other organizations - claims that Citi Apartments is the second largest landlord in San Francisco, but they operate like small-time thugs. CitiSTOP says they use extreme methods to clear buildings of rent controlled tenantsâ€”big guys showing up at tenantsâ€™ doors for â€śinspectionsâ€ť (at times wearing camouflage and a firearm), claiming they will turn in tenants to Homeland Security or the FBI; setting up goons to check IDs at the door to buildings; issuing â€śpretextâ€ť evictions meant to intimidate tenants that are tossed out in court; and on and on. Because San Francisco does not have rent control over vacated units, they can raise the rent to whatever the market will bear.
â€śSkyline is without any doubt the worst and most abusive landlord in San Francisco,â€ť Ted Gullicksen, manager of the San Francisco Tenants Union, told Bay Times. They own thousands of units of property and they have a very systematic means of buying up apartment buildings and then targeting the most vulnerable tenants who are in long-term, affordable, rent-controlled apartments and then trying to drive them out via intimidation, harassment, threats, failure to make repairs, and whatever it takes.â€ť
â€śCitiâ€™s reign of terror is over,â€ť said veteran activist Tommi Avicolli-Mecca. â€śFollowing on the heels of the announcement Thursday of a major multi-plaintiff lawsuit against Citi, we have begun the public part of the campaign this Saturday.â€ť
Over 70 demonstrators gathered in front of the realtorsâ€™ headquarters to picket with placards. Some signs read: â€śHabitability? Not at Citi!â€ť â€śCitiApartments is ruining our City;â€ť â€śHey Skyline, thanks for your contribution to homelessness;â€ť â€śSkyline gentrification coming soon to your neighborhood;â€ť â€śTenant relations reps are armed and dangerous;â€ť and â€śCiti = shitty landlords.â€ť
Among the many complaints of the tenants, they say CitiApartments has let bedbug epidemics run unabated. Several demonstrators carried signs with a picture of a huge bug and the people who are evicting tenants and the words â€śbugsâ€ť and â€śthugsâ€ť next to the photos.
There is also a boycott being staged against SWIPE ATMs, which are owned by the Lembis. CitiSTOP says, â€śThose expensive fees they charge go to paying thugs to harass more tenants.â€ť
Bay Times spoke with one of the attorneys for the tenants, Kenneth Greenstein, who said one of his clients has full blown AIDS and has been living with his boyfriend in an apartment for years; but when Skyline bought the building, the company began harassing them and trying to intimidate them to move out. â€śThey have been interrogating the men and they are pretty scared, thinking they would be evicted any minute.â€ť He said the elevator keeps breaking down, sometimes a couple times a month, and this very sick man is thereby trapped on the eighth floor. â€śHe feels like heâ€™s a prisoner in his own home when the elevator breaks,â€ť said Greenstein.
â€śI started out at the Oakland Eviction Defense Center over ten years ago, and for over ten years I have been dealing with some of the worst landlords in the Bay Area, Greenstein said. â€śBut when I get calls from tenants of CitiApartments, I hear the tactics they are using to harass people just shock me.â€ť He added, â€śAndrew Hawkins has been seen carrying a firearm on his person when dealing with tenants, which is scary as hell for the tenants.â€ť
As part of the protest, demonstrators banged on the door of the realtorsâ€™ building demanding to see the owner, and they attempted to serve a giant cardboard contract to Frank and Walter Lembi and David Reynal with a list of 33 offenses they will never carry out again. The police peacefully moved them from the front door. Protesters ended the demonstration with the chant: â€śSan Francisco beware. Skyline is everywhere!â€ť
Tenants who are experiencing similar harassment are urged to contact lead attorney Scott Weaver at (415) 693-0504 or Kenneth Greenstein at (415) 773-1240 x304. Also check out the website, citistop.org, or call (415) 282-6656.