Legal Clinic Combats Landlord Abuse in Oakland’s ChinatownFriday, September 16, 2016
BerkeleyLaw – By Andrew Cohen
Laura Lane ’96 has represented low-income tenants in the East Bay for nearly 20 years. During all that time, she never saw a landlord go this far to drive out tenants as she did recently at a low-income residential hotel in Oakland’s Chinatown.
“I’ve seen a lot of neglect, but I’ve never seen a landlord so intentionally make a property uninhabitable,” said Lane, the housing practice director at Berkeley Law’s East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC). “These are rent-controlled units that the new owner wants to convert into more expensive housing for tech workers. He thought he could buy the property and force long-term tenants out by removing fixtures that are necessities for living like toilets, showers and a kitchen. The conditions clearly show an effort to make it impossible for the current tenants to live there.”
Most residents at the Fremont—a single-room occupancy hotel—share common bathrooms and kitchens. A few months after buying the building last fall, Green Group LP gutted four bathrooms and one kitchen, leaving the 40 rental units to share just two bathrooms and a single kitchen.
The tenants are all low-income Chinese immigrants, and all but one speak little or no English.
After being contacted by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, a community organizing nonprofit in Chinatown, Lane and clinic student Lindsey Quock ’17 sprang into action—organizing tenant workshops, visiting the building and gathering information.
“I was so lucky to have Lindsey’s help on this,” Lane said. “First, she speaks both Mandarin and Cantonese. Without her, it would have been much harder to gain the tenants’ trust because of the language and cultural barriers involved. Second, she’s a real superstar who goes the extra mile. She organized tenant meetings, recruited Chinese-speaking LL.M. students to meet with tenants individually, and prepared an extensive memo about the property with a detailed timeline and photos.”