The property owner of a residential “firetrap” shut down in San Francisco after last year’s deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland is facing a lawsuit from City Attorney Dennis Herrera, he announced Tuesday.
Melissa Mendoza, a Hillsborough resident, is the owner of a laundromat in the Outer Mission where 20 tenants lived for years in a windowless basement, the lawsuit claims.
Residents were living in “stark” conditions beneath the Clean Wash Center laundromat at 4680 Mission St., or 5 Persia Ave., for more than a decade, according to the City Attorney’s Office. The space had just one functioning shower, no hot water or windows and was previously vermin infested.
“The living conditions were not only appalling and illegal, they were extremely dangerous,” Herrera said in a statement. “These people were basically stuck in a dungeon. I don’t want to think about what would have happened if there had been a fire down there.”
Ernesto Paredes, the master tenant who allegedly rented the basement units for between $300 and $900 a month, is also named in the lawsuit.
The master tenant and property owner are accused of violating building and fire codes as well as ignoring notices of violation and abatement from city officials.
The San Francisco Fire Department discovered the conditions on Christmas Day in 2016 while responding to a call at the laundromat.
After issuing notices of violation, fire officials ordered the building evacuated on Feb. 14 and put Mendoza and Paredes on the hook for $4,262 in relocation fees per unit, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
Mendoza declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said.
Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who represents the neighborhood, called the owner a “slumlord.”
“Witnessing the squalor and horrifying conditions that the residents of 5 Persia had endured for years was appalling and heartbreaking because the residents,
mainly vulnerable immigrants, already represented some of our most dispossessed San Franciscans,” Safai said.
“Let this be a warning to all slum landlords and their enablers, either follow the law or be ready to face severe consequences,” he said.
Three dozen people died in the Ghost Ship fire at a warehouse in Oakland on Dec. 2, 2016. Like the laundromat, the warehouse was not zoned for residential use but occupied by tenants.
Herrera is seeking restitution for the tenants and civil penalties from $200 to $5,000 per violation.