CitiApartments’ conduct comes under fire — again

One of San Francisco’s largest landlords and apartment-management companies continues to purchase property and garner complaints from tenants despite a lawsuit filed by The City two years ago charging that it uses strong-arm tactics to force residents out of rent-controlled apartments.

The management tactics of CitiApartments and its parent company — Skyline Realty Inc., which owns hundreds of San Francisco buildings — have become the focus of the Board of Supervisors, with a hearing held Monday to address complaints and receive an update on the civil lawsuit.

The City claimed in the lawsuit that the company’s security personnel used “strong-arm tactics” such as after-hours visits, phone calls and utility shut-offs to persuade tenants to leave.

One tenant told The City he was denied apartment maintenance and that when he persisted, he was met by three men employed by CitiApartments, one of whom said that they had licenses to carry guns and that the tenant should stop making trouble.

A separate lawsuit filed against CitiApartments claims that a man showed up at a couple’s door carrying a gun and wearing military fatigues. The man offered them money to move out and subjected them to a “tirade of anger,” it says.

The City’s case remains in the evidence-gathering stage, Deputy City Attorney Jennifer Choi told the supervisors.

According to a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, CitiApartments continued to purchase buildings in San Francisco in 2007 after being sued by The City.

At Monday’s packed hearing, tenants spoke of being intimidated or forced to live in poor conditions to induce them to vacate units. Complaints included repeated offers of buyouts and buildings in a constant state of construction, making living there intolerable.

There were also tenants present who gave positive reviews of the landlord. Some wore “I support CitiApartments” T-shirts.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell said she was not persuaded by the show of support.

“The majority of the people have not been happy,” Maxwell said.

Tara Condon, the attorney representing CitiApartments, defended the practice of offering buyouts.

“Our buyout agreements can be canceled at will,” she said. “This is not a form of coercion.”

“I think we really have endeavored over the last year and half — frankly, since the filing of the city lawsuit — to really do a great job,” she told The Examiner after the hearing.

City officials say the alleged wrongdoing by CitiApartments and its “family of entities” decreases San Francisco’s below-market-rate housing stock and undermines the rent-control ordinance.

“This matter is really about the diversity of The City, the soul of The City, and our rent ordinance,” said Supervisor Chris Daly, who called the hearing.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com 

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