Federal RICO statute used to sue building management company

Federal organized crime laws are being used to try to banish one of the largest building managing companies in San Francisco — the second tenant lawsuit to be brought against CitiAparments in one month.

Lawyer Drexel Bradshaw, who represents plaintiff Aida Menjivar, said Tuesday that this is the first use of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, of 1970 in a tenant-landlord dispute.

“If it looks like the mafia, smells like the mafia and acts like the mafia, you use the mafia statute,” Bradshaw said Tuesday.

The lawsuit alleges that building manager CitiApartments, on behalf of landlord Trophy Properties, which is owned by brothers Frank and Walter Lembi, used illegal harassment and “strong-arm” tactics to try to force Menjivar from her apartment at 3605 20th St.

CitiApartments lawyer Jonathan Siegel said the charges are “ridiculous.”

“There is no end to the creative attempts that tenant attorneys and tenant organizations will make to harass landlords, particularly larger ones,” he said Tuesday.

This is the second tenant lawsuit against CitiApartments. On April 27 more than 20 CitiApartments tenants filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court, alleging that CitiApartments used strong-arm tactics and intimidation to try to get them out of rent-controlled apartments.

The RICOlawsuit claims that the defendants also used the same tactics to coerce Menjivar to move out of her rent-controlled apartment. CitiApartments allegedly tried to cause the technical nonpayment of rent by not cashing rent checks for several months, then cashing them all at once, according to the lawsuit. CitiApartments employees also allegedly harassed Menjivar in person and with repeated telephone calls and letters.

The fraudulent use of the telephone and U.S. mail is cause for RICO prosecution, Bradshaw said.

“Under The City's rent ordinance, you'd have to establish that the landlord endeavored to [illegally] recover possession of property. Under RICO you have to establish the landlord committed wire fraud and mail fraud in order to deprive someone of property,” Bradshaw said.

If the lawsuit is successful, CitiApartments could be prevented from doing further business in San Francisco.

amartin@examiner.com

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