The owner of a single room occupancy building in Chinatown is the first to be cited with a misdemeanor for violating the coronavirus health order, the Examiner has learned.
San Francisco Department of Building Inspection on Monday cited Marin County attorney Michael Heath, who represents Laurel Realty and Investments, for allegedly failing to properly sanitize common areas at 790 Vallejo St. Inspectors had made five visits to the property a couple blocks south of Washington Square since March 20, repeatedly finding common areas that lack cleanliness.
“We find that a lot of SROs have stepped it up but not everybody,” said James Sanbonmatsu, the City’s chief housing inspector. “It requires a sustained effort on the part of the landlord.”
The building holds 27 units, about half of which are vacant after renovations. Laurel Realty owns four SROs in Chinatown, one in the Mission, and other properties in San Francisco.
A tenant who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation said she hasn’t felt safe living at 790 Vallejo St. due to both the poor sanitary conditions and unsecured lobby door. There is cleaning every day, but in different parts of the building at a time.
The two kitchens for the building have dirty stoves, and just one burner out of four works on one floor, the tenant said. Bathroom trash is often piled several inches high with stray pieces throughout the facility despite repeated notices to the landlord.
“Even though they clean it, there’s a lot of mold and it’s in the wall,” the tenant said in Cantonese through a translator. “Every room has some kind of rat or pest.”
Laurel Realty’s principal owner, Jeff Apprenrodt, attributed the citations to department miscommunication stemming from a failure to sign off on cleaning logs and said that Heath was working to resolve it. Cleaning crews have been there three times a day to comply with the health order and he hasn’t heard any complaints from tenants, he said.
“We’re doing extensive amounts compared to the normal cleaning,” Appenrodt said. “I don’t know if it’s negligence on tenants’ part or what. They keep breaking the stoves.”
The property manager has experienced recurring cleanliness issues well before the shelter in place, said Rita Lui, an organizer with Chinatown Community Development Center.
The property has had nearly 30 DBI complaints since 2016 for issues including a lack of hot water, slippery kitchen floors, leaky sinks, garbage in the stairwell, and more. Seven have emerged around shower rooms, missing stoves, exposed wiring, the fire alarm, and pest control services since the shelter-in-place.
“When DBI comes to inspect they do a better job,” Lui said. “To me, it’s like they do it just to check a box. During this COVID-19, it definitely helps to push the landlord to do it but I’m not sure it will happen after the shelter in place.”
Supervisor Aaron Peskin said his office has been aware of sanitation issues at the SRO since the shelter-in-place.
“We’ve been frustrated that it has taken the City this long to issue a violation but we’re glad that there’s now an official violation order,” Peskin said. “[Appenrodt] is exhibiting civil and criminal behavior and I’m going to do everything in my power to go after him.”
Peskin said he would work with the City Attorney and District Attorney to bring civil and criminal charges, respectively, for the alleged larger failure to maintain proper living conditions. The District Attorney’s office has not formally received the case and could not comment on potential consequences, according to spokesperson Alex Bastian.
Peskin’s office has also pushed for coronavirus datasets around the wellbeing of homeless people and SRO tenants.
“It is the tip of the iceberg,” Peskin said. “We’re coming and we’re coming hard.”
Heath is required to appear in court on May 18.