Tenants: Firm tried to muscle us out

More than 20 tenants filed a lawsuit against one of The City’s largest apartment management companies Thursday, accusing it of using threats and intimidation — including employing armed men — to get tenants paying low rents to leave its buildings.

The “mass action” lawsuit filed inSan Francisco Superior Court accuses Citi Apartments, LLC, of making the threats a systematic business practice at many of the more than 100 buildings it owns around San Francisco.

The motive, according to the lawsuit, was simple: get rid of low-rent tenants so Citi Apartments could charge higher rents to new tenants and make more money.

Citi Apartment officials denied any wrongdoing.

“We engage in absolutely no illegal tactics [to encourage people to move out] whatsoever,” said Jonathan Siegel, attorney for Citi Apartments.

The lawsuit claims Citi Apartments sent a company official and often “large men” — sometimes in military fatigues and carrying concealed weapons — to apartments to harass, yell and videotape tenants who lived in rent-controlled units. The men said they were security guards, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, in some instances, the men told tenants they were in violation of their rental agreements and then threatened eviction unless the tenants attended a “meeting” arranged by Citi Apartments at their office. At those meetings, tenants claim Citi Apartment officials interrogated them in a manner similar to police TV shows and often recorded the sessions. They demanded personal information such as immigration status or tried to coerce them to sign agreements to leave their apartments.

In other cases, Citi Apartments interfered with caregivers that provide assistance to seniors and the disabled, changed locks on buildings, negatively altered the lease terms without providing a reduction in rent, and held tenants’ rent for several months and accused them of not paying rent, according to the lawsuit.

“Our office has been in business for 25 years. We have had many lawsuits against the defendants for conduct that is like the kind that is alleged in this lawsuit,” said Scott Weaver, an attorney for the tenants. “We are saying the strong-arm tactics [and] the threats to evict are a conscious decision made by the defendants to get low-rent people out of their apartments.”

Siegel said Citi Apartments has made deals with tenants, but the company never violated the law.

“We have, just like any large landlord in S.F., we do make deals with tenants wherein they do surrender possession in exchange for payment,” he said.

jjouvenal@examiner.com,

amartin@examiner.com

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