Journalists working for both the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle have spent the last few days with boots on the ground in Oakland, using property records to survey the various buildings in the real estate portfolio of 62-year-old Chor Ng, which is estimated to be worth about $5 million and consist of 10 or 11 different properties, including the warehouse at 1315 31st Avenue where 36 people lost their lives in a fire last weekend.
The Times comes up with more questions than answers about Ng, but they note that Ms. Ng has been fined by the city multiple times over the past decade, and has paid $26,570.20 in "code enforcement" fees pertaining to the vacant lot next to the Ghost Ship property alone. They speak to tenants and former tenants, including beauty salon owner Griselda Ceja who rented space from the Ng family for 20 years and had numerous problems relating to electricity in the building, which is adjacent to the Ghost Ship. "She never took care of the building,” Ms. Ceja tells the paper. “We were scared. We were all scared.” She also says the salon had a blocked emergency exit that was never addressed, and she has since moved her business.
Other tenants, including an owner at Sum Yee Pastry in Chinatown, said he had no troubles with his building or the Ngs.
Neither Chor Ng nor her daughter Eva Ng, who is known to help her mother manage these properties, have spoken publicly since Eva Ng gave a statement the day after the fire saying that as far as they were concerned no one was living in the Ghost Ship space. Questions have arisen, however, regarding how much the Ngs were aware of the construction that occurred inside the warehouse between 2013 and 2016, and whether they had set foot inside to see the substandard wiring and staircase made of wooden pallets.
The Chronicle visits several other properties around Chinatown that are owned by the Ngs, including a Buddhist temple where they manage to find possibly the only person in the Bay Area who had not heard the news about the fire or its casualties, a Buddhist monk.
These tenants describe Chor Ng as an unobtrusive landlady who came to collect rent in a white Mercedes-Benz, and was generally fairly "hands-off" otherwise.
One tenant who runs a clothing store in a warehouse next door to the Ghost Ship called En Moda says that the Ng family got in touch right after the fire to say they would help them deal with water damage to their property and help them reopen.
Says that tenant, Lorena Dominguez, speaking to the Chronicle, "We’ve been here 25 years, and if they were bad landlords, we would have known."