It's a bad week for notoriously bad landlord Anne Kihagi. Shortly after we learned that the serial evictor of rent-controlled tenants had been sentenced to a few days in jail in Los Angeles for her misuse of the Ellis Act down south, we get word that a San Francisco Superior Court Judge has issued a tentative ruling fining Kihagi and her associates $2.4 million. As the Chronicle reports, Judge Angela Bradstreet issued the ruling Tuesday following two years of investigation and prosecution by City Attorney Dennis Herrera. Kihagi could in fact end up paying well over $4 million to the city because the judge has also ruled she must reimburse the city for legal and investigative costs incurred in the case.
The ruling, which is tentative in that it is pending some clerical corrections, also forbids Kihagi from having future contact with tenants, requires her to hire an independent property manager approved by the city, and voids all pending evictions.
"This is a resounding victory for San Francisco tenants and the rule of law," Herrera said in a statement. "I’ve gone after a lot of lawless landlords in my time, but Anne Kihagi has a special place reserved for her in San Francisco’s abusive landlord hall of fame. Her cruelty is stunning."
Kihagi's attorney, Karen Uchiyama, meanwhile told the Chronicle that the case was manufactured by "a tenant-activist group that influenced the city to [make] a scapegoat of Anne Kihagi."
In her ruling, Judge Bradstreet noted the litany of complaints against and stories about Kihagi from tenants who had been harassed and/or illegally evicted, saying, "The record is replete with outrageous, unlawful, and fraudulent violations that were specifically targeted against often long term tenants who were protected by San Francisco's rent control laws." She further writes that Kihagi and her associates' "reprehensible conduct had a terrible effect on the lives of multiple San Francisco citizens, even to the point of forcing one tenant to quit a cherished career and move out of state and, in another case, forcing a tenant out of his long time home as he battled terminal cancer."
Herrera first brought the suit against Kihagi in 2015, noting that she and some family members began assembling their SF real estate portfolio in 2013 after previously buying a number of building in LA and West Hollywood. They ultimately owned over 50 units in San Francisco, spread across the Mission, Castro, and Noe Valley, and Herrera found proof of a pattern of harassment and intimidation with the end goal of removing tenants who were paying low rent. He says that Kihagi and co. spent $24 million on SF real estate and through her tactics were able to add $8.8 million in value to the properties.
The judge found evidence that Kihagi harassed and wrongfully evicted 23 tenants, and illegally harassed 10 other tenants, one of whom is now dead.
Some choice bits from Herrera's release:
Kihagi’s tactics included fraud; harassment; threats; intimidation; verbal abuse; interrupting gas, electric, water, and cable service; disrupting mail service; and failing to cash rent checks, only to later claim them as untimely rent payments. She and her agents also backdated correspondence and notices; violated tenants’ privacy by entering their apartments without required notice; refused to timely abate unsafe and substandard habitability conditions; and even retaliated against tenants who cooperated with city inspectors by installing video surveillance cameras aimed at the residents’ front doors. Well-known among tenants for her harassing text messages and shrieking, expletive-ridden personal interactions, Kihagi even made a veiled threat against a tenant’s cats, saying “it would be a shame if they got out."
The only photos that exist of her, apparently taken by a tenant, are like this one in which she appears holding a cellphone and looking exasperated.
Herrera says, "I appreciate the court’s precision, patience and attention to detail in this very complex case," and he adds, "I also want to applaud the bravery and perseverance of the tenants who came forward and testified about what they had to endure."
Kihagi has been in nearly a decade's worth of legal battles with the city of West Hollywood resulting in last week's decision about the jail stay, and it only stands to reason that she will likely appeal this ruling.