Oakland renter's home demolished while he's still living there: 2 Investigates

UPDATE 3/23/17: Demolition work is allowed to continue at the Adams Point home where a landlord tore down half his renter's unit while the man was still living there.

The Oakland Planning and Building Department said Thursday that it issued a stop work order in error on Wednesday, forcing workers to stop the demolition because the agency believed the owner's work permit was expired. The landlord, Gene Gorelik, will now be allowed to continue tearing down an unpermitted addition where his tenant, Jahahara Aman’Ra Alkebutan Ma’at,  was still living when crews began taking apart the structure on Wednesday. 

An attorney representing Alkebutan Ma’at says the law is not on Gorelik's side because a judge has not approved her client's eviction, yet he was effectively forced out by the demolition. A hearing is schedule for next Monday in that eviction case, but it unclear what will happen in court now that most of Alkebutan Ma’at's home is no longer standing.

ORIGINAL STORY 3/22/17:

A 64-year-old Oakland man is without a home Wednesday after, he says, his landlord caused severe damage to his apartment and then demolished more than half of it before a judge even ordered his eviction.

Jahahara Aman’Ra Alkebutan Ma’at has lived in the Adams Point home in the 300 block of MacArthur Boulevard for years. He says the last several months have been a nightmare that started when his landlords, Gene Gorelik and his wife Jessica Sawczuck, purchased the property last May.

After an eviction settlement hearing last week where the two sides could not reach a deal, Alkebutan Ma’at says his landlord began to harass him with late night visits, turning off his water, electricity, and heat, and demolishing the walls in his kitchen and above his bed.

“I’m just lucky I wasn’t or my son wasn’t sleeping here when they came and did this,” he said picking up pieces of dry wall with protruding nails. A hole in the roof allowed discolored water to drip into Alkebutan Ma’at’s home as well.

When asked whether he caused the damage to the structure himself, Gorelik wouldn’t comment on camera.

2 Investigates confirmed Oakland Police responded and Alkebutan Ma’at filed three police reports over his landlord’s alleged visits over the past week. Oakland police say they have an open criminal investigation into the harassment claims that involve reports of trespassing, forced entry, and vandalism.

Oakland City records show the landowners submitted a pre-application in December to modify the house into a seven unit multi-family residence. They told 2 Investigates their tenant agreed to leave the property but is no longer cooperating.

“He’s ruining our lives for no reason except that he wants money from us that we don’t have,” said Sawczuck. The couple says they’ve offered to pay for a hotel for Alkebutan Ma’at during his transition to new housing, but say he’s refused.

“We can’t do anything. He won’t go to a hotel or anything. So he’s holding the building hostage for the last 10 months,” said Gorelik. The couple says every month their tenant refuses to leave, they’re losing money.

On Wednesday, Gorelik and several construction workers arrived to the property after giving his tenant   24-hour entry notice. He told 2 Investigates and Alkebutan Ma’at’s attorney that workers were there to make repairs to drywall or electrical wiring.

Hours later, the workers began removing Alkebutan Ma’at’s property and demolishing half of the unit, which is an addition built onto the primary home. According to the city, the extension was built years ago without a permit and informed the landowner that the addition had to be removed. However, the city inspector said his department does not get involved with eviction disputes or instruct a landlord to remove a tenant.

The rest of Alkebutan Ma’at’s unit, including his bedroom, extends into the main home. The demolition of the extension cut his apartment in half.

A city inspector arrived at the property Wednesday afternoon after most of the external building had been dismantled and ordered workers to stop the tear down because Gorelik’s demolition permit expired more than three weeks ago. The inspector also yellow-tagged the remainer of Alkebutan Ma’at’s apartment, meaning he could only enter to retrieve his belongings but couldn’t stay there, effectively evicting him.

According to Alameda County court records, Gorelik’s eviction case against Alkebutan Ma’at is still ongoing and a judge had not ordered his removal from the property as of Wednesday. An eviction settlement court hearing is scheduled for next Monday although it’s unclear what the outcome will be now that a portion of the unit is demolished.

Alkebutan Ma’at’s attorney says she’s paying for a hotel so her client has a place to sleep Wednesday night.

 

Written by investigative reporter Candice Nguyen

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