Dozens of volunteers gathered in front of Oakland City Hall on Friday to show support for a local landlord at the center of a legal fight over the unsanitary conditions at a residence hotel she used to own.
The city is suing Alice Tse over the conditions at the Empyrean Towers hotel after a series of 2 Investigates reports uncovered the unsafe conditions inside. Tse’s supporters say the city is treating the property owner unfairly.
“If this thing happened to Alice, it will happen on every property owner in the Bay Area,” said volunteer Alex Ko.
A crowd of about 30 people chanted in English and Chinese outside and carried signs, some saying “Alice is innocent,” before taking their protest inside City Hall.
Tse did not attend the rally herself, but for the first time her mother Jannny Tsui spoke publicly, through a translator, to defend her daughter.
“She says she doesn’t have money for living,” the translator said on behalf of Tsui. “She’s asking the questions ‘Why? What did I do wrong? What did my daughter do wrong?’”
Tsui said the city has seized some of her property as part of the legal claims against her daughter.
In 2015, the City of Oakland sued Tse and Empyrean Towers alleging years of code violations, illegal evictions, and even abuse of tenants. Later that year, a court-ordered receiver stepped in to run the day-to-day operations of the Empyrean Towers after a judge stripped control of the hotel from owners.
The move was one of the demands in the city’s lawsuit filed by City Attorney Barbara Parker. Parker's office credited 2 Investigates for exposing unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the property.
2 Investigates revealed video and pictures showing brown water in tenants’ sinks, holes in walls, broken doors in the common bathrooms, cracked windows, faulty plumbing, and incomplete repair jobs.
Cell phone video taken by an attorney representing some tenants revealed the doors to some vacant rooms at the hotel had been nailed shut.
When we asked Friday about the living conditions at Empyrean Towers, Tsui said her daughter was in the process of fixing the issues, but the city did not give Tse enough time. Although she could not provide proof, she said in some cases the tenants caused the damages themselves.
“The city already inspected it and the next week, they’d come back and it would be broken again,” Tsui said.
Friday’s protesters, some of who are landlords themselves, said they feared Tse’s case sets a dangerous precedent for all Bay Area landlords.
“We are afraid the government will do this to other owners too, and not giving them their fair chance” said Meina Young, a volunteer at the rally. “The government is trying to take over the property and that is not fair.”
In July 2015, Tse agreed to a deal that would have provided $500,000 to cover a long list of overdue repairs at Empyrean Towers. At the time, Tse also agreed not to oppose the decision to place the property into receivership. The funding and receivership ultimately fell through and Tse filed for bankruptcy that same month.
Last year, a federal bankruptcy judge approved the sale of the Empyrean Towers hotel to a Berkeley-based affordable housing non-profit group called Resources for Community Development (RCD), paving the way for what tenants and their attorneys hope is reform at the hotel.
2 Investigates reached out to Tse but did not receive a response before the time of publication. At a hearing in March, Tse also declined to speak to KTVU producers regarding the ongoing Empyrean Towers lawsuit with the city.
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