OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Four days after the Oakland warehouse fire that killed 36 people, questions surround the man who ran the Ghost Ship Warehouse. Derick Ion Almena has rented the warehouse since at least 2014.
He allowed several people to move in and collected rent from them.
Almena also built a second floor to create a music and art venue, which he rented out.
It appears there is not much of a paper trail for the two businesses. Almena preferred to operate the Ghost Ship in a cash-only exchange.
The first floor is where people lived, confirmed by fire survivors who say they were tenants of Almena’s.
"I lived there. The party was on the second floor. I wasn't at the party. I lived in the back and I was sleeping when the fire broke out,” said former tenant Carmen Brito.
Brito said she paid her rent of $700 in cash, but gave it to another resident who collected the rent for Almena.
A source wishing to remain anonymous provided KTVU a rental agreement from 2014 and receipts from rent collected from three different Ghost Ship tenants.
The rental agreement is for a month-to-month lease. The manager is listed as “Satya Yuga,” the name Almena and his wife Micah Allison gave to the collection of artists and musicians who lived and worked on projects at the warehouse.
All residents agree to pay rent in cash only. If payment is late, the tenant must pay a $450 late fee.
The rent varied by occupant. Two rent receipts from November 2016 show two tenants only paid $300. Tenant Nikki Kelber, however, paid $565 on November 21.
KTVU’s source said Almena deposited the cash rental payments into a Bank of America account for the property owner, Chor Ng.
Tuesday morning on the Today Show, Almena deflected questions about whether he should be held responsible for the unsafe living conditions inside the warehouse.
"Did I know there was going to be a fire? Did I remove my children and get a hotel to avoid this, because I wanted to cast blame on other people? No. Because I wanted to get a good night sleep. I wanted to let the young people do what they needed to do. I'm not going to answer these questions the way you're presenting them,” said Almena.
The Satya Yuga Collective was primarily a venue for music acts and DJs. The dance floor and stage were on the second floor, accessed by one make-shift staircase.
An East Bay business asked not to be identified, but confirms it rented out the space three years ago. A manager said he paid a flat-rate rent directly to Almena. It was then up to the business to run the event. Money collected at the door or sales made inside went directly to the business and was not shared with Satya Yuga.
It’s unclear if Almena made profit from the rent collected from tenants and venue renters. Several attempts were made to contact Almena Monday and Tuesday, but were unsuccessful. Almena’s mother-in-law says Almena and Allison have been estranged from the family for several years.