2 Investigates: Owners of notorious Oakland hotel forced to give up control

The move was one of the demands in a lawsuit filed by Oakland City Attorney, Barbara Parker.  Parker's office credited 2 Investigates for exposing unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the property.


After hearing arguments last week, the court appointed a third party specialist, Mark Adams, of the California Receivership Group to oversee repairs and bring the Empyrean Towers up to code.  Many tenants of the hotel at the corner of Webster and 13th St. in Oakland pay rent by the week and depend on it for long term shelter.


Tenants Maria Anast and Don Fisher called the decision to place the hotel into receivership a victory.


"We won. It was a real big win to win the receivership here," said Anast.  "Well, instead of having band-aid jobs, we'll have real work done."


2 Investigates began uncovering problems at the hotel after booking a room in January.  KTVU cameras documented holes in the walls, leaky pipes as well as broken windows and an out of service elevator.  In May, contaminated water at the hotel made some tenants sick and city inspectors red-tagged the building until the problem was fixed.


In April, the Oakland City Attorney's Office sued the Empyrean Towers, its owner, Alice Tse, and others, alleging code violations and illegal evictions.  In addition to calling for a receiver, the lawsuit marked Oakland's first lawsuit under the city's tenant protection ordinance.


While some elements of the lawsuit are still being argued in court, the City Attorney's Office says the judge's decision to order a receiver now shows the "extreme nature of the circumstances."


Adams expects repairs will take six months to a year to complete.


"We're going to have really upgrade the whole electrical [system] because there's circuit breakers blowing all over," said Adams. "But mainly, it's deferred maintenance.  There's a lot of stuff that should've been done in the units and hasn't been done."


Adams hasn't yet given an estimate of how much it will cost to make the necessary repairs.  A special lien could eventually be placed on the property which would have to be satisfied before the owners can take back control or sell the hotel.


KTVU contacted the owners of the Empyrean Towers for a response, but did not receive a comment from Tse or her attorney.