2 Investigates: Tenants of Oakland hotel threatened with eviction, more problems exposed

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - More than a dozen tenants of the troubled Empyrean Towers in downtown Oakland say they've received letters from hotel management, demanding back-rent, now that city inspectors have signed off on repairs of several outstanding code violations.

However, 2 Investigates uncovered new evidence that some of those tenants are still living in unsanitary conditions.

A tenant on the second floor, who asked not to be identified, allowed KTVU cameras inside his room on Wednesday where a pipe was leaking black fluid into his closet and onto a wall.

"Literally, the water is running down the wall," said attorney Amy Sekany, whose non-profit Eviction Defense Center represents several tenants at the Empyrean Towers, including the man with the leaky pipe.

"It's difficult to believe that... could have passed any kind of inspection," said Sekany.

Yet, that tenant was one of those who received a letter from the hotel stating the city had "signed off that all repairs were completed." The letter demanded he pay $1,170 in rent or get out. E-mail records show hotel managers were first made aware of the leak in the man's unit in January.

KTVU's Eric Rasmussen showed video of the leak to City of Oakland Inspector Gene Martinelli and his boss, Director of Planning and Building, Rachel Flynn.

"We're dismayed to hear that we missed this one," said Flynn. "We'll get right back on it, immediately."

In fact, Martinelli returned to the hotel after speaking with 2 Investigates. He insists his view of the leaky pipe was blocked during previous inspections.

"It wasn't intentional. Believe me," said Martinelli.

While the city is reopening its case involving the one unit in question, tenants say other problems in many other rooms remain unresolved.

"The piping, the electricity goes out," said tenant Maria Anast.

A worker at the hotel declined to comment. The attorney representing the hotel's owner, Alice Tse, has not returned repeated requests to speak about conditions at the Empyrean Towers.

Those representing tenants say it's now up to the city to demand more accountability. So far, the city has not provided any evidence that it has ever fined the Empyrean Towers for any of the code violations found by inspectors.

"I have seen landlords cited for far less of a violation than what's happening here," said Sekany. "It's unbelievable that my client can have raw sewage running down his walls and city code enforcement isn't paying any attention to that."