Landlord and tenant shirk responsibility in fatal W. Oakland fire

Both the landlord and main tenant of 2551 San Pablo Avenue are deflecting responsibility of who was in charge of keeping the building safe before March’s deadly West Oakland fire.

Keith Kim is the owner of the building. Kim and his family hired spokesman Sam Singer to speak on their behalf. In an interview with 2 Investigates, Singer said the family is heartbroken about what happened.

“They’ve owned [the building] for more than 25 years. It’s always been a home to people who had substance abuse issues, criminal backgrounds and trying to get themselves straight,” Singer said.

In regards to the history of code compliance issues uncovered by 2 Investigates shortly after the fire, Singer said, “The Kim family had no idea of the level of conditions Urojas left the building or the way they were managing.”

The Urojas Community Center is a non-profit that oversaw many of the tenant in the building. The organization says it serves veterans the mentally ill.

Singer said Urojas moved into the San Pablo Avenue property about four years ago.

“We didn’t have any real idea what was going on until sometime about this time last year,” he said. “That’s when [Kim] tried to evict Urojas.”

When asked if it’s the property owner’s responsibility to keep the building safe, Singer responded, “In this case the property owner owned the building but they leased out to Urojas and another non-profit. Part of that lease was that Urojas would take good care and manage the building and be responsible for those issues.”

2 Investigates obtained a lease from 2014. It shows the tenant was responsible for everything except exterior walls and the roof.  James Cook, the attorney representing the Urojas Community Center, told 2 Investigates there have since been subsequent lease agreements where responsibility went back to Kim.

Neither side could provide proof of more recent records.

“Urojas has been asking for a really long time, Mr. Kim please fix these violations,” Cook said. “Really Keith Kim had a responsibility for fixing basic structural things.”

The argument of who was responsible for keeping the building safety will continue in court. Singer said the City of Oakland, Urojas and Mr. Kim were all made aware of the eight serious fire code violations three days before the fire.

According to Singer, the Kim family is now looking to sell or transfer the property to another non-profit organization.