San Francisco landlord sued by dozens of tenants

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SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU ) -- San Francisco's largest landlord Veritas Investments has been served with a lawsuit from more than 70 tenants in 30 of its buildings.

According to the lawsuit, tenants claim the landlord is trying drive them out to attract higher-paying replacements.

Thursday's suit claims Veritas Investments illegally harassed long-term, rent-control residents with unscheduled repairs and upgrades.  

In addition, the suit says elevators sit broken for months, water or electricity are shut off without adequate warning and needed repairs are ignored while other noisy, dirty construction projects drag on for years. 

Veritas owns about 240 buildings with more than 5,000 apartments. Long-term tenants often pay far lower rents than landlords can get from high-paid tech industry workers.

Veritas Chief Operating Officer Justin Sato denies the company is "hostile or negligent" toward tenants. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that a lot of buildings are old and need substantial work. 

Nick Oda lives in a property at 634 Powell street and talked about the ceiling in his kitchen . " This is our mold problem it's been growing it's stopped for now but it's because of a leak from the apartment above us", he said.

Nick joined dozens of other tenants from Veritas owned buildings in filing the lawsuit claiming the company is renovating aging apartments and then leaving residents with rent increases because of construction "pass through costs." 

Even though tenants have rent control they still pay for the renovation, which they say is illegal.

The plaintiffs are seeking tens of thousands of dollars in damages for what they say is an effort to get them to move out. 

Ken Greenstein, a lawyer representing tenants, said from the steps of City Hall, " Part of the lawsuit is seeking an injunction against Veritas for unfair, illegal business practices, including the way they do business. It's highly disorganized and disruptive to the tenants. We're alleging it's on purpose that they are doing that".

For privacy, Oda, who lives with his girlfriend in their one bedroom apartment, mounted a sheet in the middle of the floor for privacy because the visits from contractors were too much.

"This is where we live it's kind of our daily contraption because there's so many people coming through," he said.

September of this year Yat Pang Au the CEO and founder of Veritas Investments received the "Spirit of Life Award", from the Northern California Real Estate and Construction Council. But he was met by protesters at the Fairmont Hotel.

Veritas' statement reads in part, "Veritas is committed to repairing and restoring the buildings we acquire to meet high industry standards. We invest in San Francisco's aging housing stock, and many of the buildings we have purchased are in need of substantial infrastructure improvement.

One property at 698 Bush Street built in 1907 is up for sale for over $12 million.

The buyers' sheet lists 45 units and one of the studio units had a pass through of $373.

After renovations. the market value soared to over $2,700 a month for rent.

Gunvant Shah lives inside and pays $240 a month for a rent-controlled studio and deals with broken elevators and rotting floors.

He held up a piece of wood and said," This comes from the sink area, there's more rotten wood underneath but the landlord just covered it with vinyl."

In June of 2018 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted that exploiting the loophole in rent control laws by passing on construction costs to tenants was unethical.

The team of lawyers hope juries will rule in favor of tenants and have a message for Veritas San Francisco's largest landlord.

"Leave your tenants alone and stop trying to force them out and make their lives miserable," said Greenstein.