SF city attorney sues 3 Chinatown property owners for 'inhumane conditions'

San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced Tuesday that he was suing the owners of three Chinatown buildings where tenants have complained about unsafe living conditions for years. 

All the buildings are single occupancy hotels. 

Tenants said they hoped the city's lawsuit will bring change.

Yan Fen Liu has lived in a single room occupancy hotel, also known as an SRO, in Chinatown since 1995, for almost 30 years. 

She said under new owners who took over the building on Powell Street in 2014, living conditions have gotten steadily worse. 

Speaking in Cantonese, she said the burners on the stove in the communal kitchen don't work. Mice and insect infestations were left untreated.

Frequently, there's not enough hot water for all the tenants.

Liu said she pays rents and in return, the property owners should provide a clean, safe place to live.

Tenants' complaints have led  city officials to file a lawsuit against the owners of three SRO hotels located at 1449 Powell Street, 790 Vallejo Street, and 912 Jackson Street.

Tenants rights advocates praised the residents for having the courage to stand up and speak against property owners that some describe as "slumlords." 

"You're also telling the rest of the tenants in Chinatown, in the Tenderloin, in the Mission and across San Francisco that you do need to stand up and fight," said Malcolm Yeung, executive director of Chinatown Community Development Center.  "And by doing so, you're doing so for everybody else." 

The city attorney said the owners have been violating dozens of health and safety codes for years and have been warned repeatedly to bring their buildings into compliance. 

He says the lawsuit is a last resort to give tenants relief.

"These are first generation immigrant tenants who were taken advantage of, being forced to live in conditions that are unacceptable and many would say inhumane," said Chiu.  "The owners of these three particular SROs did not meet their responsibility under the law. They need to be accountable." 

The city attorney said  the property owners could face fines up to millions of dollars. 

KTVU reached out to all the owners named in the lawsuit and did not hear back. 

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU.  Email Amber at Amber.Lee@Fox.com or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU.