$2.7 million award upheld against San Francisco landlord
SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco landlord once described as a “ruthless predator" who allegedly tried to drive tenants out of a rent-controlled unit must pay them $2.7 million, a state appeals court ruled.
The court last month upheld the award in a 2015 lawsuit filed by Dale Duncan and Marta Munoz Mendoza, who lived in the building with their daughter.
The lawsuit contended that a corporation controlled by Anne Kihagi harassed them for more than a year in an effort to force them out of their apartment in order to obtain higher-paying tenants.
They eventually were forced to leave when the landlord filed an “owner move-in eviction” that permits eviction if an owner is going to live in the building. Kihagi claimed that a family member who also had an interest in the apartment-owning corporation would be moving in, which never happened, according to the family's attorney.
The family moved into a two-bedroom house with a rent nearly triple what they had paid for the apartment, according to their lawsuit.
In 2017, a jury awarded them more than $3.5 million which a lower court reduced to $2.7 million.
In its 3-0 ruling upholding that award, the First District Court of Appeal said the landlords “ignored or delayed responding to maintenance and upkeep issues, were uncommunicative and uncooperative, and became increasingly hostile.”
The decision said that included removing recycling bins, refusing to fix a leaky water heater, blocking access to a laundry room and allowing power to be shut off.
Messages seeking comment from an attorney who has represented Kihagi weren't immediately returned.
It's the latest of many legal battles involving Kihagi, who once owned nearly a dozen San Francisco apartment buildings.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera at one point described Kihagi as “a ruthless predator — targeting tenants in rent-controlled apartments for harassment and illegal evictions, and singling out seniors and people with disabilities for particularly despicable abuse.”
In 2017, Kihagi was hit with $5.5 million in penalties in a lawsuit filed by the city attorney.
A judge said Kihagi and her codefendants showed a “persistent pattern of bad faith harassment, retaliation, and fraud” aimed at renters.
The properties were placed in court-ordered receivership and some were sold.