May 1, 2018
San Francisco Chinatown Tenants File Lawsuit Against Predatory Landlord
Christina So, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, 415-848-7728, firstname.lastname@example.org
Aaron Kellogg, Ropes & Gray LLP, 617-235-4403, Aaron.Kellogg@ropesgray.com
San Francisco, CA – Today, the Community Tenants’ Association (CTA) and a group of tenants at 1350 Stockton Street filed a lawsuit against their landlord, Valstock Ventures LLC and Valstock Management Company (Valstock), seeking to enforce their rights to live in their homes free from unlawful harassment and discrimination. The building is a Single Residency Occupancy (SRO) hotel, with rent-controlled units no larger than 80 square feet and shared bathrooms and kitchen spaces. More than 100 tenants live in the SRO, most of them low-income, limited English proficient Chinese immigrants.
The lawsuit was filed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (Advancing Justice – ALC) and Ropes & Gray LLP.
Plaintiffs and other low-income Chinese immigrant families have lived in peace in the building for years, in some cases, decades. The suit alleges that this changed in Fall 2016 when Valstock also took over management of the building and began a campaign to drive plaintiffs and other rent-controlled tenants out of the building in order to attract newer more lucrative clientele. The harassment has included threatening and imposing exorbitant fines against tenants for long-established past practices of hanging laundry outside and keeping personal items in shared spaces.
Valstock unilaterally imposed these and other terms which undercut the tenants’ rights through intimidating 40-page long English-only leases and/or English-only notices posted in the building, all of which Valstock refused to explain or translate, despite tenant requests. During the same time, Valstock has advertised vacancies for “students” or “professionals” online, in English-only forums, and has offered a new 24-hour repair line to new tenants, accessible only to English speakers. Attempts to resolve the issues with Valstock directly were ignored.
“Valstock has suddenly changed the rules on its tenants, announced those rule changes in a language tenants cannot understand, and penalized tenants for failing to adhere to these rules to which they did not agree,” said Jessamyn Edra, Staff Attorney at Advancing Justice – ALC. “Valstock sees these immigrant tenants as easy targets, but these courageous tenants are fighting back.”
“This lawsuit is about respect. All the tenants want is to be treated with respect,” said Zhi Hua Mo, spokesperson for the individual tenants in the lawsuit. “I have lived in my building for more than 17 years and have never been treated like this before. We must stand together before Valstock pushes us out of our homes, one by one.”
In November 2017, CTA organized a protest where more than 100 tenants took to the streets to demand that Valstock cease their bullying tactics. Several community organizations issued Valstock a demand letter, but Valstock has failed to respond or change their practices.
“Valstock’s practices need to be checked before they become common practices elsewhere,” said Rocky Tsai, litigation partner at Ropes & Gray LLP. “Low income tenants should not be forced to pay excessive fines and penalties in order to keep their homes.”
“We are fighting for what is fair,” said Wing Hoo Leung, President of CTA. “Valstock cannot be allowed to bully tenants anymore.”
ABOUT ASIAN AMERICANS ADVANCING JUSTICE – ASIAN LAW CAUCUS
Advancing Justice – ALC was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights Asian American organization. Recognizing that social, economic, political and racial inequalities continue to exist in the United States, Advancing Justice – ALC is committed to the pursuit of equality and justice for all sectors of our society, with a specific focus directed toward addressing the needs of low-income, immigrant and underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Visit www.advancingjustice-alc.org.
ABOUT THE COMMUNITY TENANTS’ ASSOCIATION
Founded in 1987, the Community Tenants’ Association (CTA) is the largest community based tenant group that organizes to defend the rights of low-income tenants throughout San Francisco. With over 1700 members, CTA advocates for the interest of our community and fosters immigrant leadership to lead citywide issues impacting tenants.
ABOUT ROPES & GRAY LLP
Ropes & Gray preeminent global law firm with more than 1,200 lawyers and legal professionals servicing clients in major centers of business, finance, technology and government. The firm has offices in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Seoul, and has consistently been recognized for its leading practices in many areas, including private equity, M&A, finance, investment management, hedge funds, real estate, tax, antitrust, life sciences, health care, intellectual property, litigation & enforcement, privacy & cybersecurity, and business restructuring. www.ropesgray.com