(KRON) — The operators of several group homes in Oakland that serve mentally ill residents were slapped with a lawsuit for illegally evicting and abusing tenants, according to the city attorney.
The suit filed by Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker claims that the sober living houses also created a public nuisance in neighborhoods, and spurred hundreds of 911 calls to police.
Oakland Police Department reports show a pattern of “horrific and unlawful treatment” inflicted on tenants, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit, first reported by Oaklandside, was filed against One Rose of Unity, unity’s founder Angelique Austin, her son Terrell Bailey, several landlords, and employees who were tasked with managing the homes.
The residential properties were classified as Independent Living Facilities, which are unlicensed, unregulated boarding homes. “The lack of regulation and oversight of ILFs creates opportunities to use this business model to exploit low-income tenants,” Parker wrote. That’s exactly what Austin, Baily, and their business did, according to the city attorney.
“Defendants make statements promising safe, sober, and supportive housing that will allow such individuals to thrive. Instead, tenants at One Rose of Unity properties face appalling and unlawful conditions, abuse, and harassment,” the city attorney wrote.
The lawsuit states, “During the time that defendants have operated these facilities, the properties that have housed these facilities have been the site of a staggering nearly 530 (911 calls) to OPD, and at least 95 in-person visits from police officers.”
The ILFs were so poorly operated that they became sites of suicide attempts, psychotic episodes, criminal activity, and acts of violence, the city attorney wrote.
Some tenants were illegally forced out of their units without eviction notices, the lawsuit said. The forced evictions continued even after the Oakland Police Department and City Attorney’s Office issued several warnings.
One Rose of Unity sought tenants for its group homes through Alameda County’s psychiatric hospitals the suit states. “Many tenants are discharged to One Rose of Unity facilities directly from psychiatric care stays at hospitals like John George Psychiatric Hospital and Fairmont Hospital,” the lawsuit states.
Alameda County’s 2022 Point-in-Time homeless census found that nearly 10,000 people were experiencing homelessness. Of these, 24 percent had serious mental illness.
ILFs where tenants allegedly endured abuse were located at the following residential addresses: 1369 102nd Avenue, 2657 79th Avenue, 3142 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, 3325 Georgia Street, 3506 Gray Street, and 627 22nd Street.
In March 2021, a tenant committed suicide within a few days of moving into the facility at 3142 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Between March and April 2018, OPD was called to 1369 102nd Avenue four times about the same tenant, who repeatedly tried to strangle himself with a phone cord.
In November 2021, OPD was dispatched to 627 22nd St when one tenant stabbed another tenant in the neck with a knife.
Unity’s website says it offers safe and supportive housing for people who are mentally ill, recovering from substance use disorders, formerly incarcerated, veterans, and elderly.
ILFs are not required to be licensed or inspected by the state or any other government
agency. Each tenant at One Rose of Unity properties pays between $900 and $1,500 a month in rent. Parker wrote, “ILFs offer ample opportunities for predatory actors to exploit vulnerable tenants.”
In November, the Oakland City Attorney’s Office called Austin to talk about an illegal lockout of a tenant at 3325 Georgia Street. Austin hung up on the caller when she was asked for her email address. When the city attorney called back, Austin asserted that “landlord-tenant laws did not apply in this matter,” because the home was run by a nonprofit organization, the lawsuit states.
The city attorney wrote that an unknown number of tenants have been re-institutionalized, traumatized, evicted, and harmed from living in one of the the ILFs. The defendants are being sued for violating Oakland’s tenant protection and eviction ordinances, public nuisance, false advertising law, and civil rights violations.