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Landlord Says Urojas To Blame For Halfway House Fire

— May 1, 2017

Fifteen former tenants who were survivors of a fire that occurred in a West Oakland halfway house last month filed a lawsuit against the landlord of the home, alleging that their living conditions were illegal, not up to code and led to the fire. Landlord says Urojas to blame.

Fifteen former tenants who were survivors of a fire that occurred in a West Oakland halfway house last month filed a lawsuit against the landlord of the home, alleging that he is to blame for their living conditions not being up to code, which ultimately led to the fire. The fire caused the demise of four residents and injured six others.  More than 80 people lost their homes. The defendants named in the suit are Keith Kim and his company Mead Avenue Housing Associates, along with Urojas Community Services, and other nonprofit organizations that held the master lease during different periods of time.  The plaintiffs allege that once Dignity Housing West took over as master tenant, Urojas entered the picture, which led to numerous problems.

Landlord Kim says Urojas to blame for halfway house blaze
Landlord Keith Kim; image courtesy of Hayward Area Historical Society, Oakland Tribune CollectionLand

The tenants blame the fire on the fact that the halfway house did not have a sprinkler system, proper emergency lights, working fire alarms or carbon monoxide detectors.  The tenants are seeking damages for the “deplorable, slum-like living conditions”.  Residents were forced into creating makeshift fire escapes out of their bed sheets during the blaze, and kicked down the doors of their neighbors to warn them.  Former residents have also stated that they lived with rats, cockroaches, bed bugs, mold, leaks, power outages, sewage leaks, and went without heat.  The residents also claim the building had “defective and dilapidated” electrical, plumbing and heating systems, walls, ceilings, flooring, windows and locks.

“This is probably one of the worst properties in Oakland,” said attorney Ken Greenstein, who is representing the plaintiffs.  “This property was so substandard that even if this fire hadn’t started, it was a fire that was waiting to happen.”  William Kronenberg, an attorney representing Kim said the building owner is not to blame.  Kim was trying to remove Urojas as a tenant due to concerns about its insufficient oversight of the facility. Residents had been alerting the landlord to countless problems but either nothing was done, or repairs were “shoddy” quick fixes. “In the months leading up to the fire, Mead Avenue had such sufficient concerns about the Urojas tenants that it had taken steps with the City of Oakland to remove Urojas from the property and replace it with a city approved non-profit,” Kim’s attorney said in the statement.

Landlord Kim blames Urojas for halfway house blaze
Attorney Ken Greenstein; image Courtesy of The Mercury News

“I didn’t hear no alarms.  All I heard was people banging on walls, that was the alert,” said Eliza Anderson, 29, who was living in the building at the time.  She is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.  “There was no sprinklers wetting us as were were going out.  Nothing.  It was just pitch black, like a barbecue grill.”  Anderson had to kick down the door of her elderly aunt who was also residing there and guided her aunt along with her children to safety using only the light of her cell phone.  “By the time we got down to the ground … you could see the flames coming through the fire escape,” she said.

“In the weeks since the fire, Mr. Kim has been unfairly criticized in the media for the actions of the current master tenants,” says Kronenberg. “This is unfortunate and I am confident that as the facts are brought to light the true responsibility for the operation and management of the building will become clear.”


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