California renters emboldened. - Posted by David H
Posted by David H on March 01, 2002 at 12:19:41:
Skip to the last paragraph… Kawamoto blinked, and now the renter’s rights activists are on a roll…
www.scabee.com, Mar. 1, 2002
Renters receive 90-day reprieve
They express relief as Kawamoto, under pressure, relents.
By Andy Furillo – Bee Staff Writer
Published 5:30 a.m. PST Friday, Mar. 1, 2002
In a major victory for 570 Northern California families, real estate investor Gensiro Kawamoto has agreed to give them three more months to find new places to live.
New 90-day notices will be sent to the tenants sometime next week, attorneys for Legal Services of Northern California said Thursday in a Sacramento press conference.
“I am very relieved,” said Lourdes Ordona, one of Kawamoto’s Sacramento County tenants. “I can breathe a sigh of relief, especially for the families that have children in school. I myself have children attending two different high schools, so I am really happy to hear that we’ve got a little more time.”
Kawamoto’s Honolulu lawyer, Carol Asai-Sato, confirmed Thursday that her client will be issuing the new notices next week. She said Kawamoto acted in response to the public outcry on behalf of the tenants by renters, their attorneys, community activist groups and business, landlord and banking groups, as well as a host of government officials, including California Gov. Gray Davis.
“Being so far away, he heard the responses of the tenants and the public in general, and realized that, yes, 30 days may be too short of time to find alternate premises and also to move out of their current homes,” Asai-Sato said. “So he decided to grant everyone 90 days, although legally he’s only required to give 30 days.”
Legal Services attorney Jonathan Givner said that Kawamoto’s Sacramento lawyer, Kirk Giberson, notified him Wednesday afternoon that the Tokyo real estate tycoon had relented and would not force tenants out of their homes in 30 days.
“This is a great victory for all the families that have been affected by these notices and a great day in our region,” Legal Services attorney John Givens said. “I’d like to commend all the families who, rather than just taking these notices and leaving their homes, recognized the injustice of these actions and decided to take their fight to the people of the community, to the courts, to the Legislature.”
Asai-Sato said Kawamoto intends to find a bulk purchaser of his properties who would then be able to rent to the current tenants. “If that’s unsuccessful, then he’ll open it up to sell to the tenants,” Asai-Sato said.
Brokers hired last week to price and sell the homes for Kawamoto said Thursday they had been told to hold off on pricing the houses for four to six weeks.
The new, three-month notices will affect 420 Kawamoto renters in Citrus Heights, Antelope, Orangevale and Rocklin as well as about another 150 in the Santa Rosa area.
Local tenants reacted with joy to their landlord’s change of mind. “I’m ecstatic,” said Tanya Bray, a 28-year-old mother of two in Citrus Heights. “It’s really got my hopes up. I was getting really panicky, but this is a sign of relief. I’m extremely happy.”
“Oh, praise the Lord,” said Kristen McAllister, 32, also of Citrus Heights. “That’s an answer to a prayer.”
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office also had been contacted by Kawamoto representatives Wednesday, saying the landlord would issue the new 90-day notices next week. Kawamoto came to the agreement after Sonoma prosecutors had threatened to go to court for a temporary restraining order enjoining Kawamoto’s 30-day notices.
Sonoma County District Attorney Dani Jo Handell said that Kawamoto’s aides informed her office that he would issue the new notices if she would hold off on filing suit.
That suit would have followed one that was filed Tuesday in Sacramento. In the local lawsuit, Legal Services lawyers representing the activist group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, and one of Kawamoto’s tenants, Margaret Henley, of Citrus Heights, charged that he had violated the state’s Business and Professions Code in trying to remove the tenants. Givner said Legal Services lawyers will likely drop the suit if and when Kawamoto follows through on his promise.
A hearing on the plaintiffs’ effort to block Kawamoto from issuing the 30-day notices was postponed Tuesday when Kawamoto’s lawyer agreed to delay the possible filing of eviction notices until March 20.
In addition to the lawsuit, the Citrus Heights City Council has since passed an ordinance requiring Kawamoto to pay each tenant $4,000 in relocation costs if he didn’t hold off on the lease terminations for at least three months.
State Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, meanwhile, introduced a measure in the Legislature that would give tenants in mass lease terminations 90 days to vacate. Her legislation cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Wednesday by a 9-1 vote.
Ortiz said that based on advice she received from the state attorney general’s office, she still intends to forge ahead with her legislative effort “until we see documents that are legally binding.”
Citrus Heights Mayor Roberta MacGlashan said the decision will “require some people to uproot themselves, which is unfortunate, but it will give them a reasonable amount of time to do that and eliminate some of the traumatic aspects of this eviction.”
Kawamoto’s lawyer denied that any specific legislative actions prompted the decision.
“He doesn’t feel and we don’t feel he’s bound by any law to give 90-day notices,” Asai-Sato said. “He’s doing it to ease the concerns of the tenants.”
Kawamoto’s lawyer said his decision was also made to opt for a bulk sale of the properties. “A lot of the tenants want to remain in the homes and keep renting for the rest of their lives, if they could,” Asai-Sato said. “Getting a bulk purchaser would probably solve that problem.”
ACORN board chairman Chris Jones hailed the tenants’ victory as a product of the community’s “relentless effort.” And he promised more pressure from tenants in coming months as the group takes the renters’ rights cause to the Legislature on a wide variety of issues.
About the Writer
The Bee’s Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bee staff writers Blair Anthony Robertson and Herbert A. Sample contributed to this report.