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Million Dollar Buildings Owned by Elderly Taken By San Francisco City Attorney Says Anne Kihagi

The eleven-member Board of Supervisors serves as the legislative body governing both the County and City of San Francisco. By nature of their post, it is their fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the other legal cogs of the City are operating ethically.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, however, has neglected – whether intentionally or unintentionally – to properly police the ruthlessly overextended City Attorney’s Office, which exists solely and nobly to facilitate impartial justice – not million-dollar victories – throughout the City. Yet the San Francisco City Attorney has proven nothing short of malicious, cruel, and unconstitutional, particularly when it comes to homeowners and landlords. Aiming to confiscate property instead of uncover truth, the City Attorney has blurred the dividing lines of local government and consistently circumnavigated acceptable practice without any disciplinary action.

Last year, homeowner and local landlord Joel Elliott lost his building – and, subsequently, his livelihood and home. Mr. Elliott had a brief stint in the San Francisco spotlight as the owner of the now-repossessed Sanchez St. property, often referred to as an “alleged drug den” (the “alleged” is necessary, as that case was dismissed by local courts); because of consistently late or missing rent payments from his tenants, Mr. Elliott was unable to make routine repairs, which would have cost around $25,000 in total.

Instead of invoking a California law that, with a lien from the City, would have allowed Mr. Elliott to make the necessary repairs and keep his home and rental property, the City instead chose to fine the already financially burdened owner a staggering $1.7 million in penalties and attorney fees. Mr. Elliott had no choice but to walk away from his property and, entirely wiped out, join the heartbreakingly long list of San Franciscans experiencing homelessness.

Few years prior, an elderly woman who had worked diligently to acquire her property saw the city attorney seize her building in the Mission district with no reaction nor sympathy from any press, citizen or Supervisor.  During the same time, a poor Asian elderly couple has been forced to enter into agreement to pay city attorney more than they can ever collect, for failing to make repairs to a bathroom when in fact part of the problem was caused by their tenants’ failure to cooperate and facilitate repairs, and partly due to lack of funds given the low rents generated by the property.

This certainly doesn’t seem to be the kind of honorable and even-handed justice which the City Attorney is charged with promoting.  

But ethics are not the name of the game in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. This was proven yet again in the highly contentious and villainizing case of City of San Francisco v. Kihagi, in which the City fined an immigrant woman, Anne Kihagi, $2.5 million for dramatized and disproven claims made by her tenants. In fact, the City Attorney was instrumental in spurring on the mob of angry tenants presenting misleading evidence and biasing the presiding judge. The City Attorney even attempted to get the Building Department to investigate Ms. Kihagi, a gross misuse (and misinterpretation) of the relationship between government departments.

A clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits governments from imposing “excessive fines” as a form of punishment. Fining $1.7 million for $25,000 worth of maintenance, or $2.5 million based on misleading evidence and city attorney under-handedly changing laws to entrap the owner during her pending case, seem to be quite excessive indeed. Moreover, they are not exemplary of the neutral justice that is the cornerstone of the City Attorney role.

It is imperative that the Board of Supervisors thoroughly examine the legal bodies under their purview, especially when those offices – like the City Attorney – are inflating and abusing their government positions. Any intentional ignorance on the matter is effectively approval of the behavior that is costing innocent San Franciscans their livelihoods and homes.

For more information on Anna Kihagi & West 18th Properties, @annekihagi1

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