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San Francisco sues Chinatown landlords for alleged unsafe living conditions

City Attorney David Chiu speaks at a press conference in San Francisco City Hall on Aug. 4, 2022. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

San Francisco is suing a group of property owners and affiliated companies that are accused of numerous building violations, including tenants living in unsafe and dirty conditions.

The three properties, all single-room-occupancy residential hotels in and around Chinatown, are located at 1443-1449 Powell St., 790 Vallejo St. and 912 Jackson St.

City Attorney David Chiu said city officials had heard from tenants in the buildings that maintenance requests went completely unaddressed or unanswered, and the city’s Department of Building Inspections had also spent years trying to get landlords to abate the dangerous conditions. But little progress was made.

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“That's why at this point, we feel that we need to initiate litigation,” Chiu said. “We will sue them all together to make sure that there is collective liability.”

There are 22 pending violations issued by the city against the landlords, according to the lawsuit document, the building department and Chiu. Specific accusations include construction work without permits, broken doors and windows, rusted plumbing, exposed electrical wiring, rodent and insect infestations, mold, unsanitary shared bathrooms, lack of smoke detectors, seismic safety issues, insufficient emergency exits and paint with lead risks.

A dirty window can be seen in this 2022 photo taken in one of the buildings involved in the lawsuit. | Source: Courtesy Department of Building Inspections
Chinatown landlords are being sued for forcing tenants to live in unsafe conditions, with insect infestations among the many violations. | Source: Courtesy Department of Building Inspections

Patrick O’Riordan, the director of the Department of Building Inspection, said this case is especially troublesome because of the extreme conditions described above and the resistance from the landlords to cooperate.

“Our warnings were ignored. Our violations were disregarded. This lawsuit will change that dynamic,” O’Riordan said in a statement to The Standard. “I want every landlord to know that we are here to make sure that every resident lives in a safe, clean, code-compliant home.”

Three individual defendants are named in the file—Jeff Appenrodt, Shailendra Devdhara and Kamlesh Patel—along with a long list of companies believed to be their affiliates. The three defendants are said to have operated, owned or managed the properties on and off during recent years. The city is still figuring out other remaining individuals' identities related to the ownership of the buildings.

The Standard reached out to the defendants but received a response only from Appenrodt, who said he’s unaware of any pending violations. According to Google Maps street view, Appenrodt’s real estate firm poster can be seen on the 790 Vallejo St. building.

City officials, building tenants and tenant rights activists from Chinatown Community Development Center are expected to hold a press conference in Chinatown on Tuesday morning. The City Attorney’s lawsuit asks the court to issue a permanent injunction ordering the owners to permanently abate all code violations and pay for the expenses. The defendants are also asked to pay penalty fees, which may exceed a million dollars.

Han Li can be reached at