Veritas Investments, San Francisco’s biggest landlord, is facing a fourth lawsuit filed by 68 tenants alleging housing violations on Thursday.
This time, tenants spread across 30 buildings owned by the company joined together to allege unlawful business practices, violation of San Francisco’s rent ordinance, tenant mistreatment and poor living conditions designed to force rent-controlled tenants out. The 68 tenants are seeking millions in damages and an injunction against Veritas activities, like alleged constant construction with little notice.
“We have a message for Veritas Investments,” said attorney Ken Greenstein. “Leave your tenants alone, and stop trying to force them out, and make their life miserable so they will move out.”
This brings the total number of Veritas tenants represented in lawsuits against their landlord more than 100, all represented by Bracamontes & Vlasak. Two active lawsuits were filed on behalf of residents at 300 Buchanan St. and 634 Powell St. in May and April, respectively. With similar allegations, Vlasak it’s likely the judge will soon have the lawsuits combine as one.
Veritas is estimated to own more than 250 apartment buildings and owns 48 buildings with retail space, some of which have sat empty on once-busy stretches like Church Street.
Some of the ways tenants say Veritas makes living on their properties unbearable is through disruptive construction; electricity, water, and gas shut-off often for an extended time and without notice; denying that tenants paid rent; claiming false late charges, and forcing tenants to leave without relocation aid or dates to return.
The suit also alleges that Veritas attempted to buy out tenants after it buys new properties, raises rent with flimsy cost pass-throughs loopholes, and passes high-interest rates to tenants. In a statement, Veritas said it had not been served and seen the allegations but “dispute all claims that we are hostile or negligent towards our valued residents in any way.
“We invest in San Francisco’s aging housing stock, and many of the buildings we have purchased are in need of substantial infrastructure improvement, which we undertake with validly obtained permits, and all the speed allowed by San Francisco’s exacting building inspection process,” said Justin Sato, Chief Operating Officer, in an email. “We are proud of our record as a landlord in San Francisco, and the data the City keeps about our work is contrary to these allegations.”
Ray Sullivan is a plaintiff that has lived at Veritas-owned 709 Geary St. since 2016 and, illustrating his living conditions, didn’t have running water to take a shower before arriving at the press conference. His alleged fights with Veritas range from getting the Department of Building Inspections to force them to install lights and exit signs after a dryer caught fire, to slipping on sewage that erupted from his sink and infecting the wound from a recent surgery.
“It’s like a wildlife zoo in my apartment,” Sullivan says, referring to frequent sightings of cockroaches and vermin. “This is the level of gross negligence we live with as tenants.”
In July, Veritas tenants rallied outside a building on O’Farrell Street — also owned by their landlord — in support of state Proposition 10, which repeals rent-control restrictions from Costa-Hawkins. The San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition released a study on the rent-control legislation that day, referencing several cases of Veritas tenants forced to move after rents doubled or tripled.
For San Francisco native Michael Kreamer, that came with a monthly rent increase from $2,100 to $7,950. And in a Veritas tenant survey included in the report, every respondent reported experiencing poor living conditions, like mold, vermin, and asbestos exposure. With Veritas being such a big landlord, it might be hard to avoid parting ways should tenants move out.
“In the midst of a rental crisis, we’ve had our options eliminated,” Sullivan says.
This article has been updated with a statement from Veritas.