S.F.’s ‘Cruelest Landlord’ Finally Speaks Out

After a string of wrongful eviction fines, Anne Kihagi gives her side of the story.

Landlord Anne Kihagi and one of her properties on Guerrero Street.

We haven’t heard much from notorious landlord Anne Kihagi since her name became synonymous with the phrase “San Francisco’s cruelest landlord.” Throughout a very public saga, in which Kihagi was slapped with a whopping $3.5 million wrongful-eviction judgement — described by the defendants’ attorney as “the largest jury verdict ever for a single-unit tenant case in history” — Kihagi remained publicly silent even after she was found guilty of contempt of court and threatened with skyrocketing fines and jail sentences.

But plenty has been said about Anne Kihagi since her moniker became a household nickname. The judge in her May 2017 trial has accused her of a “persistent pattern of bad-faith harassment, retaliation, and fraud.” City Attorney Dennis Herrera has called her “a ruthless landlord,” adding that “Anne Kihagi has a special place reserved for her in San Francisco’s abusive-landlord hall of fame.”

Even state Senator Scott Wiener, not known as an anti-landlord crusader during his time on the Board of Supervisors, called Kihagi “a sociopath who has no regard for the lives or well-being of her tenants and no regard for the law.”

“Sociopath?,” Kihagi tells SF Weekly. “My tenants are probably more sociopathic than I am.”

Yes, we spoke to Kihagi, who is making public-relations efforts to repair her image. She claims that the alleged “wrongful evictions” are actually just her clearing out bad tenants through a series of perfectly legal maneuvers. She also insists the City Attorney’s office has engaged in a crusade against her personally since an October 2017 San Francisco magazine report initially dubbed her “San Francisco’s cruelest landlord.”

“Somebody sits down and says ‘cruelest landlord,’ ” Kihagi tells SF Weekly. “Cruelest? All I’ve done is simply enforce the same rights that I have and that every other landlord should have when you have tenants that are misbehaving or actually abusing their legal agreement. It’s so wrong, it’s so abusive. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.

“The media and people don’t do their homework, and eventually everybody just starts buying into it and starts believing it,” she adds.

Kihagi has indeed received significant negative media coverage, particularly in the wake of a multimillion-dollar wrongful-eviction fine levied against her by the San Francisco Superior Court last year. In these and a myriad of other court proceedings initiated against her, Kihagi has been accused of cutting off rent-controlled tenants’ water, gas, electricity, and mail service to get them to move out. 

Those are among the tamer things that have been said about her in the papers. In one case of an elderly Guerrero Street tenant, San Francisco magazine reported that Kihagi accused a 72-year-old woman of selling drugs and operating a phone-sex line.

That tenant, whose last name is Smith, found a letter on her door from Kihagi “accusing Smith — a 72-year old retiree with the U.S. Postal Service for 20 years and a longtime volunteer at St. James School — of working for ‘900 SEX TALK’ for extra money, and selling drugs,” according to Judge Angela Bradstreet’s May 2017 ruling against Kihagi. “There was not a scintilla of evidence presented by defendants to support these serious accusations.”

As Kihagi tells it, the tenant’s marijuana use posed a problem for maintenance workers.

“She gets a notice saying the building smells like weed every time you walk in,” Kihagi says. “I’m not happy about a building that smells like weed. The workers come in [and] said they get a high just from being inside the unit.”

In terms of the utilities being cut off, Kihagi maintains these were brief, insignificant service interruptions that have been blown out of proportion.

“The tenant sent me a text at 3:32 p.m. saying the lights are off,” Kihagi explains. “This was not the whole building, it was just the common area.

“The lights are off from 3:32 to 7:03,” she continues. “We’re talking about a few hours without light. A lot of times what happens is property management companies, we don’t have handymen who are available after 5:00,” Kihagi says. “So if you call me at 3:30 or 4 o’clock, chances are I can’t fix it until the next day. Even for the most expensive condominiums.”

But attorney Steven MacDonald, who represented the tenants that won the record $3.5 million verdict, points to a pattern of similar rulings against Kihagi for disrupting tenants’ utilities, both in San Francisco and at her West Hollywood properties.

“The earlier West Hollywood allegations by that city paint a lurid picture of a despicable landlady threatening tenants and turning off their utilities,” MacDonald tells SF Weekly.

Whether deserved or not, all these allegations have made Kihagi something of a punching bag. Last April, a tenant activist scrawled her personal phone number onto a protest sign, a picture of which was published on local blogs. That’s not all, according to Kihagi.

“They scratched the word ‘bitch’ on my car,” she says. “They broke my tenants’ windows.”

Protests outside her home have gotten unruly and personal.

“They’re out there protesting, and they see my mother and my younger sister coming into my building,” she claims “They started chasing and throwing things at my sister. Is that protesting, or is that just being harmful? They threw stuff at my mother and my sister.”

Kihagi sees a City Hall conspiracy against her, singling her out in retaliation for a 2015 civil suit in which she sued San Francisco for “bad-faith code-enforcement prosecution and patently invidious discrimination.” A U.S. District Court judge rejected that case, but Kihagi feels the City Attorney’s office is still making her pay for having the gall to sue San Francisco. She and her attorney point to sworn testimony from Deputy City Attorney Michael Weiss wherein he admitted to spending 73 percent of his time prosecuting Kihagi’s code-enforcement cases.

SF Weekly acquired transcripts of that testimony, and their estimate is not far off.

“I would say in the last year and a half, probably 70 percent of my time has been spent — 60 to 70 percent of my time has been spent dealing with Ms. Kihagi,” Weiss testified.

According to the City Attorney’s office, that’s because Kihagi has been a uniquely problematic landlord.

“We are working on safety and prosecuting lawbreakers throughout the City every day,” City Attorney Communications Director John Coté tells SF Weekly. “Certainly, Ms. Kihagi’s repeated and well-documented refusal to comply with the law and at least 10 court orders created a lot of unnecessary work for dedicated public servants, including attorneys in our office.

“Of course around that trial, these deputy city attorneys were spending a majority of their time prosecuting Ms. Kihagi and her associates,” Coté continues. “That trial resulted in a historic judgment for $6 million and growing. We will collect every last cent that Ms. Kihagi and her associates owe the taxpayers. And we will hold Ms. Kihagi accountable for refusing to obey the law, like we did just last month when she was convicted of contempt of court.”

But Kihagi alleges systemic racism in these continuing convictions.

“San Francisco probably is the most liberal city, but that belies the true bigotry of this city,” she argues. “When the news hears words like ‘slumlord,’ they don’t even care to look at your buildings. They just go ‘Hmm, slumlord,’ because they see a Black face. And everyone believes it.”

For now, Kihagi keeps appealing her cases in hopes of getting the previous fines and decisions reversed. But in the notoriously pro-tenant city of San Francisco, that may result in penalties she finds even more cruel and unusual.

Joe Kukura is an SF Weekly contributor.
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