Lawsuit claims SROs owned by city contractors are unsafe, moldy, rodent-infested

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Definitely not your ideal roommate.

It's often rumored that housing conditions in certain single-room occupancy hotels, or SROs, throughout San Francisco are atrocious. And when it comes to SROs under ownership of one family in particular, a lawsuit filed today by City Attorney Dennis Herrera now alleges not only that conditions are unhealthy and inhospitable – they’re also illegal.

Hotel owners, managers and operators Balvantsinh “Bill” Thakor, his wife Lataben B. Thakor, and their sons Kiransinh and Bahavasinh Thakor are all named in Herrera’s suit, which alleges that the business owners are renting uninhabitable residential rooms to vulnerable occupants, depriving SRO occupants of tenancy rights, maintaining public nuisances, doing construction work without required permits or contractors’ licenses, and making false claims for payment from the city.

The SRO owners hold contracts with the city. Herrera's complaint alleges that taxpayer dollars are flowing into the hands of landlords who have allowed their properties to remain moldy, rodent-infested, and unsafe to occupants who are too poor to seek out other options.

We left a message for Balvantsihn "Bill" Thakor and will update this post if we receive a response.

Under the city contracts, homeless people who are pulled off the street by the Department of Public Health’s Homeless Outreach Team are temporarily placed in stabilization beds in SROs under the Thakor’s ownership. DPH rents out blocks of rooms to provide this temporary transitional housing, while low-income residents may live permanently in other units in the same buildings under their own private arrangements.

“San Francisco’s response to our affordable housing crisis must include aggressively protecting our most vulnerable residents — and that’s exactly what this case is about,” said Herrera. “The Thakor family has exploited low‐income residents by denying them tenancy rights. They’ve defiantly thumbed their noses at city inspectors over pervasive code violations, which endanger residents and neighbors alike. And they’ve billed taxpayers for providing clients of city programs with ‘clean, safe, habitable’ housing, when it was anything but clean, safe, or habitable.”

A litany of charges in Herrera’s complaint gives an idea of what conditions in some of these properties are like: “[Health and safety code violations include] rampant cockroach and bedbug infestations, failure to provide adequate fire protection and safety, failure to provide adequate security, failure to provide plumbing adequate to avoid repeated sewage leaks, failure to provide safe and functional wiring, failure to provide residential rooms and bathrooms free of mold and mildew, and failure to provide adequate heat.”

City Attorney spokesperson Matt Dorsey noted that there had been a host of health and building code violations issued against the hotel operators, but that fines and notices of violation still had not resulted in necessary repairs. With all administrative avenues exhausted, the city is now moving forward with a lawsuit.

“With litigation,” Dorsey said, “we have the ability to bring a level of fear that the administrative process cannot.”

Meanwhile, a quick search for court records revealed that this isn’t the first time Balvantsinh “Bill” Thakor has been named in a lawsuit brought by the City Attorney against SRO hotel owners.

In 2002, records show, then-City Attorney Louise Renne named him along with a host of other defendants in a suit relating to the ownership and operation of the Warfield Hotel, a 63-unit Tenderloin SRO where defendants had allegedly “failed to correct life-safety hazards … thereby forcing residents to live in substandard conditions in violation of applicable state and local housing laws.” According to this 2003 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, that particular SRO later went "from horrible to habitable."

But even back then, Thakor was described in the Chronicle as "not known for his quick response to code violations." All of which begs the question: With such a terrible track record, how do these hotel owners manage to land city contracts?

Comments

The owners are third-world colored people of color so they cannot be expected to adhere to laws created by and for the benefit of white people - most of whom are racist and control the levers of power so they can perpetuate their privilege.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

How is this suit racist? Do you have any idea of what you speak or are you a brain damaged racist? I live in one of these properties operated by Thakor and his entire family and all of his associates deserve jail time. Your comment is ridiculous as the people in my building are multicultural.

Posted by setyoustraight on Jun. 02, 2014 @ 2:12 am

Check your privilege SFBG. This article reeks of micro-aggressions. And there should be a trigger warning associated with this article which I found so triggering that it triggered me into pain and suffering necessitating immediate financial recompense.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2014 @ 7:18 pm

You get what you pay for.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2014 @ 7:18 pm

So not much changed for more than a decade with the scummy owners and the City Attorney finally noticed he should sue? Business as usual at Silly Hall. Glad we have the Guardian providing oversight.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

If the city doesn't like the way they are run, why don't they pay to fix them up themselves?

And good luck asking the voters for higher taxes so that homeless people can live like Kings.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 4:25 am

Aren't the disenfranchised amongst us entitled to a little luxury too?

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 10:21 am

Why would anyone work if they got given luxury for free?

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 11:11 am

for those who cannot. They'll just have to work harder as more people decide not to work. It's pretty simple.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

And in fact that is what taxpayers have been saying for a while now

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 3:54 pm

If I were a tenant there I'd be so pissed I'd clear out so far and fast that I wouldn't even look back till I'd gotten to Bakersfield. Which would be a loss for all of us because no matter what cranky middle aged artists and recently arrived college grad activists say about themselves, it's really the broken down, drug addled SRO dwellers who are the true soul of San Francisco.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2014 @ 9:19 pm

Lawsuits against people with foreign-sounding names are racist. It's time we took back the night.

Posted by Chromefields on May. 13, 2014 @ 6:03 am

Why is the City attorney filing these cases? Seems like he is trying to create political capital with renters by bashing landlords. This quote sums it up!

With litigation,” Dorsey said, “we have the ability to bring a level of fear that the administrative process cannot.”

So there stated policy on housing is to terrorize landlords?

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 8:13 am

I think that Randy Shaw has his eyes on expanding his poverty pimpire.

Posted by marcos on May. 13, 2014 @ 8:27 am

Quit making such scurrilous attacks.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

I agree Randy is a very greedy money hungry person.

Posted by Guest on May. 13, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

Looks like Randy Shaw want to seize bills properties.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

The rodent in the picture looks zombyish.

Posted by Eastside Clyde Townsend on May. 13, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

Even the rat looks unhealthy.

Posted by GUEST on May. 13, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

They should have to know that what clean and healthy rooms looks like.

Posted by Manize on May. 14, 2014 @ 12:49 am

I'm a social worker for people, mentally ill and mostly of color, who can't afford but to live in these SROs. The conditions are shameful. If you want to be up in arms about something, be up in arms about that.

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2014 @ 10:24 am

to them closing them down, investing the proceeds elsewhere, and leaving the city with a bottomless pit of liabilities.

How is that better?

Posted by Guest on May. 14, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

The rodent in the picture represents the future of the hard working tax payer.

They will eventually look that way after years of supporting people who prefer not to work.

Posted by guest on May. 16, 2014 @ 8:33 am

for a few years i lived an sf sro in the mission. i once reported a bad smell, no one at the front desk seemed to notice and ignored my concern. two weeks or so LATER right around RENT DUE DATE, the manager discovered a tenant had died in his room. hmmm.

it's not that people cannot live in with dignity in places that aren't like luxury cruise ships, it's the them/us mentality which is too easy...

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 3:33 am

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