City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued an Excelsior landlord on Tuesday, alleging that the laundromat owner stuck dozens of tenants in cramped, squalid, unsafe subterranean “dungeon” conditions for a decade, charging some of them $1,000/month for roughly 150 square feet of space.
The complaint accuses Melissa Mendoza, owner of the Clean Wash Center at 4690 Mission, of operating the building’s basement apartments like a virtual prison camp.
Says the suit:
Defendants have maintained the subterranean basement of the property as a labyrinth of substandard, unsafe, and uninhabitable dwelling rooms. [...] The victims of such practices are not only defendants’ tenants and neighbors but also other residential property and businesses who operate their buildings in compliance with local and state law. As a results, defendants gain an unfair competitive advantage over other property owners.
When a fire inspection stumbled on the underground dwelling in January, an SFFD spokesperson called the building—crudely subdivided into 20 cubicles of some 150 feet to accommodate more than two dozen renters, or so the complaints allege—”a deathtrap.”
The city’s fire marshal declared the basement “unsafe for occupancy” and ordered tenants to evacuate in February.
The former tenants are also suing Mendoza as well as the building’s master tenant, Ernesto Paredes. None of the defendant’s lawyers were immediately available for comment.
For the record, all of the charges in the suits remain legally unproven pending a trial. In a response to the tenants’ suit, Paredes’s attorneys claimed Paredes wasn’t liable for the living conditions in part because:
The plaintiffs so carelessly, recklessly, and negligently conducted and maintained themselves so as to cause and contribute in some degree to the alleged incident and to the damages and injuries, if any. [...] The plaintiffs, knowing the probable consequences thereof, placed themselves in a position of danger and freely and voluntarily participated.
In another response to the same suit, Mendoza’s attorneys echo the allegation that the tenants themselves were ultimately to blame, accusing them of “carelessness, negligence, and other wrongful conduct.”