The assault on black landlord Anne Kihagi began because she refused to play by the unspoken rules in San Francisco, where tenants get away with almost everything and landlords dare not speak up. They should even be afraid of visiting their own buildings, as Ms. Kihagi learned when Judge Angela Bradstreet penalized her $5,000 for visiting her building’s common area on a Sunday afternoon, somehow sending a brawny couple of men screaming. No, Judge Bradstreet cannot cite any law to support this punishment, but through her power and audacity, she was going to do everything possible to help the City Attorney drive Ms. Kihagi out of San Francisco.
The City of San Francisco’s campaign against Ms. Kihagi started with a few angry tenants like Ms. Allison Leshefsky. More than 20 emails detail her efforts, including stalking Ms. Kihagi’s buildings for anyone who would join this mob. Soon, Ms. Leshefsky would not be alone.
Ms. Leshesfky caught the attention of Senator Scott Wiener, the then-Supervisor in the Castro, a predominantly gay community. He was an aspiring Senator and, in his first press hearing in the Castro, residents chanted “you are not welcome in San Francisco” at Ms. Kihagi. Why did he start his candidacy by inspiring such harsh negativity? Because she was not playing by their rules.
Ms. Kihagi had sold her condo and decided to move into the penthouse unit in her own building in the Mission-Castro area, a unit formerly occupied by a gay man. Ms. Kihagi’s sister was also set to move into one of her properties in the Castro. This meant that, in invoking owner move-in rights, it was nearly unavoidable that a gay party could be displaced, by virtue of the neighborhood’s primary demographic.
To be clear, there is nothing illegal about a landlord moving into his or her units. In fact, the SF Ordinance allows owners to move into their buildings, and many parents invest in buildings so that their children have easier access to well-maintained housing. Ms. Kihagi’s ownership, however, would not go unnoticed.
Her success as a black woman in the city was unorthodox, but she also expanded. In the face of adversity, she continued pursuing the American Dream. “I have always been against groupthink, and hate being bullied,” says Ms. Kihagi, who is not afraid to stand up to tenants trying to fool their landlord. She once stood up to a tenant who was profiting over $40,000/year from shamelessly subletting her apartment while barely paying $600/month in rent. This is how many local tenants end up wealthier than their landlords: by illegally subletting rent-controlled units.
Ms. Kihagi’s challenging of this norm is not customary in San Francisco and subsequently, put a huge target on her back. Though evictions were legal, tenants became nasty, calling the DBI constantly and filing bogus complaints to create problems. Tenants would even break into units so that sneaky building inspectors could create some violation. In one instance, tenant Leshefsky accused Ms. Kihagi and her contractor of being illegal – because they spoke Spanish. Is this a sanctuary city? It’s not even tolerance.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wiener had previously worked for the City Attorney’s Office, so it was easy to get the City involved in making Ms. Kihagi feel unwelcome.
In fact, they got too involved. The original judge, who questioned the City’s case, was removed and replaced with Judge Bradstreet, which changed the prosecution’s strategy; only then did they frame the case to play on her potential bias as an openly gay judge. It was clear that the City was going to play dirty, just like always, and now this alleged discrimination formed the entire basis of the City’s opening statements. How could a biased judge in a biased city be trusted to make fair decisions? The plain truth is that she did not make fair decisions. Because of the discriminatory framing, Judge Bradstreet was intent on teaching Ms. Kihagi a lesson, without giving her an opportunity to refute these claims.
In preparation for the trial, messages like “we shall unite and deal with her” flew among tenants, and emails with the City Attorney’s Office were suspiciously frequent. Tenants plotted violence against the landlord while keying her car and starting violent protests outside her properties. They even made cartoons of President Lincoln pointing at Ms. Kihagi saying, “You are NOT welcome.” Despite all this, Judge Bradstreet ruled that tenants never intended to harm Ms. Kihagi. Why was her sense of safety unimportant?
Other judges had commented on the City’s underhanded maneuvers, with one observing that “the City hopes to send Ms. Kihagi out of San Francisco.” It was clear they would stop at nothing. They slashed Ms. Kihagi’s trial preparation time, inundated her with mountains of paperwork and discovery that one judge called “oppressive,” and petitioned the court to cancel her trial by default. Judge Bradstreet granted this request, despite other judges recommending giving more time to prepare.
All this intense desperation to bring down an African American woman, and why? Because she enforced lease agreements.
To the outsider, it’s clear that Ms. Kihagi was doomed – for being black, owning buildings in San Francisco, standing up to tenants, speaking Spanish, and moving into her own buildings that happened to be in the Castro. And while Senator Scott Wiener was hurt when others poked fun at him earlier this year, he was more than comfortable publicly harassing Ms. Kihagi.
Ms. Kihagi cannot find safety in this supposed sanctuary city. She has become the target for a cultish cohort of angry tenants and some elected officials who will stop at nothing to ruin her and run her out of San Francisco, all because she refused to play by the City’s rules.
For more information on Anne Kihagi and West 18 Properties, visit http://annekihagisf.com/