Attorney Ann Menasche said she's seen former tenants of the Maryland Hotel living on the street. An attorney with Protection and Advocacy Inc., a nonprofit legal-assistance corporation, Menasche is trying to track these people down, along with other former tenants, to let them know they're entitled to assistance from the San Diego Housing Commission and possibly a portion of a small cash settlement from the Maryland's owners.
The single-room-occupancy hotel (SRO), which was emptied in March and will reopen next spring as a "boutique" hotel, was home to 206 people, most of whom were low-income and many of whom were on disability. Last Dec. 30, tenants were told that they had until Jan. 29, 2003 to find a new place to live and would receive a month's rent for relocation.
The owners of the Maryland-a partnership going by the name 630 F Street, headed by brothers Michael and Richard Kelly-ultimately offered an additional $300,000 in relocation money to be divided up among residents. The settlement came in exchange for the City Council agreeing to drop plans to try to bolster its SRO ordinance, which would have required 630 F Street to fork over additional relocation money in excess of $1 million.
In late January, Menasche, along with attorneys Cory Briggs and Margaret Jakobson, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of former Maryland tenants charging that the hotel's owners cut off basic services between Jan. 29 and Feb. 24, despite a judge's decision to temporarily stay the 30-day eviction notice. Menasche said that the roughly two-dozen tenants who were still living in the hotel during that time are entitled to a rent refund.
The attorneys also take aim at the city's Housing Commission, arguing that the commission failed in its duty to provide adequate relocation assistance to Maryland tenants. Menasche told CityBeat that some tenants are currently on the brink of homelessness, having had to relocate to a place where the rent exceeded their monthly income. One tenant is currently living out of his car, she said-his $7.50 an hour job doesn't provide enough for rent and living expenses.
At the time tenants were being evicted, the Housing Commission argued that the hotel owners had hired their own relocation specialists and therefore wouldn't let Housing Commission staff into the building.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager ruled for the tenants in their claim against the hotel and the Housing Commission. The Housing Commission has agreed to provide additional relocation assistance and also help locate former tenants to let them know about their services. Menasche said that tenants who were living in the building between Jan. 29 and Feb. 24 are entitled to a portion of $2,000 the Maryland's owners agreed to pay for cutting off garbage collection, linen service and cable-services that were included in the monthly rent.
The judge ruled against the tenants in their claim that the city of San Diego ignored its current SRO ordinance, which, as it's written, requires anyone who takes an SRO hotel out of the affordable housing rental market to either build new housing with the same number of units or pay an in-lieu-of fee. The purpose of the ordinance is to protect the city's affordable housing stock (rooms in SROs often rent for as little as $500 a month). Since the 1980s, San Diego's lost roughly 1,000 SRO rooms to downtown redevelopment. Prager ruled that the ordinance's replacement-housing provision violated state law.
Menasche said that her team plans to appeal the judge's ruling. She said that tenants who qualify for housing assistance or a rent refund must file a claim before Nov. 5 by calling 619-239-7861.