Oakland condemns problematic apartment

August 26, 2009 12:12:13 AM PDT
Oakland police and city officials moved in Tuesday to remove nearly 200 hundred people from a problem apartment complex in the city's Fruitvale District.

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A fire Monday night was the final straw for Oakland city officials who claim they have battled for three years to clean up the Amber Tree Gardens apartments.

Holes in the walls, graffiti, clogged sinks and broken glass are the norm at Amber Tree, especially since last August, when then-owner Liem Le passed away.

But things were already bad.

At the time of le's death, the city of Oakland had filed a lawsuit and multiple liens against him for letting his apartments become a public nuisance. Some would call them a slum.

"There's no manager here to tell anybody leave, or anything; there's a bunch of gang-bangers and drugs, it's just crazy over here," resident Ernest Siler.

Last week, East Bay MUD shut off the water because of $60,000 in unpaid bills.

Most residents have not paid rent in nearly a year and even though the owner's widow declared bankruptcy, the mortgage holder, Chase Bank, refuses to foreclose.

"They've foreclosed on so many other properties; so many other families have lost their homes, however, in this situation, I suspect, they know the problems that exist here and they don't want to deal with it," city spokesperson Claudia Burgos said.

City officials claim they did not condemn these buildings before, because the law requires they give all parties ample legal notice before taking such extreme action.

But once the fire department has declared Amber Tree uninhabitable, the city moved in.

"The totality of it is people are living in unhealthy, unsafe conditions," Oakland Fire Marshal James Edwards said.

Residents now face the prospect of finding new homes.

"I think it's really sad that we've got to leave on such short notice, but I don't know, if it's unhealthy then we should leave," resident Laura Perez said.

Residents were taken to a local shelter that will provide temporary housing for the next three days. During daylight hours, residents can return to the Amber Tree to retrieve their belongings. The city has promised to assist residents with finding permanent housing solutions.

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