Some residents of a downtown San Diego hotel say they have been left confused and frustrated by the City Attorney’s Office’s call to vacate and close their building because it is unsafe, and they are defending the property owner as a responsible hands-on landlord.
“It’s been very stressful,” said Kevin West, one of 72 tenants of the C Street Inn.
While the City Attorney’s Office called the single-room occupancy hotel a public nuisance, West and others called it home.
“I’ve got a decent room,” said West, 69. “They made it sound like a slum. It’s not. Jack (Rafiq, owner of the property) has been working to better the place up.”
The City Attorney’s Office said in a Monday press release that residents had been ordered to vacate the building after city inspectors found health and safety violations during inspections in March and April.
Residents at the building on Tuesday said they have been hearing eviction threats for months.
West, Neil Ricco and Roy Brown each recalled being home around 8 pm April 27 when firefighters and police officers knocked on their doors and said they had to leave the building.
“The fire marshal came in with a heavy police presence and started banging on doors saying, ‘You’ve got to get out, you’ve got to get out,'” said Rico, 69. “There was a woman who was terrified on my floor. She had a walker. She’s disabled. She was sobbing. She thought she was going to be put on the street that night. It was cruel.”
Brown and West told similar stories. Ricco said they were told the Red Cross was going to come and set them up in a tent, and West recalled the Red Cross was going to put people in hotels.
The overnight eviction didn’t happen, with firefighters and police officers leaving after speaking with Rafiq, Rico recalled.
There was more confusion in May, when they said they received a notice to be out in 10 days. Those days passed with no one evicted, and as of this week, there is no set day for people to be out.
The city has offered to provide each of the 72 residents $4,720 to aid their relocation, and as of Tuesday, three people had moved out and were expected to receive their checks the following day, city spokeswoman Leslie Wolf Branscomb said.
“A large number of people need to relocate, and the city and the Housing Commission are trying to make it as easy as possible,” Wolf Branscomb said.
The three tenants interviewed outside the building Tuesday, however, said the offer from the City Attorney’s Office will not go far and comes with a catch.
“You have to find a place first, then bring them a copy of the lease in order to get the money,” Brown said. “I explained that we’re all living paycheck to paycheck. There’s no way for us to save up money for a security deposit and two months rent.”
Brown said the assistance from the City Attorney’s Office is different than what he received from the San Diego Housing Commission when he moved from the Plaza Hotel SRO two years ago when the building was being redeveloped.
At the Plaza, he said the Housing Commission offered financial assistance up front to help residents find a new home rather than requiring people to first find a new home on their own.
However the money is distributed, Brown said he is worried it won’t be enough to find a new home in the tight rental market.
“Check around,” I said. “Everything else out there is $250 or more a month. Here, it’s $675 to $750. There’s a couple at $550.”
Brown said rooms in the 1913 building are 10-by-12 feet, slightly larger than most rooms in SROs downtown.
The Housing Commission has recently created a hotline for C Street Inn residents to call for assistance in finding a new rental unit.
“A specialist called me yesterday and gave me a list of SROs I could apply for, so they’re making an effort,” Rico said. “The fellow I talked to with the Housing Commission talked to me with great respect.”
Branscomb said Housing Commission officials would be at the hotel in person Aug. 1 to help connect tenants with new homes.
Rafiq, who owns J’s Property Management in San Diego, disagreed with some of the city’s allegations about the building and said there was no need for occupants to vacate.
Brown, Rico, West and one other tenant who did not want to be identified said they believe Rafiq has already made needed repairs to the sprinkler system, smoke detectors and other issues with the building. Rico said Rafiq is not a slumlord, and in fact lives in the building.
“This was a landlord I saw every day working to improve the building,” he said.
Rafiq has appealed the city’s order to pay relocation costs, so the city paid the costs up front and will seek reimbursement in an administrative hearing.
The city’s announcement Monday said code enforcement inspections in March and April found mold, fire hazards and rodent infestations, along with an absence of a fire alarm system, fire sprinklers, extinguishers or smoke alarms.
Inspectors also found trash in hallways, unpermitted plumbing modifications and electrical hazards, including an uncovered electrical junction box installed in a shower, the city alleged.
According to the City Attorney’s Office, the city did not learn of the safety and health violations earlier because the property owner failed to obtain a certificate of occupancy, which is necessary to confirm compliance.
According to city code inspection records available on the city’s website, the city had dozens of complaints about trash, items blocking the sidewalk and “quality of life issues” at the C Street hotel dating back to at least 2018.
Last year, the city of El Centro sought to put a hotel owned by Rafiq into receivership after the hotel burned down, leaving unsafe, charred remains in need of demolition and cleanup, according to a news report Feb. 22, 2021, in the Desert Review.