There should be a limit to how much your landlord can increase your rent," Packnett said in his living room a few weeks ago.
There is in fact a limit to rent increases in Oakland, but it only applies to apartment buildings built before 1983. Marr's company is appealing the rent-board decision on the grounds that the units in question were constructed in 2003, which would allow an increase of any amount. Packnett and Martin feel like they're going lose on appeal.
Marr's attorney for Community Realty, Timothy Larsen, didn't dispute that Marr is asking for big rent increases. But Larsen said the increases are legal, and that Marr's company bought the building with unnamed investors who assumed the rents being paid by the existing tenants were much higher.
"My clients are not the sole owners and have other investors involved, decisions are not being made solely by my clients," Larsen wrote in an email.
Ironically, Packnett actually helped build the house he lives in. And Martin lived on the property in an older cottage that was demolished to make way for the new three-unit building. Their previous landlord hired Packnett as part of the construction crew in 2003.
The two men think that Marr's company is passing along the costs of upgrading the other two units on the property to them, even though they gain no benefit from that work. And they suspect something else also: Martin said it seems like Marr might be squeezing his rental properties for cash, in order to pay his legal bills to fight the federal government's bid rigging case. The two are now trying to figure out how Marr's legal problems with the feds might relate to their situation.
In Martin's petition to the rent board, arguing against the $1,000 rent increase, Packnett wrote that he's working to find out whether his apartment is a part of the federal investigation. "If so, I think no decisions should be made until this case with Marr is over," he wrote.
"I think Oakland rent control should check into this incident."
Bedbugs, Mold, Evictions
Maria Naborh also lives in one of Marr's properties, and she alleges that his company has been unresponsive to substandard living conditions.
Naborh, her husband, and their two kids used to reside in an apartment on 98th Avenue. But the family sought more space, so last year they moved into a single-family home owned by Marr near the San Leandro border. They had to sell one of their cars to raise $3,000 for the security deposit and first month's rent of $1,800.
When she first saw the little house, she knew it would take a lot of work to make it habitable. But when they finally moved in, Naborh said there was mold in the carpets, no refrigerator, cracked and dirty floors, missing cabinets, and rat feces in the kitchen and living room.
But the biggest problem resulted from two used sofas and the soiled carpet, which was left in the house when her family moved in. After a few weeks in their new home, she and her husband began itching at night and feeling little pains in their arms.
They soon discovered that the house had become infested with bedbugs.
Naborh insisted that the pests were lodged in the furniture and carpet. She threw away clothing, cleaned the house incessantly, but the insects kept coming back.
She explained how, for more than eight months, they complained to one of Marr's employees about the insects, but that Community Realty did not take care of the problem.
Marr's attorney Larsen said the bed bugs were likely the tenant's fault. "Obviously no landlord is going to bring bed bugs into their unit. It's usually the case that they are brought in by the tenants themselves, or they had a friend or neighbor come by, or it's not a detached unit, and someone down the hall or upstairs did it," he explained.
Larsen said in cases of bed bugs and other pests, Marr has always worked fast to resolve issues.
"My clients have a contract with Applied Pest Management to treat any pest complaints received from tenants," Larsen wrote in an email. "Numerous reports and work orders can show they are extremely proactive and aggressive when it comes to treating pest control issues in our units." Larsen also said that the Naborh's hadn't contacted Community Realty about the bed bugs until a year after they moved into the house.
Alameda County Superior Court records show that Marr and his company have been sued four times by other tenants, who have alleged similar problems with his buildings.
One of the cases involved a building owned by Marr on 96th Avenue, where tenants alleged leaky ceilings, wet sub-flooring, mold, gas leaks, rodents, bed bugs, a broken security gate, and numerous other problems. Oakland Building Department records confirm that the building has been the subject of multiple complaints. For example, on September 14 of last year, building inspectors flagged the property for "blight" because of "insufficient garbage bins," causing trash to pile up in common areas.
Denielle Allen is another one of Marr's tenants who thinks authorities should pay more attention to how he runs his rental properties. She's a working mom with two boys, and moved from Alameda into an East Oakland duplex owned by Marr in 2012. She said her problems with Marr began in the fall of 2013, when she tried to get a broken window and plumbing problems fixed. "It was like pulling teeth to get things done," Allen said about the window, which leaked water into her children's bedroom.
Maybe if we just ignore the truth & don't answer & deny it will all go away...or not...
After three months of no response from Community Realty, Allen said she called Oakland's building department and had inspectors come out. The inspectors cited Marr's company for the code violations, according to city records. Afterward, Community Realty fixed the window.
Attorney Larsen argued that his client is a good landlord who provides affordable rental housing for Oakland residents, and that Marr's company tries its best to address every issue reported by tenants.
"I know he's never denied anyone a repair," Larsen said in response to allegations.
FLAT OUT LIES. ATTORNEYS WHO SPEW FLAT OUT LIES. ON BEHALF OF EVIL.
Allen said Community Realty responded to the window incident by filing an eviction lawsuit against her. It alleged that she hadn't paid her rent. Allen said she obtained a copy of her rental payment and showed it to Community Realty, and they subsequently withdrew the eviction lawsuit.
But then they filed another, she said.
She says there has been a pattern of her rental payments going "missing" in Community Realty's offices. This forced her to check court records on a weekly basis, to make sure her landlord wasn't filing new eviction lawsuits against her — which she would only have five days to respond to or risk being thrown out of her home.
She suspects her landlord wants her to move out. "I'm paying $1,440, but I'm sure they could get $2,300 in the current market," Allen said. "But it's rent controlled."
"As you know, there's two sides to every story," was Larsen's response to Allen's case.
According to Larsen, "Allen had a long history of paying rent late." Larsen said she never provided proof that her rent payments were lost by Community Realty.
This past December, Allen sat in the back of a downtown Oakland federal courtroom and watched as U.S. Justice Department prosecutors squared off against Marr's attorneys in a preliminary hearing. Allen listened attentively as the attorneys argued about how soon Marr's trial should commence, and how both sides will use a custom database to organize millions of pages of documents, which the feds say proves the bid-rigging conspiracy. After the hearing, Allen and a few organizers with the housing-rights group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment stood in the courthouse lobby, not far from where Marr and his attorneys huddled. She told the ACCE organizers that she thinks the City of Oakland, or another authority, should take a close look at how Marr is managing his rental properties.
In October of last year, Allen also wrote Schaaf and Parker requesting that the city look into the conditions of Marr's rental properties and take action if warranted. "I have been greeted with multiple eviction proceedings in retaliation for asking for repairs," Allen wrote.
"Please stop ignoring the problem and passing responsibility around."
Alex Katz, a spokesman for Parker, wrote in an email that the city has met with some of Marr's tenants about allegations of substandard living conditions and other problems. "We are looking into the complaints," Katz wrote.
Conspiracy or friendly joint-business venture?
The issue of whether or not Marr is a good or a bad landlord could be a moot point by the end of the year: The fate of his real-estate empire depends on the outcome of the federal government's antitrust case against him.
He has been charged with one count of bid-rigging, which carries a sentence of up to ten years in prison and a fine of $1 million. He's also been charged with six counts of mail fraud. Each charge carries 20 more years and another million-dollar fine.
But Martha Boersch, Marr's attorney in the federal lawsuit, called the government's case weak.
"He's innocent, and so are the other defendants," Boersch said, referring to Javier Sanchez, Gregory Casorso and Victor Marr, three of Marr's business associates who are standing trial alongside him. "They were simply doing what people have done in America for hundreds of years: buying property and sometimes reselling it. There was no bid-rigging at these markets."
In a motion filed with the federal court in March, Boersch argued that FBI investigators may have found evidence that Marr and others made joint bids and cooperated in other ways at foreclosure auctions. But prosecutors have incorrectly characterized this as "rigging" the auction to suppress competition. By teaming up, she contends that Marr and others actually made the foreclosure auctions more competitive.
"[J]oint bidding can be pro-competitive by allowing individual bidders to pool their resources, efforts, knowledge, or appetite for risk, to make acquisitions together that they could not or would not make independently," wrote Boersch, and several other attorneys, in a court motion. "If anything, their 'secondary auctions' performed like an efficiency-enhancing buying collective that actually encouraged competition."
According to Boersch, the real-estate auctions during the foreclosure crisis were "completely dominated" by Wall Street. "The banks controlled every aspect of the foreclosure auctions in Alameda and Contra Costa counties," she explained to the court. The banks set the minimum-bid prices, but declined to offer bidders like Marr any relevant information regarding the physical condition of properties, whether they were occupied by former owners or tenants, or other crucial factors that would affect the price.
" AND , in addition to selling the foreclosed homes, the banks were also buyers in this market, meaning that Marr's competition included not just other scrappy investors like himself, but also the very banks that held all the information about the real estate up for grabs, she said. "The banks in effect were both the exclusive supplier of foreclosed properties and the defendants' largest, most powerful, and most successful direct competitor," Boersch wrote to the court.
U.S. attorney Albert Sambat fired back against this argument, however, in an opposition brief submitted to the federal court last month. According to Sambat, the characterization of the banks as "power buyers that withheld information in order to gain advantage at the auctions" is misleading. The banks were only buyers of foreclosed real estate at the auctions in the event that bidders such as Marr didn't purchase the property.
As to whether Marr was jointly bidding with others to acquire properties that he could not acquire on his own, Sambat wrote that there is no evidence he pooled his resources to acquire shares in individual properties up for sale along with other bidders, as the term joint-bidding would imply. Instead, he had a prior agreement to "refrain from bidding against one another for selected properties and instead designated which conspirator would win the public auction."
Mark Abueg, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said he couldn't provide any more information about the government's case against Marr because it is still pending. But DOJ records show that 56 people have already been charged and pleaded guilty to bid-rigging at foreclosure auctions in Northern California.
Marr's tenants aren't waiting around for his trial date later this summer. Last month, several of Marr's tenants and a dozen supporters gathered in the parking lot of the Farmer Joe's supermarket in Oakland's Dimond District. They circled around tenant Martin, who explained what was about to happen.
"What we're gonna do is, a few of us will walk in advance of the group and go into the office, and I'll ask for the head manager, and we'll give him our demands," Martin said.
Everyone nodded in agreement. He then read the group's demands off a sheet of paper.
They included an immediate rent freeze for all of Marr's properties, pending the conclusion and final verdict of the federal indictment; a commitment to selling his properties to the Oakland Land Trust, a nonprofit property manager that provides permanently affordable housing; and immediate resolution of five specific complaints regarding rent increases, mold, and bed bugs.
"Everyone ready?" Martin asked. The group nodded in unison and started marching up the street toward the office of Community Realty.
Martin and two organizers with ACCE walked ahead of the group and knocked on the door. A man answered, peering out cautiously, his eyes darting past Martin toward the sidewalk where he could see a few of the protesters. He came outside and listened as Martin told him about the big rent increase he was facing and the other complaints. He finished by reading the tenants' demands, and then handed over a letter addressed to Marr, accusing him of exploiting the foreclosure crisis and mistreating tenants.
The man, who identified himself as the manager of the office, took the letter and said he'd pass it off to Marr, along with the tenants' request for an in-person meeting.
After a few minutes, the protesters walked back down Fruitvale Avenue and debriefed. "They accepted the letter," Martin told the group. "We should know soon what's going on."
Just a few days later, tenant Naborh said a pest exterminator showed up at her home to try to take care of the bugs and rodents. But she said most of the livability issues around her home still haven't been resolved.
And, as of last week, Martin and Packnett said they were still facing rent increases. They sat in Packnett's living room on a recent weekday evening mulling their options. Give up? Move away?
"Investigate," Packnett said. "That's what the authorities need to do.""We're going stand up and fight it," Martin said."
How much for this #creepy #critters. How much for greed.
- Who are these sickophant men ?
And their unholy alliance of greed.
The " we can do whatever we want boys are done." Javier Sanchez, Gregory Casorso and Victor Marr.
Martha Boersch, shame on you. "He's innocent, and so are the other defendants," Boersch said. Defend ya to your last dollar.
- Keep shoveling. Just like Client Number 9. Spitzer case.
Enjoy jail. You brought this upon you.
Enjoy the prison TANG in Styrofoam cups.
You are the peg upon which your family's honor hangs.
How much for Dave's? Burned to the ground. Body & All. Greed
" Former tennis pro-turned real estate investor Douglas Ditmer testified in federal court today that one of the East Bay's biggest landlords, Michael Marr, was a key player in a massive scheme to rig foreclosure auctions between 2008 and 2011.
Marr's company, Community Realty, currently owns about 280 houses and small apartment buildings in Alameda County, according to public records. About 90 percent of these homes are located in Oakland.
Many were obtained at foreclosure auctions.
See also: Trial Begins for East Bay Landlord Accused of Rigging Foreclosure Auctions
Ditmer admitted to participating in a conspiracy involving numerous investors who suppressed bidding on foreclosed homes at public auctions. The investors would later divvy the properties up at private auctions and pay each other kickbacks.
Although Ditmer already pleaded guilty, he is cooperating with the government in hopes of obtaining a more lenient sentence.
On the stand, Ditmer said Marr and his employees were frequently at the auctions, held on the steps of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland and the courthouse in Martinez, and that they participated in the bid rigging.
"There was a group of us that would cease to bid at the public auction, deliberately," Ditmer explained. "Then we would hold our own separate auction, called a round, and we divided the profits from these secondary auctions among ourselves."
By simply nodding his head at another bidder, Ditmer claimed he could drop out of a public auction for a specific property with the agreement to bid on it later in a private round.
The government contends that by agreeing to not bid against each other and cutting short the public auction, the investors could reduce the final price tags on properties. This cheated banks and taxpayers, as well as people who were participating in the foreclosure auctions but weren't in on the conspiracy.
Ditmer said approximately ten properties would be auctioned on an average day at each courthouse. As many as four could end up being diverted to the private rounds. This happened day after day, five days a week, for several years on end.
The government showed aerial pictures of the courthouses to the jurors and asked Ditmer to describe where the rounds would take place. Ditmer said the conspirators would conduct the rounds in locations just far enough away to maintain secrecy. In Oakland, one popular spot was the bus shelter on 12th and Fallon. Another spot was the grassy area across 13th Street.
"You could conceal yourself a little bit," he said about these locations.
But later, when the FBI began investigating the auctions, listening devices were placed in the bus shelter, and agents staked the area out in vehicles to secretly film Ditmer, Marr and others. Undercover FBI agents wearing wires also posed as bidders to gather evidence.
One of them, FBI Special Agent David Lewis, also testified today. Lewis told the jury he participated in 50 auctions in Alameda County and was able to participate in three of the illegal rounds.
When asked by a prosecutor to name some of the major players in the conspiracy to stop bidding at the public auctions and organize the private rounds, Ditmer identified Marr.
"He was one of the people out there involved in it," Ditmer said. He also identified Gregory Casorso and Javier Sanchez, two of Marr's close business associates as men who helped organized the bid rigging.
Casorso and Sanchez are on trial along with Marr.
After some auctions, investors would go to Marr's Fruitvale Avenue offices in Oakland's Dimond District, to "settled up," meaning to determine how much money the winning bidder owed those who helped suppress bids, testified Ditmer. He told the jurors he paid Marr in some cases, and took payoffs from Marr in exchange for his participation in the bid rigging scheme.
Cash was the preferred means of making a payoff because, according to Ditmer, it was "untraceable," and payoffs were typically in the range of several thousands dollars.
In 2011 Ditmer was approached by two FBI agents who were part of an extensive investigation into the bid rigging conspiracies that were being organized by networks of investors at various foreclosure auctions throughout Northern California. He told the court he initially "was in a state of panic" and began destroying incriminating evidence, including bid sheets that named the participants of the private rounds. But after talking to an attorney, Ditmer held onto the evidence and eventually turned it over to federal prosecutors who are now using it to prosecute Marr and others.
In court today, prosecutors showed numerous bid sheets to jurors and had Ditmer identify the people who took part in the rounds.
According to one of the bid sheets, about a dozen investors agreed at the public auction to not bid on a foreclosed Shaw Street home in deep East Oakland. Later at the private round for the house, Marr's asssociate Casorso outbid Ditmer, who was only willing to pay an extra $18,400 for the property.
Another bid sheet for a house on Lake Chabot Road in Castro Valley included the initials "MM." Ditmer said this was Marr, and that her personally took part in the illegal round.
The trial of Marr, Casorso, and Sanchez is on its fourth day. Check back for updates on the trial in the comings weeks. "
Mike Marr and TV show material: American Greed
Ego. Arrogance. Hubris. Enjoy Tang in Jail.