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‘Notorious’ Kenyan landlord fined Sh247m by US court for abusing tenants

A Kenyan woman has been fined US$2.4 million (Sh247.5 million) by an American court for being an abusive landlord.

Ms Anne Kihagi has been accused of harassing 23 tenants and wrongfully evicting 10 others by using unconventional methods to frustrate among them the elderly and a cancer patient.

Ms Kihagi, a landlord with a portfolio of property worth $24 million (Sh2.5 billion) was also sentenced to five days in a San Francisco jail for violating the housing law.

This is after a two-year bruising court battle with her tenants who have christened her the “notorious landlord”.

In fact, Ms Kihagi may end up being fined up to $4 million (Sh412.5 million) since the judge also ruled that she must foot the costs incurred during the case.

Ms Kihagi’s run-ins with her tenants began two years ago when they complained of harassment and uncouth tactics that their landlord used to evict them so she could renovate the building and rent it out at a higher price.

VERBAL ABUSE

According to a report by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, the tactics used by Ms Kihagi included: “Fraud, harassment, threats, intimidation, verbal abuse, interrupting gas, electric, water and cable service, failing to cash rent cheques, only to late claim them as untimely rent payment and violating tenants’ privacy by entering their apartments without required notice”.

The tenants also accused Ms Kihagi of installing video surveillance cameras aimed at their front doors.

Ms Kihagi has since garnered a reputation for being a horrible landlord, with Mr Herrera saying, “I’ve gone after a lot of lawless landlords in my time, but Anne Kihagi has a special place reserved for her in San Francisco’s abusive landlord ‘hall of fame’. Her cruelty is stunning.”

In her ruling, Judge Angela Bradstreet noted that Ms Kihagi’s behaviour had serious effects on the lives of several citizens of San Francisco, to the point that one former tenant had to quit her job and move out of the state. In another case, Ms Kihagi forced a tenant suffering from cancer out of his home.

The court case was under investigation for two years and the ruling attracted a lot of media coverage from San Francisco press.

The US based media have reported that Ms Kihagi irked her tenants so much that some housing rights activists took to the streets to protest against her.

BUSINESS MODEL

US newspapers have reported that Ms Kihagi began buying property in June 2013 in Noe Valley, the Mission and North Beach and the Castro, making her the owner of over 50 units in San Francisco.

It is also reported that Ms Kihagi is working closely with two business associates, Julia Mwangi and Christine Mwangi, known as “The Mwangi sisters” who were jointly sued by the tenants. She also has property in Los Angeles and West Hollywood.

Her business model involves buying buildings with long-term, “rent-controlled tenants paying below-market rents and then using a wide range of methods, both legal and illegal, to get rid of the tenants,” a San Francisco newspaper reported.

Once she pushes out the tenants, Ms Kihagi allegedly makes unpermitted improvements in the buildings after which she rents them at a higher price.

Ms Kihagi, who is being represented by her lawyer Karen Uchiyama, blames the case on a tenant activists group that wanted to “make a scapegoat of Anne Kihagi”.

The lawyer further accused the court of scaring landlords from evicting tenants. The lawyer maintained that Ms Kihagi acted within the law even in evicting the tenants. Meanwhile, Ms Kihagi is appealing the ruling.