Residents of flooded SF tower sue building managers

A lawsuit filed by more than 50 evacuees of San Francisco’s troubled residence 33 Tehama alleges chronic mismanagement and deception that go far beyond the damage caused by the 20,000-gallon flood that wrecked the luxury tower earlier this summer. 

On June 3, residents of the building were startled by an announcement over loudspeakers instructing all tenants to evacuate immediately after a burst pipe on the top floor sent the equivalent of a swimming pool full of water gushing through the building. 

“On the second floor water was dripping from the ceiling. It was really bad,” former resident Tyler Patterson told SFGATE at the time.

“We were freaking out — a lot of water was coming in so quickly, and we didn’t know what to do, It was really scary because it was like a waterfall coming from … near the elevators in the center of the floor,” tenant Samantha Acuna, a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement shared with SFGATE. 

After the evacuation, numerous displaced residents claimed that property management company Hines failed to adequately communicate where they should find shelter. Hines booked residents into two downtown San Francisco hotels on the night of the flood, but they were reportedly told to leave only two days later with no knowledge of where they would be staying that night. Patterson, also a plaintiff in the case, told SFGATE it felt like they were being “treated like dogs.”

The complaint alleges that in the days following the catastrophic flood, the evacuees were left “high and dry” when they reached out to Hines for help, and that some maxed out credit cards and savings to survive. It also alleges that some residents were never reimbursed for accommodations and were “on the brink of homelessness.”

Six weeks after the flood, Hines announced that the building would likely not be habitable until 2023, and that they would be ceasing any financial aide for housing for displaced residents. “Due to the extended repair and re-occupancy timeline, we are unable to continue providing such assistance,” a letter sent to residents, and seen by SFGATE, read. “As such, effective at the end of the day on August 17, 2022, this assistance will terminate.”

Things went from bad to worse when, on Aug. 10, a second major flood occurred from the same water pipe on the 35th floor, as some tenants were in the building retrieving their things from the first flood. A week later, video footage taken on residents’ security cameras allegedly showed contractors stealing from empty apartments. One resident said that checks had been cashed from a checkbook left in her room.

It was then alleged that a city building inspector had issued a notice of violation against Hines for attempting to fix the building’s pipes without a permit. Hines told SFGATE over email, however, that “all work currently being performed is under a permit issued by the city.”

Residents of flooded SF tower sue building managers

Image of flood damage inside 33 Tehama, San Francisco

Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP

Image of flood damage inside 33 Tehama, San Francisco

Image of flood damage inside 33 Tehama, San Francisco

Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP

Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP

“The tenants of 33 Tehama were promised ‘the very best of San Francisco living,'” Nazy Fahimi, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told SFGATE over email on Monday, “but instead they faced a nightmare of complete uncertainty.”  

The complaint alleges that Hines “not only acted negligently in maintaining the building but also knew that there was a problem before the June 2022 leak occurred and kept it hidden.”

Opened in 2018 as part of the Transbay development that includes the Salesforce Tower, the 35-story luxury residence offered co-working spaces, a game room, a spa-equipped, high-end gym and even an optional butler service called Hello Alfred that could take your clothes to the dry cleaner, walk your dog or order takeout food. While largely a luxury residence with one- and two-bedroom apartments that rent for anywhere from $3,500 to $16,000 a month, the property also houses 54 below-market-rate units.

“33 Tehama is marketed as the epitome of luxury, but instead is a tenant’s worst nightmare,” reads the lawsuit. 

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages and punitive damages for emotional distress.

Hines denied the allegations. The company told SFGATE over email on Monday that since the flood it has paid for accommodations, parking, per diems, and other expenses that total approximately $13 million. They also shared the following statement. 

“Since the water intrusion incident in June, our staff has worked around-the-clock to assist the displaced residents with emergency and permanent relocation options. We have provided our residents with temporary housing and funds for personal expenses. We have also worked tirelessly to repair the building, engaging leading experts to identify and address the building’s mechanical problems. We deny the allegations pled in this complaint, and we believe that during the course of pretrial discovery the court and the public will understand the true extent of our efforts to help those that had to leave their homes during these unfortunate and unforeseen events.”

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