The Oakland City Attorney has filed a nuisance lawsuit over a residential property in West Oakland claiming that the residents there have been illegally operating an auto repair business out of a three-story home in a residential area. The suit asks the court to prohibit the residents from making auto repairs and to clean up related blight. It also asks that the court impose a $1,000 per day fine on the property owners and managers for each ongoing violation if the residents do not comply with the court order.
The complaint, filed in Alameda County Superior Court on October 4, names eight individuals as plaintiffs, and alleges that they have been involved in an illegal auto repair business or other activities constituting a public nuisance, including the improper disposal of hazardous waste. It also names as defendants the Bank of New York Mellon (which the complaint contends is the current titleholder of the property), Bank of America (which the complaint contends is acting as the Bank of New York Mellon’s property manager for the residence), and the Brockhurst Trust, which the complaint calls an “unknown entity doing business in California” but which the city believes has a connection to the property.
The complaint alleges that the auto repair business on Brockhurst Street has severely effected nearby residents’ use and enjoyment of their properties. “Defendants’ maintenance of the illegal auto repair business creates noise, air and visual pollution as well as possible environmental hazards by improper disposal of automotive oils and gasoline,” the complaint states. Activities associated with the auto repair business “substantially and materially interfere with neighbors’ free use and comfortable enjoyment of their property, is injurious to the community’s health, is indecent and offensive to the senses, and interferes with the public’s use of the public street and sidewalk in the area. “
The complaint states that notices to abate blight—including the removal of trash, debris and overgrown vegetation—as well as warnings to remove inoperable vehicles on the property were issued to the Brockhurst Trust in 2011 and 2012 and to the Bank of New York Mellon in early 2012. During that time, cars were towed by the police department from the property on at least two different occasions, said nearby residents Judy Haney and Kimberly Aker.
Neighbors said that complaints to city officials began as early as 2008, including daily calls on the parts of some neighbors to the Code Enforcement division, which is part of the city’s Planning, Building and Neighborhood Preservation Department. Although there was only one visible car in the home’s driveway this Tuesday afternoon, neighbors said that the police had towed several cars on Tuesday morning and that it is not uncommon to see cars parked midway down the block and sometimes in the middle of the street, preventing residents from driving by.
“They’d block the streets,” said Haney, a resident of the area since 2004. “We would complain, they would come and tow and it would start all over again.”
Neighbors are also concerned that oil and gas spills in the driveway and surrounding area might cause a fire, Haney said.
But Clara Fields, one of the home’s residents who is named in the lawsuit, said that the business did not cause problems for the nearby residents. “Me and my neighbors, we get along real good,” Fields said. “The person who was complaining moved last week.”
Fields said Bank of New York Mellon, the titleholder of the property since February 2012, has served her with eviction papers. She is willing to move if the financial institution will assist with funding the process. She also said that the allegations about operating an illegal car repair business are exaggerated.
“We can’t find a shop [to work out of] because we don’t make enough money,” Fields said of why her husband fixes cars at the residence. “The cars we work on are the neighbors’ and friends of ours. Its just people that come to us who we have known for years, who help us out because they know we need help.”
Nearby resident Kimberly Aker said the neighbors attempted to convey their concerns to Fields and the home’s other residents about the state of the area in front the home, including concerns about furniture and other items being left in the yard, the large number of cars parked nearby, and noise from the residence occurring at all hours. Aker said the neighbors offered to help clean up the area, but did not receive any cooperation from the residents.
“Because the dumping in the front yard was so bad, I started calling Public Works,” Aker said. “They told me to call Code Enforcement. I practically had Code Enforcement on speed dial.” Eventually, she said, representatives in the Code Enforcement division stopped accepting her calls, so she and other neighbors sent letters to the mayor and other city officials.
Two week ago the property was up for auction but did not sell, according to news and real estate publications. In the meantime, a hearing in which the Bank of New York Mellon will seek to evict the current residents by is set for this week in small claims court.