Mass evictions at Oakland’s Empyrean Towers

by Lynda Carson

Oakland – Many of the residents of Empyrean Towers are being bullied and tossed out of their housing with eviction notices served by the management company called Innovistech Realty Co.

Empyrean Towers, formerly Hotel Menlo, Oakland
Empyrean Towers, formerly Hotel Menlo, Oakland

The Empyrean Towers, located in downtown Oakland at 344 13th St., used to be known as the Hotel Menlo and was owned by millionaire Tiburon resident Richard Singer. Singer landed in prison a few years ago after getting caught by the FBI in a sting operation for trying to hire an arsonist to burn down the occupied hotel as part of an insurance scam.

In August 2011, Singer was sentenced to 27 months in prison, fined $60,000 and received three years’ probation after his release from prison. It was an employee of Singer named Samuel Manning who worked with the FBI in a sting operation to nail Singer for the arson scam, after Manning faced charges for embezzling the Girl Scouts out of more than $50,000. Manning sought reduced charges against himself in return for helping the feds go after Singer for the arson scam.

Before he went to prison, Singer and the company that used to manage the hotel, known as RMD Services, were also sued by many of the residents because of slum-like conditions at the hotel. Singer has already been released from prison for the arson scam and is back in business buying and selling properties.

Fast forward a few years later, and the Hotel Menlo has allegedly been renovated and renamed the Empyrean Towers, and the owner-managers have been renting out rooms for $79 a night to a variety of people from all walks of life.

Others reside there as permanent month to month residents, and according to tenants facing eviction it is those tenants who are being run out of the building with evictions recently. Twenty or more residents have been facing eviction since a fire occurred in the building last July from a lit cigarette, tenants say.

Many of the residents of Empyrean Towers are being bullied and tossed out of their housing with eviction notices served by the management company called Innovistech Realty Co.

Additionally, according to public records with “corporation wiki,” Richard Singer has partnered with real estate broker Alice Tse to own and manage the building through Empyrean Towers LLC and Innovistech Realty Co.

As a real estate broker, Alice Tse has been buying properties for Singer for a number of years and she called me a few times around the beginning of 2014.

Over the phone Alice Tse stated a few times that she was buying properties for Singer, and that she was very concerned about Singer’s activities. Then on Feb. 21, 2014, I received a strange email from Alice Tse (alicetsesf@gmail.com) that said: “I have a new fraud case committed by Richard Singer who attempted to burn down the Menlo. Please call me at 650-526-2968 – Alice.”

I tried calling a few times but Alice did not respond to my call, and I wondered what happened. Only lately did I learn that she is partners at the Empyrean Towers with Richard Singer.

I received a strange email from Alice Tse (alicetsesf@gmail.com) that said: “I have a new fraud case committed by Richard Singer who attempted to burn down the Menlo. Please call me at 650-526-2968 – Alice.”

Recently evicted tenant Andrea Polega told me that among the problems she faced living there is that the sink in her room did not have a “U pipe,” and she had to keep a bucket under the sink to catch the water every time she used it. She had to pay $210 a week to stay there until management forced her out of her housing.

On Nov. 25, Andrea contacted me and said: “I am a tenant at Empyrean who is being kicked out at this very second after having a money order returned to me that was in their possession for more than 24 hours. They returned it at 11 a.m. telling me to be out by noon.

“This is directly following my physical incapacitation in the form of a ruptured Achilles tendon, which was directly caused by their negligence. I am on crutches in a six-story walkup and cannot go up or down the stairs unassisted, let alone move my belongings this way.

“At 2 p.m. they returned with police. I will be charged with trespassing if I do not leave. I have nowhere to go. I would be more than happy to go on record for any future articles against these bastards or any other media outlets to gain justice.”

On Nov. 26, I was advised by the Eviction Defense Center that they were assisting Andrea, they had extensive interaction with her while she was being evicted, and she is currently safe.

According to tenant Don Fisher: “The male resident manager, named Royce, beat up Andrea’s boyfriend, Donald, because he was sleeping in the lobby waiting for someone to come and get him and his girlfriend. I believe you are aware of the couple that Luis May kicked out, right after refusing to accept their rent payment.”

“Donald went to the hospital and Royce went to jail. If you can assist, I need to know who to contact to get a restraining order or similar relief to get this manager out of the hotel. Many people are now worried about being treated in the same manner.”

“There was blood from the floors to the doors from this, and Royce’s wife or girlfriend made threatening overtures to Maria. Maria asked why Royce simply did not call OPD and I had to intervene,” Don Fisher said.

Management of the Empyrean Towers has declined to reply to my requests for an interview in regards to the violence and evictions involving management at the building.

Additional information reveals how hard it is for the residents of Empyrean Towers. According to Towers website, there is no guarantee that the elevator of the seven-story building is available to the residents. The residents all have to pay in advance online before moving into the building and do not know what they are getting into until they move in.

Management of the Empyrean Towers has declined to reply to my requests for an interview in regards to the violence and evictions involving management at the building.

Tenants Don Fisher and Maria Anast moved into the Empyrean Towers on Dec. 16, 2013, after being hit by hard times in a tough economy. They lost their footing in the world of the middle class in America and moved from San Francisco to Oakland for cheaper housing.

Now they are both on a fixed income, are very poor and receive around $300 a month each from general assistance. They also receive food stamp assistance to help get by. But by the third week of the month, they are both pretty much broke and are getting hungry. “We only get around $4 dollars a day to live on from food stamps and that’s not nearly enough to survive in Oakland,” said Maria.

They live in a small room with a bed, a TV, small refrigerator, microwave and a hot plate. They are lucky to have their own bathroom in comparison to many others who have shared bathrooms in the old seven-story building.

“Life is very hard on us now, and we do not feel safe living in this building. There are drug dealers, crack heads and prostitutes living on the upper floors. The cops are here all the time. The locks are flimsy on our doors, and we keep a baseball bat handy just in case someone breaks our door down to enter our apartment.

“There is no heat. They do not allow the tenants to use the elevator. The building has bed bugs, rats and is loaded with flies and gnats from the garbage piled up at the property. Our toilet does not work, the shower barely drips any water out of it when we try to take a shower, and the building lacks smoke detectors in most of the apartments,” Maria and Don both explained in exasperated tones.

“We have been good tenants since moving in, are quiet, have paid our rent on time, and we were SHOCKED to find an eviction notice posted on our door recently after management refused to accept our rent anymore,” they said.

Don and Maria filed a response as a way to fight against the eviction, and they need to find an attorney. Others facing eviction from the Empyrean Towers have sought assistance at the Eviction Defense Center near 16th and Telegraph Avenue.

Don and Maria said, “Around 20 people or more are facing eviction because management wants to bring in higher income tenants willing to pay $79 a night to stay at this building.”

Don used to be an officer in the Navy and later worked in the tech industry for years. Maria spent many years happily working in the hospitality industry. They are in their 50s, and they raised two kids who became adults, including a son who entered the Navy recently and a daughter who lives in Santa Cruz.

“We don’t know what we will do if we get evicted,” said Maria. “We are thinking about buying a van, but we are too broke to do so. We are also thinking about buying a tent if we lose our housing, but we do not know where people camp out when they are made homeless in Oakland,’’ Maria said.

Don and Maria said, “Around 20 people or more are facing eviction because management wants to bring in higher income tenants willing to pay $79 a night to stay at this building.”

The Eviction Defense Center is representing at least five residents from various units facing eviction at the Empyrean Towers, in addition to Don and Maria. Attorney Andrew Wolff will assist in defending the tenants.

Management at Empyrean Towers did not respond to my request for information about the evictions. The phone number for Innovistech Realty Co. reached the Sweden Hotel in San Francisco, and the staff there claim that Alice Tse sold the property.

Patricia Singer, Richard Singer’s wife, stated that she is divorced from Richard and does not want to comment on his activities regarding Empyrean Towers. She also declined to pass on his phone number.

Eviction attorney Johanna Kwasniewski stated that she had no comment regarding my many questions about 20 tenants or more allegedly facing eviction by Richard Singer and Alice Tse. Then she reconsidered and said that she would contact Empyrean Towers LLC to see if she were allowed to make any comments. I have not heard from her since that discussion days ago.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com.