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Drayage Tenants Get Surprise Reprieve By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday August 09, 2005

A legal blunder will keep East Bay Drayage tenants in their homes for another two months and will cost the building’s owner nearly $200,000 in additional city fines and safety costs. 

On Friday, Drayage owner Lawrence White rescinded 60-day eviction notices ordering tenants out of the building by Aug. 24. In their place, he posted a new 60-day notice calling on the Drayage’s 11 remaining tenants to leave by Oct. 8. 

White said Monday that the delay in evicting tenants would not affect a deal he has with a private housing developer to sell the live/work warehouse. The building was declared by city officials in March to be “an extreme fire and life safety hazard.” 

On July 28 Berkeley filed a notice to place a proposed $157,500 lien on the property, said Michael Caplan of the city manager’s office. If White doesn’t pay within 45 days of receiving the notice, the city can move forward with staking a claim to the property. 

White rescinded the eviction notices Friday after learning that his attorney Bill Berland had not followed proper procedure in filing them. Berland did not return phone calls Monday. 

The evictions were based on a city permit White received in June to demolish the illegal units. However, under state law, White was required to alert residents before applying for the demolition permit, which he failed to do. 

White was alerted to the error by tenants’ attorney Jeffrey Carter as part of a cross complaint Carter filed on behalf of Drayage tenant Jeffrey Ruiz. White sued to evict Ruiz and collect rent for the months since the city declared the building unsafe.  

Under a state law that took effect in 2003, before White could seek the demolition permit he had to inform tenants of his intentions as well as provide the estimated date when the demolition would occur and when their tenancies would end. 

None of the tenants has paid rent since the city inspection in March. 

The city has fined White $2,500 a day for failing to follow an April 15 order to evacuate the building. He has also been required to keep a 24-hour fire watch at the site, at a cost of about $1,000 a day. White stands to lose nearly $200,000 by misfiling the eviction notices. 

Drayage tenant Maresa Danielsen said she hoped the eviction delay would force White to reconsider overtures from the Northern California Land Trust, which has said it would bring the building up to code and offer tenants first option on affordable units. 

The land trust has said it offered White $2.5 million for the property, but White continued to insist Monday that he never received an official offer from the non-profit housing developer. 

If the eviction battle ends up in court, it could take months to resolve, meaning that White might still be battling tenants and receiving city fines into the winter. 

Through Monday, White had incurred $287,500 in fines and $115,000 for the fire watch. Caplan said the city had “no intention to let up” on the fines and fire watch and that the city could file additional liens on the property. 

White has said he plans to contest the fines. 

A city fire inspection in March found over 200 health and safety violations at the warehouse located at the corner of Addison and Third streets..