OAKLAND (CBS 5) — As a controversial Bay Area landlord is being investigated over providing tenants tainted water; another former tenant has come forward with his horror story about cockroaches.

Nate Silin thought a third floor apartment in an Oakland building would make a good home for his family. But within days of moving in he said, “We started seeing cockroaches.”

Within a few weeks, the insects were everywhere. “They were in our clothes, they were in our radio, our TV, our furniture. It got to the point where we would find them crawling on our bodies in bed,” said Silin.

Silin said it turned what should have been peaceful nights of slumber into nightmares for his young sons. “They had them amongst their toys and clothes. I mean we would have to shake off their clothes before we put them on. So, I think it is something they will never forget,” he said.

When the landlord wouldn’t fix the problem Silin moved his family out. But his ordeal was far from over, because in a shocking twist, landlord Richard Thomas blamed him for the crawling infestation, and refused to return his security deposit.

Thomas and his wife own more than 150 apartment units in the Bay Area. His property on Harvey Avenue in Hayward was the subject of another CBS 5 investigation.

Lab tests conducted by CBS 5 found renters were drinking and bathing in water contaminated with both E. Coli and fecal bacteria. Describing the water, former tenant Katrina Rodriguez told CBS 5, “It would be brown before it turned clear.”

CBS 5’s investigation prompted the Alameda County District Attorney to open its own investigation. No one is saying that’s a criminal or civil investigation. But a spokesman said the office is all too familiar with Richard Thomas because of hundreds of tenants who had sued him.

Silin was one of those tenants, joining a class action lawsuit in 2007. “He preys on the weakest and he profits from it,” according to Barry Willdorf, the lead attorney on the case. “He was, in my estimation, bullying little people around.”

Willdorf said he uncovered a pattern of bad faith. When his tenants would move out, Thomas would walk the apartment, nit-picking a laundry list of supposed damages.

Thomas would then send his former tenants letters, sometimes 20 pages long, which he claimed allowed him to withhold their security deposit. If tenants sued for their deposits, as Silin did for $1,300, Thomas would almost always countersue, in Silin’s case for almost $7,000, claiming the roach infestation cost him lost rent.

“These are people that are working paycheck to paycheck. He’s left them in dire, dire straits. And for the amount of people we are talking about it is a significant impact on the quality of life in the community,” Willdorf said.

The jury found in favor of the tenants, awarding them a million dollars in punitive damages. They believed Thomas committed these acts with malice and fraud. Last month, an appeals court agreed. But still, none have collected a dime because Thomas continues to fight the verdict while continuing to rent to the public.

“The important thing is that these acts don’t continue for other people, because you can be a victim and you don’t even know what you are getting into,” said Silin.

CBS 5 asked Thomas for comment but never heard back. A judge has just denied his petition for a rehearing on the appellate ruling.

Within the next few days, lawyers for the tenants predict he will file another petition, this time taking his appeal to the California Supreme Court.

Anyone who was a tenant of Richard Thomas between January 1st 2002 and August 15th 2008 in Alameda County is eligible to join the class action. For more information go to: www.agauchepress.com

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (20)
  1. JaneQPublic says:

    This SLUMLORD Richard Thomas needs to be LOCKED INSIDE one of his own roach infested apartments for six months (minimum!) and have to drink & bathe in his fecal water! What a maggot!

    He owns 150 apartments? PICKET EVERY SINGLE building to let people know of the hazards of renting any of them.

  2. sr says:

    that’s disgusting. we had roaches at our last apartment but we only saw about 4 spread out over the course of a few months (nothing like the pictures shown in the article). it was enough for us to get the hell out of there. luckily, we live in SF so the landlord had to give us our deposit back or we would’ve sued and won. if you don’t want the upkeep of a building then don’t be a landlord! i can’t believe he blamed it on the tenant. i agree with Jane that he should have to live in one of his units for at least 6 months.

  3. Miss Dee says:

    Didn’t anyone see The Super???

  4. John Walton says:

    Richard Thomas should be hung by his scrotum through a hook and whipped until he agrees to refund his tenent’s deposits.

  5. dazettia murray says:

    he owns houses too! kenneth hughs an ex alameda county sherrif and I ( a ex berkeley police officer) rented a 7 bedroom house from him to start a residential care home. the house was 1/2 blk. from lake merritt.

    kenneth landscaped the otherwise over grown back yard so we could create a patio. we took very good care of the house and had a good staff.

    when we moved out, mr. thomas found all kinds of reasons to not return my $2500 deposit. I went to court about it, was able to produce “before and after” pictures regarding the properties interior and exterior. all of the photos were dated per the film company developer. not sure now, but I think it was longs drug store.

    we won our case, but I see reading this artical that mr.thomas goes to court out of habit. as that time which was the late 90’s I thought he was just crazy when we found ourselves in court with him again to get the disposition reversed.

    as you can tell by todays standards that was a pretty costly, ritzy neighborhood. we liked knowing we were in a good high rent, predominently professional residential area and we respected it.

    mr. thomas told us after the first years lease, he would consider a longer one if we took good care of the place. we did. it was easy, we liked it, but we couldn’t heat it up. he put a large heating unit on the second floor, but never fixed or installed it. so, of course in mid winter, 10 months into our lease after repeated request for him to do something, it got to the end of the lease and he refused to reinstate us. we had to find another place.

    when we went back to court we realized he was familiar with the judge after the fact, too late. the judge ignored my evidence and didn’t listen to 4 of my witnesses, neighbors, who hated him more than they disliked the fact that we put a rest home in their otherwise pristine neighborhood.

    I don’t live in the bay area anymore, haven’t since 1996. I just happened to read this. please contact me if it’s not too late to be part of the class action suit. had I known about it, I would have jumped all other that.

  6. queencory says:

    Ah, there are laws, however, “mere’ citizens do not know, but people like him manipulate it to their advantage. So, you got another #KKKK and the “victims,” get nothing. I, too, was in this position.

  7. a. kim says:

    My rant is mainly towards Oakland Housing Authority, but maybe he owns that building too?
    They should do an investigation about the apartment located at 1853 38th aver Oakland, ca 94601. When we were living there multiples colonies roaches we find them everywhere seriously, but it wasn’t the only thing we had to worry about. There were the flooding that we frequently get every time it rains because we lived on the bottom floor. Every time we call when it happens their response was “our workers aren’t available to help when it’s raining,” or if we call when it’s not raining to come and help the workers don’t even bother showing up so what ends up happening? We would get all of our old beddings, clothes & whatever we don’t need to use it to block the flow of water entering from the bottom of the walls. Also using a hand vacuum to suck up the water and hair dryer to help, but of course we were still no match. There was also an incident where all the piping to the whole building had broken and had to be replaced. Turned out they were outdate and were connected to all 15 apts. How would you like it to find a diaper in your pipe for the toilet or tampons in the kitchen pipe, etc? Who the hell would put those down the drain? I don’t even want to get started with all the crime and drug distributing that happened there let me just say a person was shot and because drug related.
    Like I said if he owns this building too, I want to know.

  8. zaq says:

    Typical Bay Area Landlord.

  9. Jack says:

    Landlord these days only care about the rent. My landlord told me to fix my faucet when it was leaking! I was like how am I suppose to know how to fix it? Most landlords in California are irresponsible.


    The courts wont do a thing , the tenant laws need to be updated and the landlord should be responsible for the health and safety of the tenant who live in their apartments or house rentals, the health of the children should be a big factor in all this. Read the tenants law book and you see that the tenant dont have much say in many things but the landlord can kick you out if you file for the courts… and some landlord let other tenant deal drugs in their buildings , acting like they dont know that their are drugs there.



  12. Crystal Jeffery says:

    150 apartments? That number is disturbing and unacceptable! My friends and now family live in an apartment in Pacifica, CA that sounds identical to the situation iacross the bay. I cant help but wonder if it’s the same cheap dirt bag who owns their building. Their landlords name is also Richard but I do not know his last name. He refuses to take care of his complex and sadly the tenants cannot afford to live elsewhere for whatever reason. He is a SLUMLORD and needs to be stopped.

    The three story building is falling apart, literally.The stairs break and he jams wood in between them to “fix” them or make them sturdy enough to walk on. They have roaches and he denies it, or worse off blames it on the most recent tenant who moved in! The audacity to say that they brought them into the buidnig. Worse than that, you cant bomb one apartment and expect them to not come back, they simply relocate! A few months ago there was an electrical fire that destroyed one unit. Instead of properly handling the situation he had another tenant (who is 65 mind you) paint the walls and strip the cabinets so he could rent it out again asap. The cheap b*st*rd actually re-used the old ones that had smoke damage and thought a new coat of paint would cover the stench.

    The list of property he owns needs to made into public knowledge. The people who are suffering in these environments need to know that they have options and support! Just because they are financially burdened into living in such places doesnt mean they deserve it!

  13. Ivy says:

    When we first moved to Calif. in sept 2000. we rented an apartment from mr thomas. We took pictures befor and after. The appartment was not clean. The window were messy. At the patio door under the carpet was wet and mildewed. We call and wrote and sent him certified letters with no response. After 13 monthe we moved. He didn’t know that we had before and after pictures. He sent us a letter stating everything that he found in the apartment after we moved. He even sent pic tures. He went as low as to put stains on the carpet and took pictures. I didn’t believe that someone would stoop that low to keep from returning our $1300.00. I was in he neighborhood one day and i went up to the apartment. At tat time, someone was trying to do the things to the apartment that he would not do while we lived there. The reason I went was to see the stain that someone put on the carpet. I thought that he might have taken a picture of an other apartment and said that it was the one that we lived in. ut there it was. He had really put a stain on the carpet to keep from giving our deposit back. I went to court and filed a suit. I sent him a copy of the before and after pictures that I had. I served him myself. He was never at the office. In order to serve him I found out where he had an appartment for rent and made an appointment to see it. When he showed up I served him. LOL. The court date was on Friday. On Monday, he went to my husband place of employment and tried to talk him out of sueing him. My husband told him to leave. He showed up again on Wednesday again, my husband told him to leave. I got a phone call on Thursday from my husband saying that Richard came by and left our $1,300.00 in cash.

  14. Ivy says:

    The address of that apartment was 333 or 3333 Kempton Ave. Oakland, Ca. when i say the story about him on the news I had to tell my story.

  15. Araminta Tubman says:

    I hope Richard Thomas finally gets what he deserves and the tenants get justice. I was a tenant of his who sued him in 2002 for having no heat in my apartment near 70th and MacArthur. I won the case but…Thomas appealed and even worked it out so a friend of his could preside over the appeal. The judge/friend reversed the decision and ruled in Thomas’ favor. According to an attorney organizing the class action case in 2002, that judge is also being investigated as well. But because Thomas has sooooo much money and property he continues to get away with being a racist slumlord. His own office worker said Thomas made racial slurs against his Black and Latino tenants; he feels we deserve to live in subpar, subhuman conditions. I hope justice is finally served and he suffers tremendously as he’s made others suffer from his sad, sick life. He deserves all the turmoil, bad feelings, and destruction he’s brought on us all. Almighty God Bless us all who try to do what is right and destroy these corporations and individuals who continue to cause us undue pain and suffering. The meek will inherit this earth.

  16. Ti"Isha says:

    I think we should have a list of apartments that he has so that we can avoid renting from them. The ones with the roaches. damn, I almost rented from them it is off of 6th Ave between E16th and E17th near Lake Merrit..

  17. MikeW says:

    This is why websites like http://www.donotrent.com are extremely valuable. Tenants can search, post reviews and chat about rental properties before they sign a lease.

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