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What lies beneath your neighborhood laundromat may involve a whole lot more than an innocuous basement, as Excelsior locals discovered in May. Melissa Mendoza, the owner of Clean Wash at 4690 Mission Street, has been accused of housing dozens of people in unsafe conditions inside her underground lair for the past decade.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against Mendoza and the building’s master tenant, Ernesto Paredes, last Tuesday. Together they are accused of operating a public-nuisance building, failing to respond to numerous code violation notices, as well as violating fire, electrical, plumbing and other municipal codes. The tenants are also suing the duo for a no-fault eviction under the city’s rent ordinance.

The ramshackle living conditions were deemed a veritable “death trap,” an accusation acutely powerful following Oakland’s Ghost Ship tragedy, the fire that killed 36 people due to faulty wiring, labyrinthine passages and a single wooden staircase. The 20 Clean Wash inhabitants were discovered during a fire inspection last Christmas Day. According to SF Gate, “the dank living quarters were rife with leaky pipes and exposed wiring and had a single functioning shower, a rat and roach infestation and ‘rooms’ partitioned off from one another with drywall and wood planks.”

The tenants were being charged up to $900 per month for approximately 150 square feet of living space. Most were adults, but one was a 12-year-old girl. After being given a month to fix the numerous code violations, the Fire Department mandated that the tenants must evacuate within 48 hours, and Paredes was charged $4,262 per unit for relocation costs. Some of the tenants are undocumented immigrants and have limited means of finding stable living conditions.

“You want to send a message that, if you’re going to try to take advantage of your fellow human beings, you’re going to have to pay the consequences,” Supervisor Ahsha Safai told SFGate.

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