Peter Owens feels hurt. That’s what he said in the courtroom to Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a tenant-rights activist. Mecca has spent months fighting for Iris Canada, a 100-year-old African American woman who faces eviction from her flat she moved into more than 60 years ago.

Owens is her landlord. He may feel hurt, but he’s not losing his home – and if his lawyers succeed, Canada  could face a forcible eviction this week.

100-year-old Iris Canada and her niece talk about the case
100-year-old Iris Canada and her niece talk about the case

After a court ruled in Owens’ favor last year, Iris Canada has been living a thrilling life. Every Tuesday she gets an extension obtained by her lawyer so she can remain in her apartment one more week. The situation has lasted for months. On February 7th, the San Francisco Superior Court might decide the finale chord in this story.

Owens wants the court to order Sheriff Vicky Hennessy to toss Canada out within 24 hours. Canada’s lawyers have pointed out that she is frail and has already suffered from high blood pressure and cardiac problems that her doctor thinks are linked to the eviction stress. It’s hard to imagine what would happen to her if deputies showed up and hauled her and all of her possessions out of her home.

It’s become pretty clear that no Superior Court judge wants to sign that order and be responsible for evicting a 100-year-old African American woman. I think it’s safe to say that Sheriff Vicky Hennessy isn’t looking forward to it, either.

But Owens isn’t backing off.

 

It’s a long, complicated story. In essence, Owens and his partners bought the building and tried to evict all of the tenants under the Ellis Act. The owners planned to turn the place into Tenancies in Common – an end-run around the condo conversion limits.

All the tenants left except Canada. An expert lawyer pushed back and convinced Owens that it would be hard – and cruel – to force her out.

But that created a problem: You can’t use the Ellis Act to “go out of the landlord business” – which is what the law allows – and still keep a tenant.

So Owens agreed to sign a document giving Canada a lifetime interest in the property – which included the right to stay until she dies.

The rest of the units sold as TICs. Canada is the last African American in the six-unit building.

In 2015, Owens, who owns the place with his wife, Carolyn Radish, and his brother Stephen Owens asked her to sign a document that would allow him to convert the building to condos – something that would be very lucrative for him and the other TIC owners. She refused to sign the application after talking to her lawyers; she would in essence be giving up her “life estate.”

The landlords hired a formidable law firm, Zacks, Freedman and Patterson, notorious for helping landlords evict tenants. Ultimately, San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Robertson II, ruled in favor of Owens, allowing him to evict Canada and dispossess her from her status as a life-estate holder of her apartment unit.

After receiving an eviction notice, Canada was hospitalized with cardiac arrest and is now in recovery. Owens, after unprecedented media coverage, resigned his post as director of the Office of Community and Economic Development in Burlington, VT.

Canada’s case garnered immense media coverage across the country and beyond. Her fight has been supported by numerous well-known activists and tenant-rights organizations: The Housing Rights Committee, Causa Justa Just Cause, the Homeless Advocacy Project, many others. Local politicians have come up with bold statements in her defense. All of this had delayed her eviction but it didn’t change the outcome.

Canada moved into this house in the late 1940s, together with her husband, who was a merchant marine. She was a nurse. They migrated from Texas looking for a better life. At the time, many black families were streaming into Norther California not just for jobs, but because they had been treated badly in the South. “Even if my aunt had had blue eyes and light skin, treatment of African Americans in the South was horrible,” her grand-niece, Iris Merriouns, told us.

Canada and her husband were surrounded by a large bloc of extended family. They all lived within short walking distance. The Fillmore neighborhood — which Iris Merriouns refuses to call by its new name “Hayes Valley” — became a harbor for such Black families searching for a decent life. Iris Merriouns grew up here. Virtually all of her family has long since moved to Oakland.

Iris’ original African-American landlord, James Stevenson, owned five buildings in the old neighborhood. “He always told my aunt she should never be worried about a place to live,” Merriouns said. When he died, the property went to his heirs.

In 2002 the building was sold to Owens and his partners.

 Owens swears he willingly granted the life estate to Iris. “Do you also remember the first time we meet in your living room in the summer of 2002? You were in tears at the prospect being evicted. I re-assured you we’d figure out how you could stay in your home. I made good on that promise (though some suggested I was foolish to do so). All I am asking is for you to show me the same respect in return,” Peter wrote to Canada, demanding she sign the application.

But the truth is, had Canada been evicted under the Ellis Act, it would have put a serious crimp in Owens’ condo conversion plans. Following the law that had been in effect in San Francisco between January 1, 2000 and April 30, 2005, no fault eviction of a protected tenant would nullify chances to win the condo lottery.

In 2014, Owens submitted an application for a condo conversion. This application contains a field in which tenants declare whether or not they want to buy their unit. Canada received the documents with field pre-completed by Owens, who had marked “no” at this question. “Why did he put “no?” — Iris Merriouns puzzled. “Oh, that’s because she was already an owner.”

The Owens group ultimately filed a lawsuit against Iris Canada. They sought to declare a forfeiture of Canada’s rights as a life estate holder. They alleged that she had not permanently resided at her home; she had violated the contract restriction on having co-occupants; she had damaged and materially reduced the market value of the unit.

Judge A. James Robertson II decided against Iris Canada. He declined all the motions of Iris’ defense lawyer, Dennis Zaragoza. When the eviction notice decorated Mrs. Canada’s door, Peter texted Iris Merriouns: “Iris, you always have power to change this outcome and give peace your great-aunt. The facts are quite simple: the court found Iris Canada failed to permanently reside and only occupied, and revoked her rights. For over 2 years you had the power to restore Iris’ rights by advising her to sign the application that has no impact on her whatsoever. But you have refused.”

Iris Merriouns knew her aunt was away for long time. First, she went into the hospital. Then she stayed with her family in Oakland for a couple of weeks. Helen, Iris Merriouns’ mom, then found out she had cancer. “My mother had cancer, and we had to decide something. We decided: my aunt is old, my mother is dying, let them go on a trip. And they went. They went to Texas, they went to Florida, they went to Los Angeles, on the road — they didn’t fly. We gave them a lot of money, because it was the last go-around. They traveled with a physical therapist and a therapist, and my fiancée did some driving and my uncle did some too. They drove a big trailer. They were in Texas for two months, then my uncle took them to Florida. He is an architect and a preacher. They stayed there, they just enjoyed their life. My mom’s condition was getting down, so she came back to California.” Then Iris and Iris traveled to Los Angeles.

When the women came back, they discovered that Owens had changed the lock.

 

How do you even bear this?”  I asked Tommi Avicolli Mecca. He is a legendary LGBTQ activist, housing rights activist, musician, and poet. “I have my music,” — he replied. He also has a heightened sense of justice, and an overwhelming sense of humanity. He has rescued many from eviction, homelessness, and, probably, death.

Iris Merriouns walked into Tommi’s office in early March, 2016 holding a sheriff’s notice. Five days away from eviction. “I talked to myself: “Oh my God! How are they going to put on the street a 99-year-old woman now?!” Tommi acted immediately. He directed Iris Merriouns to the Eviction Defense Collaborative and their lawyers helped to get a stay, to get a delay. Tommi with his colleagues organized a press-conference, so the story went viral. He called the Burlington City Council where Peter Owens worked: “Are you aware of what this guy is doing?” They were like: “No, really? Wow! He is evicting a 99-year-old person?!” City Council members were preparing a resolution to ask him to resign, but he resigned before they did.

“Then I talked to the Homeless Advocacy project asking to make a motion to relieve Iris from forfeiture. That actually means in eviction case the lawyer says: If this person is evicted, there is no place to go and/or this person will probably die. It doesn’t work in every case, but here it did. Because it was so much publicity. The motion was introduced to the court and the judge granted it. But the judge also allowed the other side to file for legal fees. Which was absurd. The judge claimed that there was the law that allowed that. Dennis says that it is nonsense. Iris was given 30 days to pay $164,000. Mark Chernev, Owens’ lawyer, pressured an eviction order and the judge signed it.”

But the eviction hasn’t happened – in part because nobody seems to want to be responsible for what could be a fatal move. Canada, by many accounts, might not survive an eviction.

 “Dennis obtains delay of eviction every week. I don’t know how long he can do this. We kept actions, protests, press-conferences. We know the judge is listening. I think he cares about publicity. He doesn’t want his name connected to evicting her.”

At 100, Canada needs constant care. It’ hard for her to stay alone in the apartment all the time, so she spends a lot of time with her grand-neice.

 “I talked to Peter once, at the court room before the hearings,” Mecca said. “He came up to me with explanations how TIC owners were putting pressure on him. He said “You have to understand the pressure I’m getting.” I said “What about pressure on Iris”. He said “This is very painful for me and my family.”

 

I asked for comment from Mark Chernev, Peter Owen’s lawyer. We met at the court when I attended Iris’ hearings. I asked him how did he feel pressuring the eviction of a woman who by then was 100. He said “There is law.” He asked me to talk to his client.

Here are my questions to Owens and his responses:

  1. Me: The life estate agreement reached in 2005 served the interest of both sides: (a) Mrs. Canada couldn’t remain a tenant in a building taken off the rental market; no fault eviction of a protected tenant diminished down to 2% your chances of winning the condo conversion lottery. Thus, there is no reason to pretend it was simply your generosity, am I correct? (b) Why did she need an attorney, and why did it take 2 years to reach the agreement if you ever intended to grant it?

Peter Owens: (a) Here you are dead wrong. We granted Iris the life estate for only one reason: is was the right thing to do. Period. At the time, we had every right to evict her with impunity; i.e. without any impact on condo conversion. The rules penalizing condo conversions for building with evictions were not enacted until several years later. (A full legal history of the statute is detailed in Mark Chernev’s 11–1–17 MPA — attached).

(b) She needed an attorney to protect her rights. Every tenant, especially elderly ones, needs an attorney because sometime people try to take advantage of them. I don’t know why it took 2 years. The parties agreed to the life estate in concept in early 2004. I was was told it was the first agreement of its kind to be developed in SF. Maybe that was part of the delay. But, I agree, it seemed to take forever (18 more months!!) to get it finalized .

  1. The original copy has gone — presumably with a plastic bag thrown away by you for fire safety reasons. The copy you sent instead, contained unsigned pages and conditions that surprised Mrs. Canada’s attorney. Even omitting the suggestion that some pages were inserted later, the conditions raise questions: (a) If you really cared about Iris, why would you impose on an 88 y.o. a maintenance and repair requirement? (b) How do you feel about requiring a senior person to be the sole occupant when she clearly needs a caregiver?

Peter Owens: The story that the original was thrown away is absurd. All of the original documents were sent to the SF Recorders office and recorded in 2005. The Superior Court certified the Life Estate presented in court as accurate and true. Furthermore, the core term of the Life Estate has never been in dispute — she is obliged to permanently reside as the sole and only occupant.

(a) As a deeded owner, Iris was responsible for maintenance inside the unit. That’s the way it works when you are an owner. Remember, our agreement allowed her to stay for LESS than she had been paying in rent. The life estate payment did not come close to covering our carrying cost of the unit. We paid for all common area and exterior maintenance costs which are the vast majority of the required upkeep. In spite of this, we always understood she may not be able to fully take care of the place and have always offered to help her with any maintenance she needed.

(b) We also have always offered to make provisions for a caregiver whenever needed — that was never a problem. As I have stated many times, the occupancy requirement was to protect us from someone other that Iris Canada claiming rights to the unit — and that is exactly what has happened.

  1. Are you aware of Sec.1388 of SF Subdivision Code saying that any tenant must be offered the right to purchase her unit? “Tenant” means “occupant”, there is no apples and oranges here. Iris Canada solicited to implement this right. Do you have any explanations for your refusal besides your concern that she cannot afford it?

Peter Owens: Again you are mistaken. There is no first right of purchase. Again, the legal facts are outlined in Mark Chernev’s 11–1–17 MPA. Our position was affirmed as correct by the Superior Court on several occasions. A three judge panel of the California Court of Appeals also unanimously agreed there was no merit to the defendants arguments and rejected all motions for further relief. Both judgements are attached.

Are you seriously suggesting you understand the law better than the judges?

Our intent was always to help Ms Canada, not her family. Over those two year period while we worked out the agreement, “the family” was nowhere to be found. They were not involved. Don’t you find it curious that they only surface years later when they think there is money to be made?

  1. From your letters you seem to really appreciate family values. Do you accept that Iris Canada can have the same feelings about her family? If so, why do you believe it is Iris Merriouns’ interest to reserve her great-aunt’s right to become a complete owner of her flat. Don’t you think that Iris Canada cares about her descendants, as any other human being? It means love. Don’t you think that it is dehumanizing to assume that the only thing she needs is to live alone, deprived from her rights, even in an affordable housing? Can you define the age when a human person loses interests people are usually expected to have?

Peter Owens: David: We all care about our families. But it is manifestly ludicrous to take the position that Iris Canada should be able to give her family what is not hers to give — i.e. our property. Rights were not taken away from her, they were given to her — rights she previously did not have. The granted ownership rights were EXPLICITLY restricted to benefit Iris Canada alone. The rights were EXPLICITLY limited to her natural life. That is why it is called a “Life Estate.” Her family did not acquire any rights. The Life Estate is crystal clear on this point.

Over the course of the agreement’s life, we have subsidized Iris Canada residing there to the tune of 100’s of thousands of dollars in carrying costs and forfeited rent. $700 /month doesn’t come close to covering the costs of the unit (taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, debt service, etc). But we did it without complaint because that’s what we signed up to do. We kept our end of the agreement.

In what moral universal is it fair to ask us to forfeit our property at a huge loss to some stranger just because she thinks she deserves it? That is arrogance beyond belief. What kind of person would demand that? How is that remotely fair or just?

The plain truth is — no matter how much her family might wish otherwise — Iris Canada did not buy and does not own the right to pass the apartment on to her family. That is simply fact.

 

Lawyers I talked to, politicians, and activists are outraged by the situation and by many of the aspects that enabled it.

Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together and a former candidate for Supervisor in District 5 where Iris lives, noted:

“This whole nightmare for Iris began over a decade ago because the state’s Ellis Act allows speculators to do horrible evictions for profit. The Ellis Act needs to be repealed. Without the Ellis Act, there would never have been an eviction in the first place, and Iris would be peacefully residing in her home without these threats of eviction.”

The eviction, if it happens, won’t be easy. The San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition, Housing Rights Committee, and others will be on hand. “This eviction crosses a line. We will put our bodies on the line to stand between the sheriff and Iris as part of an eviction blockade if it comes to that. Eviction in this case is a death sentence, and nobody should be okay with that,” Preston said.

Information on the eviction blockade is here. Editing assistance by Ryan MacCarrigan

  • playland

    The Ellis Act needs to be repealed. Without the Ellis Act, there would never have been an eviction in the first place, and Iris would be peacefully residing in her home without these threats of eviction.

    True, and when she eventually left this earth her relatives would have no claim on the apartment.

    Which is exactly the arrangement that she would have if she just signed the agreement offered to her, except that she would be paying a lot more than $700 a month without the agreement.

    This is about her niece wanting to have some type of financial claim on the unit after Iris Canada passes. And of course there is no shortage of 48 Hills types ready to give the the attention she need to keep on using her aunt as a pawn.

    Her aunt could sign the agreement and live the rest of her days in the apartment for $700 a month.

    • Geek__Girl

      IF the niece has a legitimate claim to the property, then her aunt should not be coerced into signing it away. If she doesn’t, then what is the greedy landlord afraid of? I’m not at all surprised you are siding with greed, but it seems to me, if she did sign, it would be under duress, rendering the agreement subject to future challenge.

      • Gracie

        you’re absurdly dramatizing this. Greedy landlord? It’s his property.

        Playland is right. The underlying motive to somehow have legal claim on this unit is what’s driving this.

        The whole evicting 99 year old story is unfair to the property owner too. You’ve got to be neutral on this

        • Brit Ann

          So essentially the landlord is willing to let her stay until she dies or not? Clearly it would be ridiculous for the niece/family to actually receive the property after she passes. This women is renting. I guess the documents she signed or didn’t sign changed this status?

          • curiousKulak

            It would (of course) be ridiculous for the family to receive this property after Canada passes. However, i believe, thats not really the game. I think their intent is to somehow gain occupancy, and then dispute tenancy, until a buy-out is reached. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands worth.

            Its “the San Francisco treat”.

          • Barbara Saunders

            Niece moves in as caregiver, and then claims tenant rights. It’s transparent.

    • Don Sebastopol

      I knew those who converted rentals to TIC’s before
      Ellis. It provided young people an opportunity to become owners earlier in their careers. Overall Ellis is a goof thing.

  • HappyHighwayman

    Sorry but she got screwed by her niece. She doesn’t deserve ownership simply becauseshe’s been living there 50 hyears. She just needed to sign the god damn paper. THis entire thing is her doing. How can this article spin it that the owners are at fault? She also owes them $180,000 in legal feels which she clearly can’t pay.

    • playland

      Are there NO charges that can be brought against her niece?

      Everyone agrees with the basic premise of this article which is that it is tragic to have a 99 year old woman caught up in this.

      All so that her niece can try and make a few bucks after she loses her aunt?

      • HappyHighwayman

        What charges/ This is not a criminal case. However, the 99 year old woman still can sign the papers. She will end up living with her niece or family and everyone wll lose except the owner (who is already out almost $200,000) I hate these articles and I think the journalist who wrote it is a sellout and chose to spin it in a negative way instead of placing the blame on Canada and her niece.

        • playland

          What charges/ This is not a criminal case.

          Elder abuse? She is putting tremendous stress on her aunt just so that she can make a few bucks after her passing. Her aunt can stay in the apartment, stress free, for $700 a month for the rest of her life. Instead her niece is putting her through hell.

          • HappyHighwayman

            Unfortunately I doubt you will find a prosecutor willing to touch that with a 10 foot pole. Also I don’t think Edler Abuse is actually some specific law. What if Canada is 100% onboard with her niece’s plans?

          • Geek__Girl

            Yes, and if she is, and her niece actually has a legitimate claim, the the landlord is the one who would be guilty of elder abuse for trying to coerce her into signing a paper that is against her interests. And if she does sign, it would make the legitimacy of the document subject to dispute.

          • Gracie

            No

            Go to law school.

          • HappyHighwayman

            Nope. You have no legal argument there. What’s the difference between coercion and “convince”? And if she doesn’t sign it, she gets nothing anyway.

        • Geek__Girl

          The owner DESERVES to be out the value of the entire building. He is clearly greedy to the point of endangering the life of a 100 year old woman in order to make a quick profit.

          • Gracie

            Why don’t YOU buy out the value of this eviction then? YOU offer money to settle and pay her legal fees.

            YOU take her into your house.

            Silent? Yeah, thought so.

          • HappyHighwayman

            Nope. Greed is not a crime. She endangered her own life for not signing the god damn paper.

        • Brit Ann

          The article didn’t place blame. It outlined both sides.

          • curiousKulak

            But you can tell it favors one of them, can’t you?

      • AmericanSue

        Elder abuse – undue influence that is about it.

  • Don Sebastopol

    Rehashing an old story!

  • Gracie

    This author seems to think they know better than lawyers, judges, etc.

    Please don’t abuse the English language with fiction.

    • playland

      This author seems to think they know better than lawyers, judges, etc.

      Well to be fair, this is what 48 Hills does. They take sad/tragic situations such as evictions and police shootings and pile on with exaggerated or outwardly false information on their side while ignoring unmissable facts on the other side. Who wants to see an elderly woman evicted? Who wants to see someone shot by the police? This is prime fodder for 48 Hills.

      I actually give this writer a lot of credit because he did print the other perspective. He let the building owner provide his case; which the author could not dispute.

      • HappyHighwayman

        Sure but it’s clearly slanted towards her side of things, despite losing in court…she owes them $180,000…now where is her family going to get the money for a $1M condo?

  • Ragazzu

    Kudos to Dean Preston, who I hope will run for D5 supe again. Where is London Breed on this? According to the Chronicle:

    “Merriouns has met with Board of Supervisors President London Breed, in whose district Canada lives, as well as with an attorney in District Attorney George Gascón’s office and members of San Francisco’s Adult Protective Services and the city’s Human Rights Commission. ‘But they’ve done nothing,’ she said.”

  • curiousKulak

    What has changed? Nothing.

    Another extension will be granted. Parties will remain at a standoff. Owens will continue to have a battle on his hands after her death, as the Mercedes-driving Merriouns will pursue this until a “settlement” is finally reached.

    And she lives in the “Lower Haight” (as its always been) – not ‘Hayes Valley’ or even the Fillmore (though I can certainly see where the confusion on that may come in).

  • CityOfStFrancis

    * 100-Year-Old Iris Canada Stands Her Ground Despite Efforts To Evict Her By Peter Owens *

    The story of 100-Year-Old Iris Canada is before the eyes of the world.
    This article by independent journalist Anh Lê of San Francisco weighs in with input from the evictor as Canada hopes & fights to age in place.

    November 1, 2016

    100-Year Old Iris Canada Stands Her Ground Despite Efforts To Evict Her By Peter Owens

    By Anh Lê

    What will happen to Iris Canada?

    Her attorney, Dennis Zaragoza, went to San Francisco Superior Court on September 20, to obtain a stay of eviction for Canada. The stay of eviction granted by the Court would be effective until 5 pm on September 27.

    Peter Owens, one of the three co-owners of the building where Ms. Canada lives, has been trying to evict her from her home.

    Iris Canada, a 100-year old African American woman who has lived at her apartment in San Francisco for 40 years, continues to battle efforts to evict her by Owens. Canada, who lives at 670 Page Street, moved to San Francisco with her husband from Texas and worked as a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital.

    This reporter reached out to Owens to get his perspective. Owens stated on September 22, “When we bought the building in 2002, we granted her, completely voluntarily and free of charge, a Life Estate right to live out her life for $700/month because it was the right thing to do. We are not evicting Ms. Canada. We have not wavered from that commitment.”

    The story is almost like that of David and Goliath.

    Peter Owens, his wife Carolyn Radisch, and his brother Steven Owens, bought the apartment building, as a “tenancy-in-common” (T.I.C), and tried to convert the other apartment units into condominiums. Owens and his family have resided in Vermont and New Hampshire. Owens once worked as a planner at the Presidio Trust in San Francisco. His most recent job was as Director of the Office of Economic Development in Burlington, Vermont. He resigned from that post in April 2016.

    Owens hired the powerful law firm of Zacks, Freedman, and Patterson. Andrew Zacks’ law firm is well known in San Francisco for representing landlords and evicting tenants. Mark Chernov of the law firm has been representing Owens at court sessions.

    After a series of attorneys and even periods of time without the assistance of an attorney, Canada is now represented by Dennis Zaragoza, a Latino attorney.

    Judge A. John Robertson II has been presiding over the case.

    On August 9, Robertson ruled that Canada must pay Owens the $164,000 which he has been demanding from her, to pay his own lawyers’ fees.

    Following an August 12 court session, Iris Canada’s supporters went to the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant Street to hold a press conference. Rev. Amos Brown, minister at Third Baptist Church and president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, condemned Owens’ ongoing efforts to evict Canada.

    After the press conference, Canada’s supporters went to District Attorney George Gascon’s office, to demand that he file elder abuse charges against Owens. They demanded to meet with Gascon or an assistant district attorney. The District Attorney’s media spokesperson, Maxwell Szabo , said that they could not meet with Gascon or any assistant district attorney.

    At the court hearing on August 17, Judge Robertson announced that he had made a tentative decision to deny another motion by Zaragoza on Canada’s behalf, a motion regarding jurisdiction of the case. Zaragoza had filed a motion arguing that the case should be handled by the federal court, rather than the San Francisco Superior Court.

    This case involves other issues besides Owens’ demand that Canada pay $164,000 for his own lawyers’ fees.

    Owens also demands that Canada sign papers to allow him to turn the apartment units into condominiums. Canada’s niece, Iris Merriouns, states that Owens is violating the law because he has not followed the “first right of refusal” requirement, to allow Canada to purchase the apartment unit.

    Owens had also demanded of the court, and Judge Robertson had ordered in previous rulings, that Canada live at her apartment by herself, with no other occupant, even a family member or a caregiver.

    When asked why he continued his efforts to get her evicted even though he claimed he cared about her well being, on July 23rd Owens said, “That is absolutely true. We care about Iris and we want to see her back in her home. We have never wanted Iris Canada’s home, We have never wanted Iris Canada’s money.”

    When asked about the Superior Court judge’s ruling that Canada pay him for his own attorney’s fees totaling $164,000 based on his demand, Owens replied, “That is not correct. We never asked for any money. It was Iris Canada’s attorney’s that asked for relief from the forfeiture the court had ordered. But state law says that the relief MUST be tied to making the plaintiff whole. That was what the judge ordered—we did not demand it or ask for it. But we have never wanted her money, only her cooperation.”

    According to Canada’s family and witnesses, Canada has been harassed by occupants from the other apartment units turned into condos. The alleged harrasment comes in the form of loud pounding on her front door and banging on the walls. When this reporter asked Owens whether he heard about this harrasment and what his response was, Owens stated, “I have no direct knowledge of any harassment.”

    When asked about Canada’s supporters’ view that Owens’ efforts to evict her are part of the gentrification in San Francisco, one that has seen its African American community decline, Owens stated, “We could have evicted Iris Canada in 2003. We did not. Instead, because she was an elderly woman on a fixed income that had lived in the building for many decades, we figured out how to keep her in her home for the rest of her life for $700/mo. That was worked to prevent displacement not promote it. As I have said until I am blue in the face, we do not want to evict Iris.”

    The California Association for Retired Persons (CARA), which consists of 65,000 members, has stood with Iris Canada to make sure that she is not evicted. CARA called efforts to evict Canada unwarranted, a form of elder abuse, among other things. When this reporter asked Owens what he thought of CARA’s claims, Owens answered, “I think those characterizations are unfair and uninformed. Far from elder abuse or discrimination, would not any reasonable person conclude we are acting with great care and concern for Ms. Canada’s welfare?”

    In September, Tommi Avicola Mecca, a counselor at the Housing Rights Committee in San Francisco, stated, “If he (Owens) isn’t trying to evict her (Iris Canada) and he cares so much for her, why has he gone forward with getting the court order? Why is he giving her until the end of the month to sign the agreement or he’s going to evict? His actions speak louder than his words.”

    On September 13, Canada was rushed to San Francisco General Hospital Emergency Room and hospitalized, after seeing an eviction notice posted at her apartment door. Canada is now back at her home.

    Zaragoza, Canada’s lawyer, has been going to the San Francisco Superior Court numerous times in September and October, asking the judge to issue stays of eviction. The judge has granted the stays, each of which lasts for seven days.

    One of the remaining questions is: Can Peter Owens and his family and Iris Canada and her family come to a mutually agreeable settlement that allows Canada to live at her home in peace, a settlement in which the interests of both sides are taken into account and acknowledged?

    Also, how will the judicial system address the remaining issues in this case, a case that involves a 100 year old San Francisco woman who has lived at her home for over four decades?

    Tommi Avicola Mecca stated recently, “I think it’s obvious that the only right thing to do in this case is to let Iris Canada stay in her home for the rest of her life. That’s all she wants. She is 100. Let her be.”

    Where this story of David and Goliath will end is not known yet.

    Iris Canada, 100 years old, continues to battle on.

    Anh Lê is an independent journalist in San Francisco.

    (Anh Lê had reached out to Iris Merriouns, Iris Canada’s grand-niece, and Dennis Zaragoza, for comments for this article.)

    Copyright Anh Lê November 1, 2016

  • jc

    Stop trying to drag the Ellis Act into this. You can’t convert to condos on buildings where and Ellis Act has been used. Stop with the Alternate Truths and hidden agendas.

    • curiousKulak

      Preston is right on one point. The Ellis Act is like Abortion and should be treated as such; for those intimately involved.

      Virtually the only people who can do Ellis actions these days are those with deep pockets who don’t reside on the property (i.e corporate “speculators”). The politicians have made it so costly, so onerous, and so politically dangerous that only those with money and anonymity can do these.

      I’d be in favor of making it more difficult for the corporate types; if they’d make it easier for small time landlords – which was the original intent. But at the end of the day, these happen only/mostly in small properties where mom-n-pop landlords have lived side-by-side with tenants for years. So if the pols would let up on owner-occupiers – with say a 2 month time-frame to move, and a small outlay of cash for costs, then I’d say get the “speculators” out of it. Living next to someone who can make your life miserable for a year or more is no picnic, and a huge price to pay just to get your own property back. Its a lot different that answering phones or emails at an office.

      • Don Sebastopol

        To the extent that Ellis provides for more affordable ownership opportunities, it is a good thing.

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  • sugarntasty

    Democrats policies approved “gentrified” policies elderly resident incurring eviction,forgotten
    Ed Lee. Not about social morals profits of REITS,persist additional laws of gentrification London Breed,David Chui and Scott Wiener any suggestions? Forgotten controlled lobbyist insist never miss to displace renters enough. Ballot again provision upon…”Ellis Act” seniors and disable forget extension incur property owners. Obligated fine housing tenure of tenants extension time, different situation elderly resident. Didn’t find another resident unfortunately,owners have right, agree upon “buy outs” since we don’t own them! London spoken “of respect” elderly your childhood if could or would favor repeal “Ellis Act” elders Gavin expect governor abolish Ellis Act! Reminds of late Ms.Marie Hatch whom lost,apt Burlingame whom 97yrs also died submitted eviction (2016) where. Respect to elderly forgotten “REITS” paramount not social moral ballots we go again now Mt.View measure V possible defeated. Voters won Nov 9 2016 solidarity is needed!