For seniors, eviction can be a death sentence

Elders are dying when they lose their homes. How can we stop it?

DIALOGUES FOR LIFE When I was studying to be a psychoanalyst, one of my teachers, Dr. Irma Birman, shared a recollection from her childhood to illustrate the concept of “transitional objects.”  

She told us that she remembered how painful it was as a five-year-old to see her mom hang her newly washed teddy bear on a clothesline to dry off. The stuffed animal’s ears were attached with clothespins — and she clutched her own ears as if they hurt. The sight caused her physical pain.

A transitional object, according to the renowned psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, allows an infant to survive in the absence of its mother. Growing up, kids develop deep attachments to such objects. Nursing them, throwing away, then regretting and rehabilitating them, we learn how to love and how to feel the pain of others as our own.

Iris Canada, with her niece Helen, during a several-month trip. Helen had cancer and the two women took a final journey together, which meant Canada was away from her home for some time. During eviction procedings, the landlord argued that Canada wasn’t living in her unit.

In our adult life, we also have some things that reduce anxiety — when we are stressed out or when a significant other leaves us for a time, or forever. 

For an adult person, the deprivation from such entities can be felt as a trauma. For the very young and the very old, the consequences can be more dramatic. Deprive a child from these objects or primary environment, you will get serious disorders in emotional and cognitive spheres. Do it to elders and you risk to causing severe health problems – or death. 

Did he really do this to me?

“Where are my things, does Peter keep them?” Iris Canada was asking her niece, Iris Merriouns. Her landlord, Peter Owens (technically, her “remainderman,” since she had a legal right to use the house for life), had removed everything she owned from the flat she used to occupy.

Owens evicted her from the house where she had lived more than 50 years.

Iris, an African American woman who I loved, died 40 days after sheriff Vicki Hennessy locked her out from her Page Street apartment.  Her niece took her to Oakland, and family pretended that she was visiting them. Nobody knew how to say that she lost her home.

Soon Iris began to guess. The family had to tell her, and she entered the hospital. She begged to return home. She asked about her belongings, too. Owens hired a firm to pack them and put in storage. His lawyers, Zacks and Freedman, didn’t give relatives access to her stuff — even her important medicines. Instead, according to case correspondence, Zacks said one of his associates had inventoried everything and found no medications.

Iris asked about her possessions and home. When she realized that this connection to life was irreparably broken, she died. One of her last words were: “Did Peter really do this to me?” 

He did. 

Iris Canada is not only senior in San Francisco to die after an eviction. Too often, eviction becomes a death sentence.

Who they are

Lola McKay, 83

“I am not gonna leave my home. I am gonna die before I leave here.” 

Lola McKay, pictured her in the movie Boom: The Sound of Eviction

Tommi Avicolli Mecca will never forget the image of Lola McKay saying this, sitting in a chair with one foot curled up under her, by the window in her one-bedroom apartment. Tommi is a fighter for tenant’s rights at the Housing Rights Committee. Lola, a retired bank worker, became a fighter against an Ellis Act eviction. The fight, supported by the Housing Rights Committee, SF Tenants Union, and others, lasted from January 1999 until her death in March 2000.

Her building at 55 Alvarado Street was bought by a brokerage company, and Lola received a 30-day eviction notice. “Hell, no!” she said. 

Lola grew up in the Mission, and moved into her apartment in 1958. She was divorced with no family. “She enjoyed staying at home, reading, and doing some cooking. She didn’t go out much, went to a restaurant once a week, did grocery shopping once a week around the corner,” said Ted Gullickson, then the director of the SF Tenants Union introducing Lola in the documentary: “Boom: the Sound of Eviction.”

The first “dot-com boom” left no place to go for seniors who lost their homes. The rents they paid in rent-control buildings did not fit into the new reality. Some of them had to move to retirement communities, miles away from San Francisco. 

“No, thank you!” reacted Lola on camera to this prospect. “What would I do in a nursing home?!” She asked desperately. “With too many people around… I like to be by myself. I didn’t do anything wrong. I kept this place up and I own everything in here.”

Lola died, but  didn’t surrender her life. She started a long list of “senior eviction deaths” in the San Francisco Bay Area. It grows proportionally to the number of evictions. In recent years it looks like an epidemic: Elders keep dying during eviction actions or soon after they are forced out of their homes.

Ernesto Hernandez, 77

Ernesto died in April, 2013 at a downtown hotel for seniors where he went after being evicted from his home of more than 30 years. He lived at 558 Green Street and worked nearby at the Old Spaghetti Factory. He was a legendary flamenco dancer and singer of “the famed beat generation,” as the New York Times described him. Ernesto performed until his 70s. In the interview with the Times, he didn’t forget to mention a 28-inch waist he had at times of his career. Born and raised in San Francisco, he was making art on local stages all his life. In 1982, Ernesto moved in with his partner, Richard Whalen, a sculptor, who had been living in this North Beach apartment. 

In 2005, the building, with its two apartments and Columbus Café, was purchased by Paul Marino. Soon after, Richard died, leaving Ernesto in the apartment with a roommate Richard had rented to. The new owner then issued new rules prohibiting sublets. Although the city ordinance required all sides to agree on new rules, Marino still tried to evict Ernesto. Mr. Hernandez fought back…but the court ruled in favor of the landlord. 

Tom Drohan, an attorney who protects senior tenants at Legal Assistance to the Elderly, and who represented Mr. Hernandez, called this case “the biggest abuse of justice I have ever seen.” And as a lawyer for seniors, he’s seen a lot.

After the eviction, Ernesto felt deprived from his life. His possessions, except for several photos, were left on Green Street, because they didn’t fit inside the tiny room at the hotel his friends had helped him move to. He suffered heart disease, and cured his pain with alcohol. He died after a heart attack.

Ron Lickers, 69 

Ron died in February 2015. Tony Robles, a poet and senior tenants advocate at  Senior and Disability Action, and co-editor of Poor Magazine, knew Ron since the time when he with other activists fought against Ron’s eviction. Tony  remembers him with genuine respect. 

Ron Lickers

Ron, known as “Seneca,” represented another page of legendary San Francisco history. He was among the 89 Native Americans who occupied Alcatraz in 1969. In 1968, he with other Native American students participated in a strike that led to the establishment of the American Indian Studies department at San Francisco State. He was a union worker, a teacher. As a director of the American Indian Senior Center, board member of the Native American Friendship House, and American Indian Child Resource Center employee,Ron inspired many people to live in dignity.

The Ellis Act eviction notice from a landlord who recently bought the building where Ron lived for a good many years with his wife and daughter, took him by surprise. Ron was a “protected tenant” as an elder and disabled person after being injured in a job accident. Still, that just delayed the eviction. 

Despite significant health problems that grew immensely after his eviction and relocation to Daly City, Ron kept fighting. He went to Sacramento to testify in support of Ellis Act reform Senate Bill 364 that was introduced by Senator Mark Leno. 

The bill would have prohibited new owners from evicting people under the Ellis Act, if they’d possessed the property for less than five years. The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee voted against the amendment on April 15, 2015. Ron Lickers had died two months earlier, on February 19th. “The trauma of eviction was too much for him,” said Kimberly Gallegos, his wife. 

Elaine Turner, 88 

Elaine died on March 11, 2015. She was 88. She told everybody she was 68. And she looked gorgeous. Elaine had always wanted to be an actress, but most of her life she worked at the Bechtel Corporation and then in a law firm. However, later in life Elaine took up study at Shelton Studios and performed on stage at the San Francisco Playhouse. She also liked to sing and dance, and became a great tango dancer. 

She lived in North Beach at 515 Lombard street for 25 years. Her landlord died, so then a new owner (niece of the former) came from South California to take possession of the property. Soon after, all residents received Ellis eviction notices. Theresa Flandrich, a tenant’s advocate from Senior and Disability Action, was among them. She shared with us her observations about  how Elaine’s mental and physical health deteriorated immediately following the notice.

As a senior, Elaine had one year to move out. But long before the year expired, the new landlady, Annlia Pagannini Hill, who moved into the house with her husband—began insistently asking Elaine when she would move out. “They never asked me,” said Theresa.

The neighbors of 515 Lombard street building fought against eviction, and 14 days after the last appeal failed, Elaine died in the hospital. On March 5th, six days before her death, Theresa asked Elaine “Have you decided to give up on living?” Because she seemed to be in a comatose-like state. Elaine did not respond. The last words Theresa heard from her earlier were “Where I would go?!” 

Martha Bini, 92 

Martha died during what a jury later found was an improper eviction attempt in July 2015. The building of seven units at 1000-1022 Filbert street was the property of an old Italian family that occupied and owned it for more than 60 years. Martha, with her daughter Maria Maranghi and extended family, resided there for more than 45 years. 

Anne Kihagi bought ten buildings in an 18-month period, and immediately proceeded to tell residents they had to leave. According to documents filed in Superior Court as part as a lawsuit by City Attorney Dennis Herrera against Kihagi, the owner launched on a campaign of harassment. According to a court declaration by Maranghi, Kihagi “harassed us, intimidated us, invaded our privacy, retaliated against us, refused to cash our rent checks, interfered with our daily lives… performed illegal construction, falsely claimed our unit was illegal, removed our house numbers and threatened to demolish our home. All because [Kihagi] wanted us out so they could raise the rent.” 

Martha, who was almost blind, was scared by sudden visits of the landlady who used to bang at the door when Martha was alone. She went to the hospital innumerable times, and then she died. Her daughter Maria, who is also over 65, continued fighting to stay. 

In the wake of Herrera’s suit, the court voided some 42 evictions and awarded the plaintiffs $2.4 million. 

Martha Bini was not alive to see it.

Carl Jensen, 93

In his last year, Carl Jensen was totally stressed out. The building at 3932-34 26th St.,  where he’d lived since 1954 was bought in 2015 by Ashok Gujral. One year later, the new landlord announced grandiose plans to remodel the two-unit building into a four-story house.

Carl was a World War II veteran and retired mechanical engineer who had worked all his life for the city. Every morning he had breakfast at the corner café: scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee. He abidingly put a $2 tip directly into the server’s hands. He enjoyed his independent lifestyle, walking around the neighborhood, or catching Muni  to do some banking downtown. 

In the application for remodeling permits submitted to the SF Planning Commission, Gujral never mentioned Jensen’s tenancy. Carl’s existence only emerged thanks to his neighbor, Lynn Rosenzweig. She called the SF Housing Rights Committee, and raised her concern about Carl’s destiny at a February 2017 Planning Commission hearing. Gujral’s lawyer then provided the commission with a letter from his client, in which Gujral claimed that Carl Jensen had frequently expressed his willingness to be relocated. He also presented a proposal to relocate Mr. Jensen to another place under the same rent. 

Tommi Mecca told us that Carl Jensen was shaking when he read about the landlord’s claims. “I never said this! I’d rather die than leave my home!”. He was furious and frightened. “I tried to calm him down, but he was too scared,” Tommi said. He was afraid that Carl would have a heart attack. Carl then spent the rest of February working on a letter to the Planning Commission, testifying he never wanted to be relocated. 

His letter was read into the record at the Planning Commission on March 9th. Carl was found dead in his apartment four days before. 

Neighbors made a tribute at Carl’s porch with flowers and signs. “You will be missed, Carl.” 

Iris Canada, 100 

Neighbors of Iris Canada made no tribute in her memory. Instead, they repeatedly removed flowers, candles, and signs that people had brought to her porch. 

I will not repeat the whole story – we’ve written plenty. Briefly, Peter Owens bought the building at 668-678 Page street and evicted everybody under Ellis Act – except for Iris. She fought back and entered into a life estate agreement. Owens though keep claiming it was his act of generosity. 

Years later, Owens started the condo conversion process. To submit the application he needed signs of all current residents. According to the SF Subdivision Code, every occupant has a right to buy their unit at its current price ($1,000,000 less than after conversion). Iris received a copy; Owens had marked on behalf of her that she didn’t want to buy it. Lawyers advised her not to sign.

So, she didn’t. And got into a horror story. 

According to court documents  filed by Canada and her lawyer, Dennis Zaragoza, as part of the eviction case, somebody banged on Iris’s door after midnight, howling voices called her name, her apartment was invaded, and documents, including the original copy of the life estate contract, disappeared. Owens denies he knew anything about voices but admitted that he entered Canada’s apartment in her absence and removed a box with documents due to fire safety reasons. 

Then, Peter Owens sued Iris for breach-of-contract. 

Judge A. James Robertson II found that Iris Canada was not permanently residing in the unit,  while she was in the hospital, staying with relatives, or traveling. He ruled to evict her. Later he granted the motion about relief from forfeiture, thus admitting that eviction could cause serious harm or death, so she could stay home. Under one condition: she had to pay Owens’s legal fee of $164,000 in 30 days. 

The judge accepted this motion made by Zacks and Chernev. Canada, of course, could not pay. Sheriff Hennessy locked her out while Iris was at her daily senior program. 

During the trial Iris Canada suffered three strokes. Owens continued to send reminders that she could change the outcome signing the application and giving up her rights. After the eviction he moved her possessions into storage, and her relatives had no access to them unless they paid a substantial storage fee.

A few months later, the owner of the storage unit agreed to reduce the fees and the family was able to collect her possessions. Iris Canada was buried four months after her death; he family said that her funeral arrangement documents were among the items in storage.

Beatriz Allen, 81 

Andrew Zacks and associate Mark Chernev continued their noble cause helping another landlord to get rid of senior tenants. On April 30, 2017, one month after Iris’s death, San Francisco lost Beatriz Allen. 

Beatriz Allen and Betty Rose

Beatriz and her daughter, Betty Rose Allen, both teachers, first fought an ownermove-in eviction, according to the Housing Rights Committee. They won that case. Then the landlord issued an Ellis Act notice. 

Tariq Hilaly, the CEO of the tech start-up Lumity, purchased the building at 1642-1644 Church street in 2014. Soon after, he evicted two seniors, one of them disabled, offering them a buyout. They signed a non-disclosure agreement. Doctors provided notes that Beatriz had only months to live, and she would die if moved. This statement notwithstanding, the eviction effort continued.

The Housing Rights Committee helped Beatriz and Betty Rose fight the eviction. The women also had a lawyer, Raquel Fox from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, who received a proposal from Chernev: Beatriz could stay until she died if Betty Rose agreed to voluntarily move out after her mother died. This proposal came two days before Beatriz passed away.

“As I live this story with my mom, the landlords seem to be allowed to weaponize the lawyers to kill the elderly via the Ellis Act,” said Betty Rose. “Hilaly has said he lived in our flat, and forced us to fight a legal battle instead of letting us focus on my mom’s health in her last days. The Ellis Act acts like a shower that washes the landlords and law firms from their actions, the increasing deliberate and debilitating stress they impose upon elderly tenants in order to speed up their death to increase profits.”

A far bigger problem

These cases vastly understate the problem.  We don’t know the real number of seniors who died during or soon after eviction. Since starting this series, I keep getting information about new and newer cases. 

We don’t know much about the destinies of many seniors who got evicted, because they frequently don’t know their rights, says Tommi Avicolli Mecca. Theresa Flandrich and Tony Robles from Senior and Disability Action, Tom Drohan from Legal Assistance for the elderly, Tiny Lisa Gray-Garcia from Poor Magazine and Ingrid Evans, an elder abuse lawyer, all agree. We don’t have any statistics on senior eviction deaths, but they suspect the number is huge. 

When we met with Ingrid Evans for an interview she had just received a call from a man whose mom died after eviction. Tiny Lisa Gray-Garcia witnessed about at least 11 cases her community based organization dealt with in recent years. 

Poor Magazine works at ground level with communities in deep struggle, getting information from friends of friends of eviction victims. This always has been a difficult process.  Many people don’t want to talk about abuse they suffered. 

“Why? Because of shame and fear,” Tiny says. “In the U.S. people are ashamed of being poor. Even if they pay the rent all the time, and even it is not their fault to get evicted, there is shame around eviction. Especially for older generations.” 

“They feel shame,” Theresa says recalling Elaine Turner who tried to find a new place after getting an eviction notice. She went and checked several places. She didn’t get any of them. She didn’t want to reveal this. She was not welcomed anymore.  Can you imagine how most of people would react to an 88-year-old answering a Craigslist ad?

“It is also a cultural thing,” said Theresa, who lived in a 90% Italian community. “A family on the corner was initially invited by owners, who also lived there. They developed their relations through decades. When a new owner said “you should leave,” they left. They were invited and then they were disinvited.”  It becomes shame, because you don’t want to tell people “they don’t want me to live here.”

Not only tenants, but life-estate senior holders get in trouble. Tiny recalled a story of 94-year-old woman, who lived in the Mission when a landlord tried to evict her despite the fact that she had a life estate — a legal agreement allowing her to remain in the apartment for life “We got involved and fought,” says Tiny, “and we got the developer to stop harassing. The next week, though, the woman died.” On Tiny’s observations even if seniors don’t die after eviction, they have strokes, heart attacks, blood pressure issues and they never recover.

Eventually, even senior homeowners are not guaranteed from being abused by eviction. Tom Drohan told a story: A son comes to his mom and says: “you are behind in your mortgage, I’ll help you out.” She signed papers, and he became an owner of the house. And then he comes and says: “Mom, I am broke, and I am gonna sell my house.” He is evicting her now, and LAE is suing him. 

An attempt to file criminal charges against landlords

Tiny Lisa Gray-Garcia, together with Tony Robles, Anthony Prince, and other fighters, decided to seek legal recourse. In 2014 and 2015, they collected 18 cases of elder abuse of seniors and disabled persons, ranging from 62 to 95., Half of them were people of color. According to 2014 statistics drawn by Eviction Defense Collaborative, in San Francisco people of color are disproportionally targeted for eviction. For instance, members of Black community whose population scarcely reaches 6% citywide, have growing eviction rates approaching 29%.

With these 18, advocates went to the District Attorney’s Office to seek criminal charges against abusive landlords. At first, they were told they were in the wrong place. But after intrusion of Antony Price, who is a tenant lawyer, a staffer accepted several complaints. 

Activists demanded the DA cite landlords under section 368 of the penal code, which includes charges for criminal elder abuse.

Later, they met DA George Gascon.  “He had a whole meeting, case by case, and at the end the DA said ‘Sorry, we can’t help you, because Ellis Act trumps a 368 Penal code,” says Tiny, “which is bullshit, because criminal law overrides civil property law.” (We’ll follow up with the DA office on this situation in the next articles). 

Currently, the cases are stuck at the DA office with no follow up. In August 2016 activists came to 850 Bryant street to learn about the progress in the cases. They didn’t receive any answer and subsequently were kicked out of the office. 

Psychosomatic death

“Elaine died of natural causes after a brief illness,” says her obituary. Psychosomatic disorders specialists might not agree. Even if we’re not talking about such harsh stories with intimidation, harassment and other abusive strategies, a simple relocation for elders and deprivation from regular lives frequently lead to fatal outcomes. 

Phenomenon of psychosomatic death was widely described by specialists in psychosomatic medicine. (E.g., see A.Jones “Der Mensch und seine Krankheit,  B. Luban-Plozza, W. Pöldinger, F. Kröger, K. Laederach-Hofmann, “Der Psychosomatisch Kranke In Der Praxis”, 1995, and others). Psychosomatic disorders that often result in death distinctly increase in old age. Heart disease, hypertension, spine disease, etc.,  flow from unbearable frustrations, depression and fear of broken social connections. 

Usual protection from mental stress, such as plunging into work or active socializing, are no longer available for seniors. At 93, Carl Jensen, a veteran of  World War II, had drastically less opportunity to treat his outrage than he had in his 50s. Elaine Turner, after trying to find a new place, realized she couldn’t start new life and build new social connections. Iris Canada faced eviction for what maintained her life: family relations, visiting relatives, traveling.

A society that expels its elders might hope to expel with them its own fear of aging and death. And, indeed, aging old became dangerous in San Francisco. 

Eviction amounts to elder abuse. That’s what tenant advocates and lawyers who assist seniors in legal battles say. “We define it so, but law doesn’t,” says Drohan. “Every eviction is harassment.”

At the same time, he is less optimistic about attempts to charge landlords with elder abuse based on claims of harassment that include illegal eviction notices, invasive apartment viewings, etc. There is not such thing as an “illegal eviction notice,”  he says. That just means they’re “ineffective.”

“If a landlord sent you a 12-days eviction notice, you go to the Rent Board, and they would say it was against the law. But you will not convince a judge this is harassment.” The same case with invasive apartment viewings. “It is all about property, and property rights are sacred in this country.”  

Drohan said it won’t be easy to change things at the Legislative level. “But you can try.” It is all about political will. If somebody would collect these cases and evidence, and if there is political pressure on the district attorney, then he might pay attention to the outrageous problem we have with senior evictions.

Ingrid Evans, an elder abuse attorney at Evans Law, says: “To define eviction as an elder abuse would be a great thing to do.  It should be easier for elders to get help. In elder abuse cases you can get attorney’s fees from the party that committed abuse. Elders don’t have money to pay a tenant-landlord lawyer fees, but elder abuse protection would allow them to get a lawyer on contingency. And it make it easier for  lawyers to take the case.” 

At the moment though, she says that there is a disconnect between tenancy laws and elder abuse laws. “Usually tenant-landlord lawyers are not sophisticated in the protection of people under elder abuse, and elder abuse lawyers don’t know enough about tenant law.” When Ingrid works with tenant lawyers, it brings more tangible results. “Together we can provide more protection for elders before they kicked out and die. Because the stress of eviction for elders causes death.

 “Sometimes we call district attorney or police to ask them to bring a criminal case, and they say “we don’t need to do it, because there is a civil lawyer on it’” Evans said. “Criminal agencies go through crimes like murder or rape, but when it comes to elder abuse, especially if it’s financial abuse or harassment, it seems like not that important. But it is important, people are dying from that. Somebody called me today, whose mother died right after she was evicted, she was 100 years old. I don’t think it is a coincidence.” 

Ellis Act reform would require state legislation, but Evans said there is more we can do on a local level.

Ingrid argued that a landlord can be responsible and charged for elder abuse even if they won a landlord-tenant case. In criminal cases, there is a higher burden of proof: The abuse has to be proven intentional. Ingrid said that she hoped that district attorney would not ignore those cases. 

She added, commenting on Kihagi’s case: “I am glad that the city attorney has taken on this case. I started doing elder abuse cases working with him. Dennis has done very good work on elder abuse. But we need more protection for elders before it goes to court. It would be great to change the law. People shouldn’t go through such troubles to get justice. The price paid is death – and you cannot fix that.” 

Protected tenants and property issues

Lola McKay and Iris Canada were born in the same month of July, 1916. In 2000, after Lola’s story went viral, Senator John Burton introduced an amendment to the Ellis Act. The new amendment required a landlord to give a year’s notification to the elderly and disabled, and 120 days for others. In 2017 Iris Canada seemed more protected by law but was still totally vulnerable. 

So-called “protected tenants” often lack real protection. For now, this protection is based on preventing condo conversion for buildings where elders and disabled people were evicted from under Ellis Act. Also, in case of Ellis Act evictions the building cannot be rented out for five years. Simple calculation shows – it doesn’t work. 

If Elaine Turner paid $500 for one bedroom, the new owner will lose $30,000 if she doesn’t rent it over the next five years. In the sixth year she’ll get back 30,000 by renting out for $2,500 (which is modest price), and she will turn a great profit in the following years. 

Speculators also buy houses where condo conversion is prohibited, and they make profit reselling them later, explains Tony Robles. Even if you evict elders for no-fault, and cannot do condo conversion, you still can sell units, adds Drohan. TIC are cheaper than condos, but you still make good money. So long-term tenants, predominantly elders, remain a target for speculators. 

In comparison with other countries our situation with elder tenants looks extremely wretched. Tommi Avicolli Mecca refers to policy in Canada where nobody can evict a senior over 70. In reports presented by European countries to the EU parliament, the main concerns about senior occupancy boil down to questions how to adapt housing to elder needs, both in municipal and private sector, with home-care provision and 24-hour supervision of alarm systems, and elevators.

Our housing crisis is hardly unique. In the wake of World War II many European countries experienced tremendous housing shortage. They established rent control that covered vacant apartments as well as protecting existing tenants. It stoped market speculation, and stabilized prices for both – rental and real estate market. So many people could afford not only rent, but buy their our housing. For now, in Europe the percentage of renters reaches only 30%, while in San Francisco it reaches 57%. 

This drastic difference needs to be explained. I’ve heard many arguments about sacred private property in the U.S. But does anybody really think that in European countries nobody knew, or valued private property? 

Let’s rather think about real protection for seniors who rot away in the unequal battle. This should be legislative changes, strategy and culture at the courts, and community. Practice shows that intervention of family, friends or community members often saves senior’s lives. 

Theresa Flandrich told a story of a 91 year-old. woman. She lived all her life in a rent-controlled building. After the building changed hands, a realtor came to her and said: “Listen, I can give you $100,000 if you move out.” She refused. Then he came back and said “Listen, I will give you $100,000 plus percentage of my commission when the building sells.” She said no, seasoning it with an expressive Sicilian gesture. 

Then, for no reason, the landlord raised rent by $300. Her daughter Maria asked Theresa: “Please, help my mom.” And her son Salvatore helped her to get to the Rent Board, where a judge ruled the rent increase was unlawful. This woman was afraid because of pressure she felt after denying a buyout. Maria and Salvatore now come hime every evening, and they have dinner together. “When landlords know that somebody has protection, they stop harassing.” 

“This is a story of success, but it could have been a disaster, if she didn’t have family, or if she didn’t know where to get help from, because it was her daughter who came and knocked at my door,”  Theresa said

In the next articles we’ll follow up with the District Attorney office, politicians, psychoanalysts, lawyers to find out how to stop the epidemic of senior eviction deaths in San Francisco.

Editing assistance by Ryan McCarrigan and Kevin Bard.

This story is part of the Stop Eviction Deaths Project through Dialogue for Life.  

  • playland

    I have a respectful question re Iris Canada.

    Why wasn't it extremely easy to prove to the judge that Iris Canada <strong>WAS</strong> living in the apartment (because the court ruled otherwise). Remember, she did have legal representation.

    Wasn't there a single caregiver, perhaps Meals on Wheels, who could say that they visited her in the apartment? I remember Tim saying that she visited a senior center during the day…couldn't that center tell the judge that they picked her up at the apartment?

    Wasn't there a single neighbor who could tell the court that she was living there?

    So how come nobody could convince the judge that she was living there?

    • Hot Wheels Cold Tuna

      I recall reading that Iris Canada canceled her Meals on Wheels delivery service in July of 2012. Seems consistent with her not living there.

      • playland

        In this article her niece says that they canceled Meals on Wheels because of hospital stays and vacations.

        https://sf.curbed.com/2016/8/25/12649776/final-plea-iris-canada-eviction

        Not sure why you would CANCEL because of either one of those. Would love to hear some clarification from Bogachick or someone else with more information.

        Why was it impossible to prove that a 98 year old woman was living in an apartment?

        And why did the senior center where she spent her afternoons remain silent after she was accused of not living in the apartment? Weren't they picking her up and dropping her off there?

        • WIltonguy45

          Something is not right with this story, I think she was not living there, where she was I don't know, but it just does not make sense.

    • Rosh HoshHosh

      Respectful to whom?

      • Not A Native

        IMO respectful to those who believe that objective facts do exist and that opinions should be consistent with them.

  • sfsquirrel

    I have to think that Playland and Hot Wheels feel the need to endlessly bicker over the details of Iris Canada's case because they do not want to look at the broader theme of this article — that we are a culture that puts property rights above basic humanity. I ask that they, and other would-be detractors, just sit with that a little and just stop it with the petty arguments. It is simply disrespectful to the elders who have lost their lives in this struggle and those who will lose their homes and lives in the future. We are in a housing crisis because we are in a crisis of empathy.

    • playland

      Hi @sfsquirrel ,

      Not sure why we are 'detractors' because we are questioning one of the main tenets of Ms Canada's case. The judge and the sheriff said that she wasn't living in the apartment from which she was evicted. There is plenty of evidence to support their conviction and shockingly little working against it.

      Do you have any arguments otherwise or is just calling the people asking the question "detractors" good enough for you?

      And as far as the broader case, I stopped reading the article when I saw how convoluted the part about Iris Canada was. I'm just assuming that the facts in the rest of the article are equally specious.

      I'm sorry that you don't enjoy the "petty arguments" but there are people out there who really value the truth in their information gathering and not just words that support their position.

      • Cynthia

        sfsquirrel,

        My position on rent control, housing rights, tenants' rights, etc, is irrelevant here. (If you read my comments here and elsewhere it would be very clear, but I'm not going to state my credentials.)

        I also think that the facts of Iris Canada's case do not appear to support the family's narrative. I don't think that demanding accurate and truthful reporting should be a right/left issue. I don't think that anyone should have to qualify themselves before commenting on the need for accurate reporting.

        I find it really frustrating that "political truth" seems to be so damned common. Especially on a site run by a … journalist.

        • Heart

          Ummmmm. You are clearly late to this party Cynthia. You missed the boat. If you so deeply distrust Tim Redmond, this site and the journalism then why are you here? What is relevant to you? How does one qualify for "accurate reporting" in your world? Let me guess: you consume for a living

          • Cynthia

            One qualifies for accurate reporting, in *this* world, by … reporting accurately. Not hard. Your argument is the leftist version of "America, love it or leave it!"

    • Not A Native

      If you want to propose new "better" rules to live by, you need to make a compelling case that the current rules create real and avoidable injustices. Its not at all clear that these stories do that because old people tend to die at a much higher rate due to many cumulative causes, especially age. I'd say anyone in their mid eighties has lived a full life and are on borrowed time. Especially those with severe and progressive medical conditions that are known causes of acute morbidity.

      • Heart

        Not a Native: if you want to make peoples' blood run cold or alienate them from your line of thinking be sure to talk about the death rate ratio per capita of old units versus young units. Also: it's particularly alienating to commodify a unit's life by their age, as if life and living are actually commodiifiable. Let me guess: you are a realtor? A developer? An actuary for an insurance company? No. That's not it…..you work for a robotics firm. On second thought you commodify automobile parts for your livelihood. yes that must be it. No. Wait. You are a black market organ harvester. Ding! Ding! Ding! All things shiny and new. So sad that this is all you value. Do you have a mother? A grandmother? Are you plotting to shove her out the window so you can live in her apartment?

        • sfsquirrel

          I think NAN is a troll-for-hire. I wonder how that works? Clearly not paid to read the articles, maybe by the word? Maybe NAN is auditioning for their own program on hate-radio, or hoping to go into politics with lots of developer money. There is something desperate about the arguments here.

          • Not A Native

            Well, believe it or not, I'm not paid to comment on blogs and have no pecuniary ambitions for writing my viewpoints.

        • Not A Native

          You are simply detached from the natural world, believing you're exempt from the actual biological nature of your existence and the commonality of humans with all other life. You would rather individuals suffer and endure simply to fulfill your ideology and support your denial and fears of death. You must be a provider of or profit from extreme medical technologies and hospital interventions.

          • playland

            It is also a very common syndrome. People who disagree with me must be getting paid to do so…and the comments section of 48 Hills ranks up there with Facebook's news feed in terms of social influence.

      • Don Sebastopol

        Good point. There is not policy where you could not find someone who may be harmed by that policy. The question is do the benefits of the policy outweigh the harm. And if there is harm, those harms can be mitigated. There are senior services that can help them and seniors are given greater consideration, more time and money, when they are evicted.

    • chris12bb

      We don't have to put property rights over basic humanity.
      A property owner wants a good tenant who will pay market rent for that property. Tenants want a safe place to live
      Rent control and many of the tenant protections pit Property owners against Tenants it does not have to be this way.
      If we subsidize rents with Tax payer dollars then the property owner will get the market rent and the tenant will get their place to live.
      The current system is out of wack and that is why we see tenants and landlords fighting.
      Obviously it is easier said than done, but no one wants the system we have today

      • sfsquirrel

        Those who argue against rent control fail to take into account the fact
        that speculators buy buildings subject to rent control all the time.
        They know what they are getting into, as the seller is required to
        provide information on who is renting and how much they pay. The
        revenue that the building brings in theoretically controls, at least in
        part, the sale price of the building. But speculators bid up the price
        with a business model of forcing out long-term tenants. Then they act
        like victims of rent control, as they do their dirty business.

        The problem is greed, not rent control. The latter is currently all we have to protect ourselves against this greed. What we need also is vacancy control, which caps the amount a landlord can charge a new tenant after the previous tenant moves out. But that will require a change in state law.

        Your argument does indeed put property rights before humanity, as you see a landlord's right to charge what the market will bear, literally making a killing, and do not seem to see housing as a human right.

        • chris12bb

          May be I am not articulating my argument, as your response misses the point entirely

    • Rosh HoshHosh

      People hold their beliefs very tightly, and that clouds their perspectives. Ethical responsibility is trumped by a need to satisfy the ego. Playland has a strong disdain for Iris' niece, and a stronger disdain for people who stand up to the system. It's not that he doesn't want to look at the broader theme, it's that he can't.

      • playland

        I can look at the broader theme. I just think that telling false fables about Ms Canada suddenly being locked away from her medicine doesn't serve anyone's interest.

        There is an element of crying wolf. The part of this article about Iris Canada is so hopelessly disconnected from the facts that it casts doubts on the veracity of the other stories.

        Look, @Rosh HoshHosh , I prefer to be informed by true facts, you don't really care if a story is fabricated as long as it supports your position.

        To each his own, lets just leave it at that. The world is big enough for both of our approaches.

        • Rosh HoshHosh

          True facts? Fuck man, you want to disgrace Iris and then tell me "leave it at that." I'll stand by what I posted, and you do what you want.

          • curiousKulak

            "Fuck man" … sounds like the exhalation of a tightly held belief.

  • MKR

    Iris may not have been living in her apartment full time or at all since she probably spent a lot of time at the hospital. And at 100 she might have died anyway whether or not she was evicted. On the other hand, evicting a senior citizen can certainly hasten their death if they have nowhere else to go. That's why its hard to find a place for senior citizens to rent since most cities have tough laws protecting them.
    poor people in the United States have higher and earlier death rates.

  • Not A Native

    I've noticed that old people tend to die a lot sooner than young people. It may be just a coincidence….

  • Heart

    Crisis of empathy. Oh. Hey there Playland, Hotwheels and Cynthia:p. i've some advice for you survival-of-the-fittest-free-market-property-values-uber-alles chimers: don't ever get old 'cause when you do we'll cut your heads off and feed you to,the housing speculator sharks.

    • Cynthia

      Heart, please explain how you inferred anything about my views from my comment.

  • Don Sebastopol

    Basically this is a BS appeal to emotions for a political agenda. I am a senior and I know a lot of seniors who moved and did not die because of the move. In many cases the move was an improvement. But they do eventually die whether or not they move.

    • curiousKulak

      One of the benefits of the Ellis Act is that it provides a justification for Rent Control (rent control can't be a "taking" since a property owner can simply "go out of business" (Ellis Act).

      If a property owner were tightly enslaved by RC, then that would be a rational for dissolving those restrictions.

      The problem with RC as currently constructed is that is implies a false sense of security to renters; with renters expecting to pay less and less each year, while in reality costs on almost all fronts are rising (and more than the CPI – the nominal inflation rate). If rents were actually 'stabilized' (the terminology in the legislation itself) instead of 'controlled' as it is now, then renters would have a reasonable expectation of how long they can afford to stay someplace and begin to seek other alts – with a visible time-line – if that isn't feasible. And prop owners could stomach the restrictions on income knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel, instead of expecting, as now, a "life-time sentence".

  • WIltonguy45

    WOW, SF is really screwed up, I have never heard of such a complex and crazy system for renting an apartment. I NEVER heard of this "life time lease" deal, or anykind of laws that provide special rights to a particular group where tenant law is concerned.

    The landlords are getting away with this crap because of the politicians Cali residents elect to run the state and make the laws. You need to boot out the people that support this Ellis Act and vote in people that will get rid of it, that would solve alot of problems right there. Also eliminate this No Cause Eviction, never heard of that either. Your politicians created these laws and the people need to get rid of those politicians. For being such a progressive state you certainly have seriously bad laws for your senior citizens and disabled.

    I also think that renters, reguardless of age, if they are of sound mind and take care of their business, need to know their rights and not assume anything. Any important papers should be kept at their banks in a SDB, not in the house where anyone with a key can get to them.

    If this happened to my parents, a No Cause Eviction, I would not fight it, I would find them a place to go and I would move them, quickly and quietly. I would not use them as pawns to fight a larger battle that needs to be fixed at the ballot box.

    This article is a painful tutorial on why people are leaving Cali in droves. The citizens have allowed these ass clown politicians to create these laws, its time they retired these people and vote in those who have morals and decency.

  • Commentor

    Thank you for the seniors' personal stories.
    Stress kills seniors, and eviction is extreme stress.
    There are hundreds who have died prematurely over the years of ever urgent gentrification.

    When we were first negotiating rent limitations, a landlord on the task force admitted that he had evicted a very elderly person (before there were any controls at all), and she died within six months. Then, too late, for her, his eyes opened to the human cost, the weight, of his act. He said, 'I fear I contributed to that.' He learned. But the industry as a whole has not.
    So, in the face of clouded judgment, we make rules in ordinance.