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News + PoliticsUp against a serial evictor

Up against a serial evictor

Fergus O’Sullivan keeps throwing tenants out of their homes. Now some of them are fighting back

Protesters stand outside an open house where units cleared by Ellis Act evictions are for sale
Protesters stand outside an open house where units cleared by Ellis Act evictions are for sale

By Erin McElroy

JUNE 30, 2015 — On Sunday June 28th, roughly 20 activists gathered at 1142-1146 York Street to protest an open house being conducted by Fergus O’Sullivan, a notorious serial evictor and contractor who has displaced countless tenants across San Francisco. The tenants in the four units at 1142-1146 York were forced out by O’Sullivan’s Ellis Act evictions earlier this year.

Among the protestors was Alex, who formerly lived in the building with her 95-year-old grandmother. Two weeks after being evicted, her grandmother died. Another grandmother in the building, also above the age of 90, was forced out from a different unit, and, unable to find housing in San Francisco, now lives in San Mateo County.

As Alex explained to protestors gathering outside the open house, not only has the eviction been deadly, but also it has further displaced a close community connected not only to each other, but also to their neighbors and Mission.

While Alex and the other tenants at 1142-1146 York Street were displaced from the Mission,  O’Sullivan is advertising the four units as TICs (tenancy-in-commons), claiming that they are actually in Potrero Hill. As he advertises of one of the TICs, “1144 York St is in the Potrero Hill neighborhood in San Francisco, CA and in ZIP Code 94110. This property is listed by for $799,000. The average listing price for Potrero Hill is $1,341,237, which is higher than the list price for 1144 York St. 1144 York St has 2 beds and 2 baths.”

Last I checked, 1142 York Street, at York and 23rd, was still the Mission.

According to public records, O’Sullivan’s brother Paul purchased the building housing tenants of 25-plus-years residency in 2013 for $670,000. Paul then sold the building to one of many of Fergus’s LLCs, 1142 York Street LLC. Now, after renovating the units with his construction/real estate FOS COMPANY, Fergus is selling each of the four units for $799,000.

That would mean a profit of about $2.5 million (less construction costs).

Calls to O’Sullivan’s office were not returned.

The state has hit O’Sullivan with fines in the past: In 2006, one of his 24-foot walls on Geneva Street collapsed and killed Union City resident Gregoria Custodio, who was sitting in her parked car.

But O’Sullivan is better known in San Francisco for his evictions.

Records on file at the SF Rent Board and property records show a history of O’Sullivan evictions.

In 2012, O’Sullivan evicted Michael Rouppet from his home at 1048-52 Fulton St, and is now renting the furnished units for $9,000/month. O’Sullivan bought the building after Rouppet’s much-loved landlady died, and promptly attempted to pay Rouppet to move out. When Rouppet refused to leave his home of 20 years, O’Sullivan issued an eviction order. Rouppet spent almost a year living on the street in San Francisco with his dog (the only belonging salvaged from the eviction) and coping with homelessness and HIV simultaneously. Recently he shared his story with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s Narratives of Displacement Oral History Project, highlighting the role that the SF Aids Foundation has played in helping him over the past year.

Rouppet is currently involved in a lawsuit against O’Sullivan, which claims that O’Sullivan has since rented out his former unit for short-term rental.

In June 2013, tenants in nine units at 2870 Harrison St were threatened with an Ellis Act eviction. The building housed more than 50 adults and 20 children. Most of the families had tenancies of 25 years, and it was the only home that many of the children and youth in the building had ever known. Two weeks after buying the building, O’Sullivan sent the tenants buy-out offers and threatened an Ellis Act eviction if they refused. Many of the tenants were monolingual Spanish speakers and thought that O’Sullivan’s letter was an actual eviction notice. Three units left due to fear, but the other six found Causa Justa and launched a campaign.  Despite their efforts, some were eventually forced out.

O’Sullivan later rented out units at 2870 Harrison on Airbnb. As one short term renter reported to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project,

“On May 15th I moved to 2870A Harrison St, which is owned by Fergus O’Sullivan. I initially booked 30 days through Airbnb, and was asked to sign a lease if I wanted to stay longer. For the first few weeks I was the only tenant in the 4 bedroom apartment. . . .The floor has 2 single rooms and 2 double rooms. After talking with new tenants, I found out that the landlord is now charging up to $2,500/mo for each bed in the double rooms. This means that the landlord is making around $10,000/mo.”

It seems that O’Sullivan has recently retreated from publicizing his short-term vacation project, most likely due to public pressure and policy reform. In addition to 2870 Harrison Street, he recently ceased advertising another short-term vacation rental listing at 2455 Lombard Street. Silvia Sotomayor was evicted from her Lombard Street home in February 2014 on the grounds that O’Sullivan’s brother Paul was going to move in. In July 2014 Fergus was found to be renting a unit on Airbnb and VRBO at 2455-2459 Lombard Street.

This ad was on Airbnb ...
This ad was on Airbnb …

And this one on VRBO listed the Lombard St property
And this one on VRBO listed the Lombard St property


Both showing this
Both showing this


O’Sullivan evicted tenants from 1080-1090 South Van Ness in January 2014. Tenants there were  offered buy-outs, and eventually evicted. As one tenant reported to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, “Many of the tenants in this six-unit building don’t speak English and are intimidated by [O’Sullivan]. Some tenants have been in their units since the mid-70s.”

O’Sullivan is also in the foreclosure business. He bought 1225-1231 Potrero at foreclosure auction, displacing a family who had lived there for more than 20 years.

This year, through his Sloat-Parkside Properties, O’Sullivan is preparing to demolish three commercial buildings near Ocean Beach on Sloat Boulevard between 46th and 47th Avenue. The recently shuttered Roberts Beach Motel will be razed to create a five-story building this September. The $30 million project will include nonformula retail and restaurant space as well as 56 residential units. As Tim Colen, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, reported to the Examiner in March 2015, nearby residents have complained about the project being too large and out of character with the neighborhood, even though HAC supports it. Seven of the units will be BMR.

Back on York St., protestors were successful in shutting down the open house, which was supposed to last from 2pm-4pm. As community members gathered outside, discouraging prospective buyers from entering, others entered the open house and explained that two women in their 90s had been evicted from the property, and that one of them had died two weeks after being evicted. Most prospective buyers seemed disturbed by that news, though several were unfazed and ignored protestors.

Fergus’s niece, who was showing the property, was clearly upset by protestors’ presence, and announced that she was closing the open house. Community members remained outside after she ushered everyone out, to find that she was still open to showing the building to those who rang the bell. Activists began chanting outside and playing music, which seemed to convince her to stop altogether.

After she left, protestors remained on the scene, handing out flyers to prospective buyers who continued to stop by. For the moment, this type of community disruption seems to be an effective tactic.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. Don’t pretend owning a building with long term tenants is such a horrible burden. In fact, you need tenants to create value. It’s true that right now there are renters who happily pay the likes of $1800 for a short term bunk bed in a shared room, but this housing market might not last. Don’t forget that up to the early 2000s, parts of the Mission neighborhood were not in such high demand. Landlords had to take what tenants they could get. In fact, prior to the 1990s, the Mission was considered “bad” and landlords didn’t have such an easy time finding tenants or raising rents. They relied on the tenants to fill their buildings and pay steady rent for decades. The tenants created a thriving community in the buildings, and that’s what draws new arrivals to the Mission. Evict the long time residents and you (eventually) kill your cash cow.

  2. There are arguments for a higher minimum wage, but increasing the minimum wage is still a non-solution to the SF housing issue. The competition for local housing would remain exactly the same with higher wages at the lower end, and the rent/mortgage payments would just go up in response to some peoples’ increased buying power.

    The problem remains the same as it’s always been: there aren’t enough homes to go around. That won’t change because you pay some people more.

  3. You might, but for me, the notion of moving to a foreign city is a far more complex question than that.

  4. Again, you are cherry-picking. If you like a law, you claim it is a constitutional mandate. If you dislike a law, you call it a loophole. The Ellis Act exists to provide a safety valve for people who are being oppressed by excessive government interference, and protecting the people against invasive government is a cornerstone of the constitution.

    Laws are not loopholes; laws have loopholes in them.

    The main reason that market rents are so high in SF is lack of supply. A major reason for that luck of supply (along with lack of building due to NIMBYism) is that property owners hate the rent laws and so choose other uses for their units (I have converted nine units away from long-term rentals, as an example, and there are hundreds like me, if not thousands).

    If SF had vacancy control then landlords would NEVER offer a place for re-rent when they got a vacancy. And that would drive rents way higher. If new build were covered by rent control, there would be no new build. And so on.

    You quite simply cannot successfully mandate cheap rents for everyone forever, at somebody else’s expense. The only way to do that is for the city to buy up every rental unit and run them at a loss. And even the supervisors aren’t that stupid. And the voters and taxpayers certainly are not.

    Rent control inflates demand, suppresses supply and drives up rents. Taking a long view, the current tenants will all die off, and the only kind of people who can afford vacant rentals will be the kind of tenant who will not linger and make it their life’s ambition to hoard some ratty flat all their life.

  5. Nice try. Fair return isn’t a loophole, it’s a constitutional requirement. Ellis Act is a loophole. Don’t equate it with other grounds for eviction like nonpayment, breach etc.

    The idea that rent control in SF causes sky high rents has no basis in fact — it’s the only thing preventing sky high rents. And, if sky high rents bother you (which I know they don’t but you pretend they do when convenient to attack rent control), you should pin blame on Costa Hawkins, another realtor-sponsored law. If realtors hadn’t gotten Costa Hawkins passed, the city would have adopted vacancy control by now and rents wouldn’t be sky high since they would be regulated even after turnover.

  6. Good to see folks organizing and acting on what they believe to be a just cause. This housing boom too shall pass.

  7. Totally agree. There’s a clear policy to erode rent control protection afforded to residents in our city. Currently 55 families in apartment complex where I live face rent increases anywhere from 30% to 300%. That’s after being under rent control protection for years

  8. I’ve been to Vienna a number of times on business. I know nothing about its tax structure, but every time, including during the recession, it’s struck me as a prosperous city, without some of the ills that plauge San Francisco.

  9. The problems in Greece are not related to minimum wage or inflation. Large banks and financial institutions lent too much money to Greece after the creation of the euro on the assumption that they could blackmail the rest of the EU into bailing out the Greeks when the money was due to be paid back.
    In my opinion the minimum wage in the U.S. Should be higher. You can disagree if you want.

  10. No doubt he will cite Vienna.

    But then Austria doesn’t require that the voters directly approve the massive funding needed for such largesse.

  11. My understanding of Nash is that it had to do with a request for demolition of a building.

    The only reason that it may be constitutional for a city to pass laws that require landlords to continue to rent to tenants against their will is if there all kinds of exceptions (you would call them loopholes but that is pejorative).

    The 15 just causes for evictions are examples of such exceptions. So are the various procedures allowed for the landlord to make a “fair return”, like the passthroughs.

    And an owner has to have an option to quit the business that does not force him to sell his asset.

    So RC is only constitutional if those loopholes exist – the very same loopholes that you don’t like. But I don’t like the word “loophole”. If you can argue that the entire Ellis Act is a loophole for owners then I can argue that the entire rent control law is a loophole for tenants. We will make no progress debating in that way.

    And no, I don’t necessarily think it is “wrong” to evict a senior any more than anyone else. As long as it is for one of the 15 just causes without which rent control would not be constitutionally valid. You seem to like to play emotional cards but they aren’t helpful here.

    The real issue is that rent control reduces the profitability of the rental business and therefore inevitably reduces the number of homes offered for rent. You can never get around that fundamental flaw, which is why SF rents are sky high despite 35 years of rent control.

  12. Europe is the largest exporter of luxury goods in the world and they do not have runaway inflation. The European Central Bank is even more vigilant than the U.S. Feb with inflation

  13. You have misread Nash. You are correct that a landlord cannot be forced to rent out a vacant unit, but incorrect that about the constitutionality of a city forcing a landlord to continue renting to existing tenants. Nothing unconstitutional there — landlord can just sell to get out of the business. Only Ellis Act stands in the way.

    Of course you can call laws loopholes. Those laws are what the industry spends all its lobbying money creating. You call it a “safety valve” I call it a loophole around rent control. We can agree to disagree on that one.

    As for your last point, plenty of things are legal and wrong. Evicting seniors from their long term homes so you can earn more profit is just plain wrong, regardless of whether it’s legal.

  14. They have higher prices regardless of the annual inflation rate. Have you ever seen European tourists hoovering up US goods on trips here because it’s so much cheaper here AND there is no 20% VAT?

  15. In many European countries the minimum wage is approximately twice as high as that in the U.S. Adjusted for currency differentials and they do not have runaway inflation

  16. When the U.S. Dollar was trading at .90 to the Canadian dollar in 2010 the minimum wage in Canada was still twice as high. I watch the currency markets very closely every day

  17. If you are referring to Nash versus the City of Santa Monica, then the court did not rule specifically on whether a city can force a property owner to be a landlord. And I am fairly sure that would be unconstitutional.

    Rather they ruled on whether a city could prevent alternate uses for a building that ceases to be a rental building. And in broad terms a city can do, as long as it doesn’t go too far. Santa Monica did go too far, in the eyes of the legislature.

    Regardless of Ellis, a city cannot force me as a property owner to rent out a vacant unit if I choose not to. Therefore the city cannot force me to be a landlord and, moreover, cannot stop me evicting all my tenants to create a vacant building.

    Nor can the city prevent TIC formations.

    Oh, and the “fair return” is not rare in SF at all. Every passthrough is an example of a successful “fair return” argument.

    You cannot call laws loopholes. Laws may have loopholes in them but a law is not a loophole. That’s a bogus argument. Ellis and Costa-Hawkins are safety valves to ensure that rent regulations are not unduly burdensome on property owners

    Evictions are either legal or not. Arguing that they are somehow legal but wrong introduces a level of subjectivity and speculation that is not grounded in provable facts.

  18. This is an interesting idea, particularly given our aging society. Do you have examples of where it has worked successfully?

  19. All broad inflation measures include housing costs. The PCE deflator above is about 1/3rd housing, CPI would be a bit more.

  20. I’m not sure they include housing costs in the inflation adjustment calculator, since the popular of the U.S. Has doubled since the 1960s the housing costs are much higher

  21. Actually, the CA Supreme Court has rejected your theory. Landlords argued they had a constitutional right to exit the rental business. The Court disagreed. The Legislature responded with the Ellis Act. The Ellis Act could be repealed tomorrow (not politically possible) and there would be no constitutional issue. That would provide long term security against all but landlords seeking to do owner move in evictions.

    Fair return is required, but the reason you don’t hear much about it is that a landlord claiming they can’t get a fair return on real estate in SF would be laughed out of court, so landlords don’t bother to use that argument much.

    We agree on something: two of the biggest loopholes used by speculators are in fact the state laws you mentioned. But these aren’t inevitable. They are the result of the real estate industry spending gobs of money in politics to get their special interest loopholes. Take out those loopholes and these disgusting speculators won’t have grounds to evict and our neighbors can live in peace.

    As for your last point, yes, rent control laws regulate rents and evictions but allow landlords a fair return and allow eviction for things like where the owner wants to move in, or the tenant doesn’t pay rent. I’m not suggesting that every evictions is exploiting a loophole, but the evictions by speculators like the jerk profiled in this article are.

  22. Dean, you don’t understand. The “loopholes” in rent control are in fact things like the 15 just causes for eviction. These were specifically put in place so that rent control passed constitutional muster.

    If the rent ordinance stated that there could never be any evictions, then it would probably be thrown out in its entirety by the courts. Like wise if it stated that the initial rent could never be raised, or that a landlord is compelled to offer a vacant unit for rent, or that there can never be a change of use.

    Most of the “loopholes” in rent control are there for very good reason. There is even a statement in the rent ordinance that a landlord is allowed a “reasonable rate of return” which no tenant advocate would care a jot about.

    In many cases, there limitations and loopholes in rent control are also put in place by statute, such as the state’s Costa Hawkins Act and of course the Ellis Act.

    The reality is that rent control always has to be seen as something reasonable, otherwise it would be attacked as a “taking”. Property owners have rights too, you know?

  23. Paying everyone twice as much solves nothing, because of the inflation it creates. You might as well argue to print twice as many dollar bills.

  24. Even if you believe the ACS data, that only shows you vacant units. It doesn’t show you how many units could have been rented but were instead converted to owner occupation, TIC’s or short-term lets.

    It’s a significant number.

    Public building requires money that the taxpayers are unwilling to support. The last two housing bonds failed.

  25. We agree that the minimum wage in the US should be higher. But the inflation adjusted minimum in the US has never been near $20. The chart above is in 2009 dollars; the nominal minimum in 1938 wasn’t $3.50, it was 26 cents.

  26. Sure, but the ACS surveys vacant units by category (e.g., for rent, for occasional use, or rented but not occupied). Per the most recent release from the Census, around 2% of all SF units were vacant for ‘other’ reasons, so the number is at most 2%.

    What’s wrong with public building?

  27. They should either have rent control that is permanent and irrevocable or they should eliminate it completely. The worst thing you can do to people is allow them to live somewhere for decades with rent control and then quintuple their rent in one year and tell them they have to pay it or leave. Its cruel to do that to another human being who has spent his life in one area and cannot realistically relocate.

    Most people understand that renting is not buying. On the other hand if you are going to rent to people with the same rent for 25 years that is an implied contract to most people. It can give people a false sense of complacency also.

    The issue of price controls is very complex, in fact there is a bodies of laws devoted to the fields of price controls people spend lifetimes mastering. One judge spent his entire career judicating the issue of whether AT & T was a monopoly. The Justice dept recently blocked the Time Warner Comcast merger because that would have meant the combined companies would have controlled too large a percentage of the high speed communications/cable markets. High tech companies spend billions in legal fees defending proprietary technology and patents.

    There is always political disagreement as to the extent to which property owners can control rental prices if they rent. Many cities and countries in the world have some form of rent price controls in certain areas which keep pace with the rate of inflation. In fact on the block where I live there are high paid yuppies living right next door to low income households on welfare.

    If the minimum wage in the United states had kept pace with the rate of inflation it would be nearly $20.00 per hour. Doubling the minimum wage would solve most of the problems with poverty, crime, drug addiction and homelessness.

  28. I am not aware of any data that shows how many property owners decide not to rent because of regulations. It’s a private decision with no documentation needed to support it. Show your evidence for the number of owners who would decide to rent if only rent control were repealed. That is inherently unknowable but is intrinsically non-zero.

    90% of the controlled units I have owned in SF used to be rented out long-term and no longer are. Start with that data point, perhaps

    The provision of more housing in a free society has to start with incentives for that provision rather then deterrence.

  29. The data suggest it’s closer to 1% than 10%. The main effect of the policy is on the demand side, hence the suggestion that, ‘only public building could meet increased demand.’

    If it is impossible to meet demand via public building, that argument would be interesting to make. If not, it might be useful to find out what societal utility exposing non owner occupants to residential market risk serves. If there is none, why do it?

  30. You miss the point. Any reduction in the number of vacant units being re-offered for long-term rentals drives up rents, and drives lower-income people out of SF.

    Maybe it’s “only” 40%. Maybe 20%. Perhaps even just 10%. But the point is that your big idea reduces availability by some factor. and you have no more idea what that factor is than I do, other than that it is very clearly not zero.

    So, again, why do you wish to deter property owners from doing long-term rentals?

  31. It seems the word ‘no’ in ‘no property owner’ actually means ‘most’. Using special definitions makes reading very difficult.

    Does ’causes’ mean ‘doesn’t cause’? That makes more sense.

  32. Nearly all the people buying SF homes are working.

    There are a few exceptions, like Daly and McElvoy, of course. But then where else would you be able to find political allies?

  33. Sky high market rents are the draw, of course. And if you owned the building for decades and won the lottery because a tenant moved out, then that explains it.

    But even so many owners also elect NOT to re-rent, so you need to consider why that is. The evidence is clear – all the TIC’s and short-term lets. They could all be rented out long-term and yet those owners choose not to.

    You are ducking the central issue. Laws that make landlording less attractive lead to less units being made available than would otherwise would be.

  34. Yes rent control has done wonders for San Francisco. becuase of rent control we have no “housing crisis”.

  35. Renting is a consentual thing like SEX…when only one party calls the shots it’s RAPE. And if they both agree, then no problem. No need for life anything…..

  36. You poor impotent little fool… sure why try…. it is waste of time. I am powerless to control my destiny.

  37. The reporting on this site is top-notch and needed. The “comments” sections, dominated by paid trolls, are completely worthless. Hopefully, ignoring the “comments” doesn’t cost this site – I’m regularly posting the articles to my Facebook page (with recommendations to read the comments if you’re looking for a good laugh). Keep up the good work, 48 Hills!

  38. If ‘no property owner with a vacant unit would try and re-rent,’ and if ‘it is something like that anyway,’ what explains roughly forty thousand new tenancies per year in San Francisco?

    What caused the shortage of housing is too few places to live, not a just so story controverted by the available evidence.

  39. I think what Kevin means is that no property owner with a vacant unit would try and re-rent that unit if they knew that the month-to-month rental agreement they were preparing was a de facto lifetime estate.

    Indeed, it is something like that anyway given that there are only 15 just causes for evictions. And even with that we see owners turning away from long-term rentals.

    We cannot fix the housing shortage by punishing people who own properties by regulations and taxes. In fact, that is what causes the shortage.

  40. Yes, open houses don’t lead to many sales. It’s really a way of promoting the realtor who is conducting the open house to meet and secure new clients.

    Most actual sales result from private appointments. Open houses are recreational Sunday outings for looky-loos. Redmond and the protesters evidently do not understand this.

    Plus of course the byers of these units are doing nothing wrong and should not be intimidated.

  41. Markets are useful. Why would any policymaker want to destroy all markets and freeze the price of everything?

    A policy of life estates contingent on payment and behavior coupled with enough public building to meet added demand would be universal. There would be no special class.

  42. Why not just freeze the price of everything for life? Look to Venezuela to see what a disaster that could be. What ever you are trying to freeze the price of DISAPEARS. Try and get money out of your bank in Greece right now. And it’s not “their home” it’s their rental and it’s an open market where all looking to live can compete, why would you want to create a segregated special class in that market ?

  43. The word ‘contingent’ matters. The idea seems to be for good tenants who pay their rent to remain in their homes, which amounts to a life estate contingent on payment and behavior. Were payments further regulated, as by the SFRO, only public building could meet increased demand.

    Given underbuilding nationwide, that might be a better policy than currently exists. What is the societal utility of exposing all non owner occupants to residential market risk?

  44. Renting is not owning. This comes up again and again. No one should lose their lifelong home, but unless you own where you live, its an inevitability. If, as a renter, you havent acknowledged that fact – or taken steps to prepare for your own future, whose fault is that?
    No amount of emotion is going to turn a lease into a deed

  45. Right: use of shaming articles and protests instead of regulation increases profits for O’Sullivan (worries about shaming and protests reduce price) and subsidizes purchase for buyers who don’t care about shaming and protests.

    If rental tenancies should be replaced by contingent life estates statewide, make the policy argument, convince enough people, and change the law.

    Shaming and protests that do not lead to regulatory action are performances to make protesters feel good about themselves as people, not policy.

  46. I’ve often felt that T-Baggers and protected, rent-controlled tenants have a lot in common.

  47. If your name is not on the deed, it is NOT your home ! Do you have rights to a women’s vagina for life, just because you rented it for an hour last month? Renters in this town have all the self serving blindness and ignorance of the Christian right !

  48. Doesn’t this just increase the likelihood that a buyer who really doesn’t give a hoot about any of this will eventually buy the property. As the article mentioned, there were already people who just ignored the protestors. Not to mention. O’Sullivan can afford to wait anyway, while the protestors move to Oakland.

    The criticism of the Sloat project also shows the opposition’s misplaced priorities. Even though that project is replacing 0 housing with a measly 56 units, they’re more concerned about intangibles like “neighborhood character” than people having a place to live. I could care less about some old ramshackle motel if it meant building enough housing to put a dent in housing costs.

    That disconnect between NIMBYism and supposedly fighting for housing is what will continue to tear apart what’s left of San Francisco’s progressives.

  49. Ahh, Vampira herself, A-number-1 carpetbagger and profiteer off of the misery of others, in the flesh. Naming names. Booming business this misery, isn’t it. Recession-proof, unlike Fergus’ contracting. Are we paying your way through life too? By “we” I mean taxpayers, or as you think of them, “The Other”. No gratitude for that? Only venom and entitlement?

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