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Thursday, October 21, 2021

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News + Politics99-year-old gets to stay in her home, for...

99-year-old gets to stay in her home, for now

Iris Canada wins a reprieve while lawyers try to work out a deal that will let her keep her home of 60 years for the rest of her life

The 99-year old who is facing eviction got at least a one-week reprieve today, and there may be a deal to keep her in her apartment for the rest of her life.

But there are sticking points, including the insistence by the landlord that Iris Canada sign away any rights she may have to the property so that he can convert it to a condo.

Iris Canada sits with supporters outside the courtroom
Iris Canada sits with supporters outside the courtroom

The hearing this morning before Judge James Robertson, who is known as a property-rights conservative, was a bit wild.

At first, the judge issued a tentative ruling that would have allowed Iris Canada to stave off eviction – but only if she agreed to pay the attorney’s fees of the landlord (as much as $150,000) and apologize for her actions in defense of her home.

That wasn’t going to work, since by no account does Canada have anything close to the money to pay those fees.

Her attorney from the Homeless Advocacy Project, Mike Spalding, was joined at the last minute by Steven Adair MacDonald, a lawyer who does both landlord and tenant representation and who said he had a good relationship with the landlord’s counsel, the notorious eviction lawyer Andrew Zacks,

MacDonald told the judge that he thought he could settle the case, and while Zacks called his client to try to figure out if the tentative ruling was acceptable, MacDonald went about trying to cut a deal.

After about half an hour, MacDonald told the court that “we have settled the case.”

The terms: Landlord Peter Owens would waive the legal fees and allow Canada to stay in her apartment (although she wouldn’t be allowed to have any live-in support, which seems kind of counterproductive since in the past Owens has expressed concerns about her ability to live alone).

In exchange, Canada would sign the paperwork that’s necessary to allow Owens to convert the building to condos.

That’s a big, big deal here: Canada lives in a six-unit building that is owned jointly by Owens and five other parties as a tenancy in common. The building is eligible for condo conversion – which would make this unit easier to sell and far more valuable. Condo conversion is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the owner.

But Canada stands in the way. When Owens tried to evict her years ago, her lawyer at the time, Steven Collier, won an agreement giving her a lifetime tenancy, also known as a “life estate,” which is recorded as an interest in the property. So Owens can’t sell or convert unless Canada signs that interest away.

Eviction lawyer Andrew Zacks talks with reporters after the hearing
Eviction lawyer Andrew Zacks talks with reporters after the hearing

Some family members, including Iris Merriouns, who is Canada’s niece, say she has another valuable right: Under the city’s condo conversion law, Canada, as a tenant, has a right of first refusal to buy the place.

So Merriouns isn’t so sure that Canada should sign away any possible ownership interest she might have in the place.

That created a lot of discussion both in the courtroom and in the halls outside, as MacDonald tried to convince the family members to tell Canada to accept the deal.

But Canada wasn’t ready to say that she understood what the deal actually involved, and Zacks refused to sign off unless the 99-year-old would say on the record to the judge that she agreed to all the terms.

Merriouns was pretty adamant that there should be no apology – and Zacks later told reporters that the apology wasn’t the sticking point and that he thought his client would be willing to waive it.

So the case was continued for another week while the lawyers and the family try to work out the details.

Both Zacks and MacDonald said afterward that they were confident a settlement could be reached.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, the organizer with the Housing Rights Committee who helped turn this into a national story, said he thought the ruling and the negotiations were a victory. “The bottom line for me is that she should get to stay,” he told reporters. The fact that a very conservative judge was willing to vacate a former eviction order, Mecca said, “shows the power of organizing.”

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.
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  1. It is the law that she be granted a life estate and first refusal…this has nothing to do with the kindness of Owens or the other land owners in the building. They had to give her a life estate after trying to evict her and failing-it’s the LAW.
    I think anyone has the right to be hospitalized and keep their home (she didn’t move out), while they recover, as well as have a live in nurse-if need be. The judge refusing to have anyone stay in the home caring for her is absolutely ridiculous. I have a Grandmother that is 100 and she does NOT want to go to any retirement/nursing facility, so she has a live in nurse care for her. She has that right-it is her life and that is how she wants it.
    As for being able to afford the unit- the amount she has offered is the same amount that they sold the other units. I would bet that is why they chose to offer that amount.
    As for the eviction- I wouldn’t be surprised if they have essentially thrown out their rights to conversion with this, but we will see.

  2. Canada is NOT a tenant, she is a co-owner of the unit. The lawsuit is a FORECLOSURE on her life estate, which was provided in 2005 by Peter Owens (out of the kindness of his heart) in order to protect her. I don’t believe it has anything to do with an eviction attempt from 2002. How can you connect something that happened 3 years apart? She has since then violated that life estate on 2 counts. 1) not living there continuously 2) allowing someone else to establish residency. She is not signing away any rights. And while she may possibly have first rights of refusal to buy the unit, neither she nor her family would be able to afford it in this market. So its a losing and wrongful battle on the part of Canada’s family, namely Iris Merriouns who is the evil perpetrator behind this entire reason and the sole reason why Canada may lose her home.

  3. Instead of just reading 48 Hills, read the full story elsewhere and you may be a little better informed.

  4. The plot is getting Rashomonian.
    If the landlord is merely a caring friend, why did he resign his job in Vermont? Couldn’t he have just explained himself?

  5. Since she wasn’t successfully evicted under the Ellis Act, I suspect that it doesn’t count against the property owners. Just speculation on my part, though.

  6. Certainly a bit different than whats been portrayed.

    And again, where is this ELLIS ACT of which has been spoken?

    I sense a sad-but-typical story of an aging adult, a considerate and frustrated person in a position of responsibility, and a large fraud on the part of ‘activists’ and political players. If Iris Canada had been living in “affordable” housing, she would have been moved to other accommodations a long time ago (to make way for other people in need). That the presumed next occupant of this apt will be most likely someone of means instead jsutifies this errant drama and seeming nonsense. But it really doesn’t. Sad again.

  7. That document puts a different light on this story. It would be good if a reporter read it to at least give this story some balance. But that would be asking too much it is easier to just get spoon feed information from Tommi Avicolli Mecca.
    May be that is why the landlord is asking for an apology all the one-sided reporting.

  8. Ok, could someone please explain to me how Owens can have used the Ellis Act in 2002, and now still be able to convert to Condos?

    Something is still not right about this story.

    And three cheers to Steve MacDonald for trying to find a middle solution.

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