Friday, March 5, 2021
News + Politics Seriously? Evicting a 99-year-old?

Seriously? Evicting a 99-year-old?

This is how bad things are getting: Iris Canada could lose her home of more than 60 years, despite a lifetime lease

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Supporters of a 99-year-old woman facing eviction from a Page Street apartment rallied in front of the Superior Court building this afternoon asking that Iris Canada, who moved into her apartment in the 1940s, be allowed to say for the rest of her life.

The owners of the property, Peter Owens, Carolyn Radisch, and Steven Owens, at least two of whom now live on the East Coast, want Canada out within days. But she’s won at least a temporary stay while the courts try to sort this out.

99-year-old Iris Canada and her niece talk at the press conference today
99-year-old Iris Canada and her niece talk at the press conference today

It’s a long and convoluted property tale.

Peter Owens and Radisch, who are married, bought the 670 Page St. unit as a tenancy in common in 2002, along with Steven, who is Peter’s brother. It appears they saw it as an investment, since it had a long-term tenant and none of them made any effort to move in.

They are now trying to convert the building to condos, which would make the property significantly more valuable.

According to court papers, in 2005 the owners sought to evict Canada under the Ellis Act, but she got a lawyer and fought back. As part of a settlement in that case, her attorney, Steven Collier, said in a declaration, the owners agreed to allow Canada to purchase a lifetime lease for $250,000, payable at $700 a month.

The deal allows her to stay in the apartment as long as she maintains it and is able to live there.

But Peter Owens said in an Oct. 5, 2015 declaration that he became convinced Canada no longer occupied the apartment. And so, under the terms of the lifetime lease, he moved to evict her.

He said he entered her apartment in 2014, and found the toilet bowl dry, mold in the bathtub, a strong odor, and “it was patently obvious nobody had used the furniture in a long time.”

He also said she had fallen behind on her monthly payments, but acknowledged that Canada’s niece, Iris Merriouns, ultimately sent him all the back payments.

He frames the discussion as a health and safety issue, implying that Canada can’t live on her own and has abandoned the place. But that’s not what housing advocates saw when they visited last week.

“It’s like anybody’s apartment,” Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee told me. “She was still in her bed was I got there. There was no bad odor. The apartment I saw looked like a place where someone is living.”

The pictures I saw on ABC 7 tonight bore absolutely no resemblance to what the landlord alleged in court. The apartment appeared clean, well-maintained — and lived-in.

Canada does have a regular care-giver, which is not surprising for a 99-year-old. (Apparently one of the possible eviction issues is that she’s not supposed to have roommates – but seriously, evicting a senior for having a live-in caregiver?)

“Her family looks after her,” Mecca said.

Canada moved to the city in the 1940s, her niece told me. Her late husband was a merchant marine sailor; she was a nurse. The two-bedroom apartment where she lives, on Page between Fillmore and Steiner, was once in the heart of a Black neighborhood, but now she’s the only African American living in the building.

Owens, the evictor, is apparently the head of the Community and Economic Development Office in Burlington, VT, where Bernie Sanders got his start as mayor. According to the city’s weekly newspaper, Seven Days, the head of the agency is a former planner at the Presidio Trust in SF, and is married to Carolyn Radisch, who lives in Hanover NH. In his court statements, Owens speaks of leaving San Francisco to move to Hanover, NH. I couldn’t reach him this afternoon. (UPDATE: A staffer in Owens’ office told me Wed/13 that Owens is out of town and has not been responding to email.)

Andrew Zachs, the notorious eviction lawyer representing the owners, refused to talk to reporters today.

Canada’s family agrees there are periods when she wasn’t always in the apartment – she’s had health issues, and has been hospitalized. She spends time with family.

But on one level, the legal niceties don’t exactly matter. She’s 99 years old. And it’s pretty much never okay to evict a 99-year-old.

Sup. London Breed, who was on hand for the press conference this afternoon, agreed. “That’s crossing the line,” she said.

The court granted Canada a one-week stay. The sheriff isn’t going to be excited about doing this particular eviction. And at some point, the landlord in Burlington is going to have to ask if this fight is really worth it.

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.

89 COMMENTS

  1. Wow- really?? You do realize the other owners have harassed her for years now. And the ones taking legal action don’t even live in SF. I think they can fend for themselves.

  2. […] And the missionaries have descended upon her street, her neighborhood–as if ordained–in the name of revitalization and other terms formed in beaks whose true intention is to take our homes, our land and peck away at our bones until no evidence exists that we were here.  But Iris is 99 years old.  She didn’t come all this way to give the landlord, Peter Owens, the satisfaction of evicting a lifetime. […]

  3. I worry about the personal safety of the people doing the evicting, really. I have not seen this level of hatred and animosity in many, many years in San Frencisco. Someone has already publicly called for retribution.That’s dangerous because there are plenty of people here with nothing more to lose. Not being an anarchist, I don’t believe personal violence is a solution but there is alot of anger out.there.

  4. You know, after a bit of checking around, It turns out that this Peter Owens guys and Radisch wife have properties all over the place.. I wonder if that’s how he’s messed he other people..

  5. You know, after a bit of checking around, It turns out that this guy has properties all over the place.. I wonder if that’s how he’s messed he other people..

  6. Where’s your respect? Rationality? Compassion? Where’s your humanity?! Do you wanna be considered as a jerk/heartless person/monster?!

  7. WOW! Eerie similarity! My mom was a nurse all her life as well. Worked in a variety of ICUs all her life.

    And I agree about the dignity. But you know, it is hard, when you have to become the parent to your parent, to know when to make the hard and necessary decision. I was afraid she was going to have a major tumble in her house, so that was when the discussion started.

    Regrets, I now have a few.

    The hardest part for me has been not hearing her voice, and starting to forget what a voice I heard for 40something years of my life sounds like.

  8. Haha – I have mine set to private, but its because there are mean, weird people out there. I had one guy that I apparently pissed off start stalking me, going to all my comments and writing a nasty response, so I went private. Never though of it as freedom to troll, but I guess it would work for that too.

  9. So sorry for your loss. Similar experience, right when she was about to be released, the skilled care center gave her ecoli poisoning, I almost lost her, she never came back from it, she remained weak, but she was able to come home and die in her bed. They do so much for others, their children, my mom was a nurse for 47 years. They deserve some dignity in the last days.

  10. My understanding is that once an Ellis Notice is given, that triggers the penalty of pariahhood; thus “no-condo-conversion for you”. Even if its rescinded, doesn’t matter. But, I could be wrong.

    The owners are relatively lucky. This tenant will be gone in a little while (couple of yrs, max). Then their $250,000 investment will be worth 5x that. They may currently have negative cash flow, but I’m assuming relatively minor (though water & garbage could easily soak up a quarter of the rent alone, w/ RE taxes pushing that over 50%). Still, no need to push her out; but that doesn’t mean its the best place for her.

    I”m guessing part of the consideration is that all kinds of shenanagens happen with rentals in SF. That “care-giver” could turn around and claim tenancy, and then they’re in for an long, expensive nightmare. I don’t envy either party.

  11. I’d love to know if this guy entered her unit illegally. You cannot enter a tenants unit without proper notification unless its an emergency. Even then, when you enter it has to be for a specific reason. Seeing what is going on inside, checking to see if she lives there or even wanting to see the condition are all ILLEGAL reasons to enter.

    She should take this to the rent board and have them take the reigns, I doubt these people care about any of the tenants at their properties.

  12. They withdrew the Ellis eviction in lieu of the lifetime lease for $250,000. My guess is they thought she would have died by now and are sick of waiting. So, they want to evict her or stress her out enough with the threat of eviction she gets sick or moves in with family.

    As for a buy out, who knows what condition this building is in. Chances are if all 3 owners live on the East Coast, they haven’t maintained it up to a real livable standard or it might need the new earthquake retrofitting, etc.

  13. I stopped replying to trolls with their profiles set to private. If you cant let others see what you’ve posted elsewhere, why give you any attention.

    Clearly you are in the minority and its best to ignore you and your faux worries about this lady. She’s an adult and if she chooses to stay in the home she’s lived in for decades, so be it. Think of it this way, she’s stimulating the economy in a small way with a live in caregiver.

    Also, these people are monsters and I hope they get treated the same way in their old age.

  14. Something doesn’t smell right about the reporting. They bought as TIC in ’02. Tried to Ellis in ’05. Now want to sell as “condo” in ’16? Excuse me, but if they filed an Ellis Notice, they are not allowed to convert to condo. Now, maybe they just want to sell – but it would be as a TIC. Unless they already converted to condo; but then the lady would have had a lifetime lease. Abandonment, or Not a Primary Residence are certainly legit issues. As its almost impossible to win a 1.21 case (to evict), she’s already well protected except in the worst of circumstances.

    As for the “caregiver”, seems like that would/could have been settled in the settlement agreement 10 yrs ago – you know, when she as already elderly? Steve Collier from THC, like Dean Preston, is no slouch (Dean Preston – does that name ring a bell, London?); seems like a primary point in any agreement to me that any half-a$$ lawyer would cover.

    Further, one might assume the price in ’02 (or ’05) was near $250k, which sounds reasonable. Right now its worth abt $70k (with upside) occupied, probably bat $1170k empty.

    Why doesn’t the City just by this progressive “affordable housing developer” Owens out; then it doesn’t matter who the f*^# lives there?

  15. That all sounds kosher to me, and to my knowledge similar to what the SF ordinance is. Where it gets a little murky is the (very very rare) instance anti-RC crusaders bring up where someone enjoying low rent leaves that apartment as their primary address while actually living elsewhere, and just occasionally swinging by to pick up the mail.

    And when I say that that is murky, I just mean that it’s difficult to prove without spying on the tenant. I wonder if one could subpoena PG&E / water usage data to prove the place was vacant?

  16. That wasn’t the first time, either. You can’t prove in any particular case that the stress killed the person, but I keep hearing about older people who die soon after being kicked out. I wish some epidemiologist would do the statistics on this.
    I was glad to read (in the Chron article) that this woman is a fighter. Sounds like she’s fine with going to court and dealing with these horrible people face to face.

  17. I’m relieved that this ordeal hasn’t negatively affected her health. Such a serious stressor could cause irreversible damage for a senior, like the woman who was served eviction in Burlingame.

  18. There are specific guidelines in local rent control law (at least here in Berkeley) that govern whether or not a tenant occupies a unit. Is it the place of return for that tenant?

    For instance, if a tenant’s elderly parent became terminally ill and the tenant had to stay in a different state to take care of the parent, s/he would be able to maintain residence as long as the items that indicate a “primary residence” (including but not limited to tax information, drivers license, voter registration, & most personal belongings) remained connected to the primary unit.

    In Berkeley, landlords and tenants can call the Rent Board with specific questions at 510-981-RENT

  19. My mom also wanted to stay home. She was doing the falling thing, and I decided she needed to be in long-term care. We fought for three years before she finally went in.

    One week in and they gave her carbon monoxide poisoning. She lived, but is in a semi-coma state because of it.

    If people want to stay in their homes and can have someone come in to help, LEAVE THEM IN THEIR HOMES!

    Nursing homes are for those people who are nearer to death’s door.

  20. Yeah, seriously. God forbid I leave town to take care of my grandmother for a month if my landlord could then claim I’ve abandoned the apartment and moves to evict! Didn’t realize I had to treat it like a parking meter.

  21. Totally! Although, slight clarification – she didn’t “win” a lifetime lease. She offered to pay them $250k not to evict her when she was 88 years old! Assuming she lives to 102 (though I hope she lives longer), that’s basically guaranteeing them $1,500 / month rent until she passes or has to move into a retirement home. (Assuming they get the unpaid remainder when that happens).

  22. RR592 is this site’s resident troll. I’m sure his vile post has something to do with the 99-year old’s race. See how he commented on another article on this site, using the name Sam:

    “Gentrification like that is a positive transition, even if it results in some displacement of poorer colored people of color, who are probably more suited to be elsewhere long-term anyway. It helps uplift property values for all us, while reducing blight and crime, and creating a more liveable environment.”

    Here is a link to that comment so you can see the context, which doesn’t make him look any less vile:

    https://48hills.org/2014/11/03/big-national-landlord-money-aimed-prop-g/#comment-1908892407

  23. I just lost my mom in 2014, she died in her home as she wanted. My brother had wanted to put her in a home, he thought it would be easier, but she refused. She wanted to stay in her house, she had lived there for 60 years, it was where she raised her kids, where she felt safe and comfortable. I cherish that I was able to give her that. And yes she was in and out the last year, going to the hospital and a skilled nursing center for several months here and there, but she always went HOME.
    How dare you presume to know what she or her family wants?
    Furthermore, she is 99 and has won lifetime judgement. The LL should leave her alone, let her have her last years (or perhaps months) in peace. My God, for as long as this lawsuit takes, they should just leave her alone.

  24. Not sure of the contractual agreement, but it would seem that as long as she is alive and the agreed amount of $700/month is paid, and it is maintained, then she has a lease. “Able to live in it” is pretty open. She could be able to live in it but for medical reasons decided to stay at the hospital, or a care facility, etc.

  25. Once you speak to her and she tells you that she wants to live with family, let us know. Otherwise, like many people, it seems she wants her independence. At 99 she’s entitled to that or anything else of her own. If she didn’t want it then at 88 or 89 she could have moved.

  26. This is a disgusting scenario. She won a lifetime lease. Why not let her live out her lifetime lease in peace? And this RR592’s comments are despicable. Not everyone who is 99 HAS a family to take care of them. How dare RR592 judge her from behind their cowardly anonymous comment.

  27. I am not cheering for an eviction. i am lamenting that this poor old lady’s last few years are spent fighting the inevitable rather than having quiet enjoyment of her silver years with her family around her.

  28. Oh, Spam, you’ve been cheering evictions in your comments for years. Please can the compassion act.

  29. “Her family looks after her,” Mecca said.

    Evidently not, otherwise they would house her with or closer to people who allegedly care for her, rather than leaving her in a place where she clearly is not wanted.

    What kind of family allows a 99 year old woman to fight these kinds of battles?

Comments are closed.

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