A move to halt condo conversion of Iris Canada’s home

Activists seek to deny landlords the right to make big profits off the eviction of a 100-year-old

Housing rights activists are urging the Department of Public Works to halt the proposed condo conversion for the six units at 668-678 Page.

The building is the former residence of centenarian Iris Canada, who died on March 25th nearly a month after being evicted from her apartment. 

Iris Canada, shown outside an SF courtroom, fought her eviction until the end
Iris Canada, shown outside an SF courtroom, fought her eviction until the end

Canada fought an ugly legal battle for two years, with her eviction being delayed several times before the locks were finally changed.

The main motivation for the eviction was the desire of the landlords to convert the building to condominiums, which would make the property far more valuable. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe more, at stake.

But the city doesn’t allow condo conversions in buildings where seniors have been evicted.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee, which has been fighting for tenants rights and affordable housing here in San Francisco since 1979, alleges that the eviction violations the condo conversion rules of the Subdivision Map Act, the City Subdivision Code, the City Subdivision Regulations and our subdivision application rules.

In a letter submitted to County Surveyor Bruce Storrs, Mecca states that: “Iris Canada, a 100-year-old African American woman who had lived at 670 Page since the 1950s, was evicted in February of this year by the owners of her unit: Peter Owens, Carolyn Radische and Stephen Owens. She was originally served an Ellis eviction by these same owners in September 2002, as were the other tenants in the other apartments in her 6-unit building. She got an attorney at Tenderloin Housing Clinic and managed to stay, until 2014 when Owens, Radisch and Owens filed another eviction against her.” 

In 2002, Canada was given a so-called “life estate” designed to let her remain in the apartment for a fixed rental agreement of $700 a month until she died. The non-traditional agreement that was carved out after Canada’s then-attorney convinced Owens that it would be hard – and cruel – to force an elderly Canada out.

In 2015, Owens asked Canada to sign a document that would allow him to convert the building to condominiums. Canada refused to sign the application after talking to her lawyers who advised that she would, in essence, be giving up her “life estate.”

In April of last year, a judge ordered that Canada could stay in her home if she paid her opponent’s legal fees — $160,000. Canada was given two options if she wanted to stay in the home filled with the furniture her late husband made: pay the legal fees or sign documents that would pave the way for a condo conversion. She did not have the means to pay the legal fees and  her locks were finally changed by Sheriff Vicki Hennessy last month. 

“We do not believe that the owners should be rewarded after evicting Ms. Canada by being permitted to condo convert her unit, which will reap them a huge profit,” the letter states.

In response DPW asked Mecca to provide the necessary documentation to back up the allegations: “Public Works take very seriously, allegations of violations to the Subdivision Map Act, the City Subdivision Code, the City Subdivision Regulations and our subdivision application rules. In order to further pursue your allegations, please provide me with supporting documentation for your allegations,” reads Storrs’ response. 

The process of converting a building to condominiums starts with the surveyor, since a conversion really amounts to creating new real estate. The city maps every parcel of land, and the Page Street building is now once parcel. Converting it would create six parcels, and thus a new map for that block.

The city has limited condo conversions to 200 a year, but in 2013 allowed all of the 2,000 or so unit that had applied and were in the backlog to convert — but in exchange closed the window for new conversions for ten years.

The Page Street landlords are going to argue that they were in that queue and should be given pretty much an automatic permit.

Steve Collier, a tenant lawyer with the Tenderloin Housing Committee who has followed the process for many years, told us that, like any change in the city’s survey maps, the permit ultimately has to be approved by the Board of Supervisors. So the Housing Rights Committee appeal will at some point come to the board, where it’s likely to be a heated political issue.

Most of the condo-conversion maps are approved as routine, although there are exceptions: When Harvey Milk was a supervisor, he voted against all of them as a matter of principle. And in this case, there will be immense pressure on the supes not to allow a landlord who evicted a 100-year-old to make money off the deal.

So the legacy of Iris Canada endures, as her supporters try to make sure that the people who took away her home don’t get to profit from it.

 

 

37 COMMENTS

  1. her relative’s greed is the main driver here, along with all those who followed her without taking a minute to read the whole story. The building owners tried to do the right thing, and are paying for it. Had they just used the Ellis act in the first place they would have avoided all this BS

  2. The “wasn’t living there” determination happened a year-plus previously, from event 2012-14. As this case heated up politically, Canada still had keys and posed several times for the press.

    At one point in the court docs, iirc, it was posted that the furniture was covered up, toilets were dry, and pest droppings were apparent. Oh, and various services were stopped and payments were in arrears. So though it was determined that she broke the terms of her lease, she still had access and was able to move freely thru the unit. And may even have actively lived there, up until the end, after the court decisions.

    As to why she couldn’t get to her meds (thus hospitalized), I believe that happened post-eviction; when supposedly all her stuff was locked away in storage. I still don’t understand why, or if, that happened.

  3. I’m just curious. If she didn’t actually live there, then why did she need to be hospitalized for lack of medication?Last I heard, she was still in the morgue because the niece couldn’t get the paperwork to have Canada buried according to her wishes. I guess the paperwork was/is still in storage where the landlord put her things after the eviction. I’m not trying to contradict you, but something doesn’t add up there.

  4. Yes, and my 2c is that her niece thought the same thing:

    Don’t want to sell me the apartment on the cheap? Well then forget about your condo conversion and if you don’t like it then just throw a 100 year old African American woman out on the street.

    Given the fact that Ms. Canada wasn’t actually living in the apartment from which she was ‘evicted’ I sort of admire the owner for standing up to the niece but YMMV.

  5. I agree with all of that. However, the owners were stupid for thinking that the city’s incredibly anti-landlord population would even consider those details. Old. Black. Woman. Eviction. Condo Conversion. San Francisco.

    They should have seen the PR disaster a mile away and just let her life run its course. And that’s me looking at it from a purely business perspective.

  6. I don’t believe the ‘withholding her belongings’ stuff for a second. Even if Owens was the devil incarnate his lawyer would have told him to let her in to get her stuff. What advantage is it keep her out?

    You might insist that a sheriff deputy accompany her but there is no reason to lock her out.

  7. By most accounts Ms. Canada hadn’t lived in the apartment for years. The judge was convinced as such. If she had been living there it would have been very easy to present proof from caregivers to the judge and make the building owners appear foolish. But no proof ever came. So she basically got evicted from an empty unit that her family was trying to hold onto for speculative purposes.

    If she lived to 100 she could have also lived to 105 and meanwhile the conversion was waiting, All she had to do was sign the conversion papers and pay her $700 a month for the rest of her life. The excuse for her not doing so given in this article is nonsensical. The property owners would have stipulated that the life estate would not be affected. As we’ve now seen, the owners did not have to go through that type of charade in order to evict her.

  8. but then we’re depriving the know-it-alls with an agenda their chance at being reflexively outraged.

  9. Shame? What are you, a 1940s Irish nun?

    It would’ve been easy for Iris Canada to have remained in that apartment – for life, only she got in the way of her niece’s ego. What do you think a life estate is?

  10. My major quibble with Owens is withholding her belongings after the fact. I think Ms Canada’s “team” royally squelched her and bear full responsibility for her fate.

  11. Sorry. I seriously doubt the SCOTUS would get involved. ConCons ARE ultimately decided by the BOS, and its in their purview to grant or not. Thus any appeal would NOT be about rent control but about local condo conversions.

    And I’ve (sadly) said this before: SCOTUS is ever averse to wading into the whole RC debate.

    IANALB, I think SF’s biggest problem is the 60% of CPI yearly increases, where renters pay less and less, relatively, every year. I think there might be some recompense in WTO format, but probably not with the Supremes.

  12. The sorrow and the pity. A 100 year old African American woman was evicted from her home of 50+ years. Within one month of that action, she is dead. Why couldn’t Owens allow this frail and fragile woman at death’s door to remain in her home until her death?

  13. Tim has always been an editorial columnist. The problem for 48hills is going to be for Sana and future reporters. Tim’s natural writing style leads 48hills toward the blog category, but this is not in line with their end goal of being an independent news media. Sana is currently vying for a press pass after being dismissed from a press briefing at SFPD HQ. The person doing the dismissing asked her if 48hills was “like a blog.” I’m hoping she gets a press pass stat, but there is more Tim could do to help her and simultaneously separate his brainchild from the blog category.

    The niece asking to buy the place has little relevance. That is perfectly within her rights and would be (was) of zero legal consideration for eviction. All news media is faced with the decision of what they will cover and how they will frame it. I found this article fascinating:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/25/business/media/fox-news.html?_r=0

  14. Look, I believe that the landlords should have just let her live there. However, there’s a thing called journalistic integrity. There’s a code of ethics when it comes to this kind of thing. There’s two major factors purposely left out of this article in order to further the writer and/or 48hills’ opinion, and that’s a problem. This issue is not that cut and dry.

  15. Agreed 100%, this is ridiculous.

    To anyone who may have read this story and scrolled down this far: take a look at other, more reputable sources and you will see this particular story has far more to it.

  16. How is the niece not even mentioned in this article? Absolutely unbelievable! This is not journalism, this is propaganda.

    I go back and forth on this one all the time. The owner of the building should be able to do what they want, but on the other hand she was 100 years old and the stress imposed from evicting someone that fragile is cruel. However, to literally leave out entirely the other side of the story is absolutely reprehensible. The coverage and slant surrounding this story is far more disconcerting than the actual issue itself. The writer and editor should truly be ashamed, a real bastardization of journalism here.

  17. And then this goes to SCOTUS eventually and the entire wall of bricks that SF has done to help & hinder people will come tumbling down. I would say to the people doing this, if you want to ruin rent control, and senior eviction protections push this, because SCOTUS will rule against you. You are pushing this way too far. The other side is going to flex their muscles and you will be smashed like the nattering ants you are. GL.

  18. TBF he’s another East Coast liberal who arrived to “change” SF. And I’m just really REALLY sick of them.

  19. I love you Heart but I’m an SF Trump supporter. So saying “bad Trump” is not ever going to be harmful to me. Have a nice night.

  20. Yes. Its curious that the ‘activists’ are more interested in inflicting pain on the ‘enemy’ than in securing a senior lady’s home for her last few months or years.

    Instead, they seem to enjoy the battle, rather than realizing that “war” is just a tactic of diplomacy; and diplomacy means getting the best deal this ‘victim’ could get. I don’t think letting her get evicted was either the best deal for her, or anyone else, except those with a Martyr complex.

    IF they had let her cut a deal with Owens, to live out her life – even with a live-in caretaker (which was prohibited in the original deal) – in exchange for her signature on the conversion paper – AND they then turned around and tossed her out … I’d been there with torch and pitchfork myself. AS its being played out is … pathetic.

  21. Tommi is a tenant. IIRC, at one point someone did try to evict him (OMI? Ellis? ??). I believe he succeeded in foiling the eviction.

    Mecca may be a model tenant – pay on time, quiet, clean, not always with the “this is wrong””that is wrong”. The fact that he probably pays little in rent is, of course, another matter. His income is probably below his current landlords. I can think of plenty of folks who might be worse tenants than TAM. That doesn’t mean I’d ever want to rent to him; there are plenty of tenants better than him.

    But I do think he enjoys his power trip a bit too much.

  22. Yes they do! People favor rule of law, due process, property rights, and the truth over mobs with pitchforks.

  23. Does anyone know if Mr. Mecca owns his dwelling or if he is a renter? I would offer my deepest sympathy to the landlord if Mr. Mecca is a tenant.

  24. So the other five TIC owners are to be penalized? For what? For Canada’s paranoid delusion (or her neice’s greed)?

    I would suggest that Owens et al have made plenty of money on their 2002 investment. If not for a sense of obligation to the other five co-owners, they might have let this whole thing go.

    OF course Mecca is the stink in this oinkment. 670 Page is hardly a precedent-setting case. He’s using whatever power he thinks he has to inflict pain. I”m sure every other property owner who has agreed to a Life Estate (with certain rules) will now shiver in fear when they try to hold a renter to the deal the renter signed up for.

  25. That would be assuming they have a conscience. If it doesn’t fit their narrative – it’s not going to be included, regardless of its veracity. That’s the way they roll.

  26. Agreed, this is pathetic.

    In addition to no mention of the niece who wanted the unit sold to her at a discount there is also the matter that the judge and sheriff didn’t believe that she was even living there anymore (hence the change the locks method).

    Think about it…if she was living there it would have been very easy to obtain statements from Meals-On-Wheels and other caregivers as proof. But none were offered.

    And as @Porfirio666 mentioned, the part about the condo conversion agreement negating the life estate makes no sense.

    #zerocredibility

  27. You NEGLECTED to mention here that the Owens party agreed to sign a legal document stating that they would not rescind the “life estate.” The great-grand niece had other plans for the property, however.

    “In 2015, Owens asked Canada to sign a document that would allow him to convert the building to condominiums. Canada refused to sign the application after talking to her lawyers who advised that she would, in essence, be giving up her “life estate.””

  28. More fake news from 48hills. How can you in good conscience write this story and not even mention the angle of Iris’s niece trying to extort the landlord into selling her the property on the cheap? NONE of this would have happened if not for her and you know it. Oh right, that doesn’t fit the fake story you’re trying to concoct about an EVIL landlord evicting a poor defenseless elderly woman. You are not and probably never will be a journalist. Good luck with your propaganda BS.

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