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.