The Board of Supes sent a clear message today that people who evict seniors shouldn’t get a lucrative permit to turn former apartments into condos.
The vote was 10-1, with only Sup. Katy Tang on the side of the building owners who tossed out 100-year-old Iris Canada.
That means the Planning Commission, the Department of Public Works, and the supervisors have all said that it’s not okay to evict a centenarian, that what happened at 670 Page St. is not acceptable.
I think it’s likely that the case will now wind up in court, where City Attorney Dennis Herrera will need to mount an aggressive defense of the city’s position.
The argument from the building owners – a group of people who bought tenancy-in-common units in 2002, after Peter Owens bought the building and evicted most of the tenants under the Ellis Act, making a nice profit – was about the same line we have heard before. This time it was Jeff Pierce, one of the TIC owners who wants the right to turn his unit into a condo, making the place more valuable, who appeared before the board to present the case.
He insisted that Owens “voluntarily” offered Canada a “life estate” when he evicted all the other tenants, so that she could live the rest of her days in the home she had occupied for half a century.
Actually, Owens was forced into that deal after Canada got a lawyer and challenged the Ellis Act eviction. The rest of the tenants, who were not disabled or seniors, were gone.
Owens had no choice but to give Canada the equivalent of an ownership stake in her unit – under the Ellis Act, he couldn’t have any more tenants, since he had officially claimed to go out of the business of being a landlord.
She was 85 at the time.
Pierce said that after 2012, Canada no longer lived in her unit – a requirement of the life estate. That’s a matter of significant dispute; Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who testified at the hearing, said he spent a lot of time with Canada, in her apartment, “and she clearly lived there.”
Then Pierce said that the eviction wasn’t an eviction, because it was a foreclosure. So even if the city’s condo conversion law bars permits for units cleared by eviction, this one doesn’t count.
That went nowhere.
As Planning Department staffers and the City Attorney’s Office pointed out, the Planning Commission had wide discretion to decide whether the unit was subject to eviction or displacement.
It clearly was an eviciton; I was there the night that deputy sheriffs came and removed Canada’s possessions and changed the locks on the door.
“She was 100 years old,” Mecca testified. “You can send a message loud and clear that we don’t allow evictions of seniors for condo conversions.”
Sup. Hillary Ronen made the point even more clear, talking about “This profit motive over humanity that become a monster in this town in the speculation on housing.”
Board President London Breed represents the district where Canada lived, and when she made it clear that she wouldn’t support the permit, the debate was essentially over.
So now the only grounds the building owners have is to file a lawsuit – against the city. We’ll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, it was a bad day for Andrew Zachs, the notorious landlord lawyer who makes his living helping evict tenants and who had represented Peter Owens.
Zachs showed up at the board on a very different issue: He wanted to stop a neighbor on Castro Street from demolishing an existing building and putting up a new house with an in-law unit in the back.
For ten years, Zachs has fought the project at Castro and 21st– and in a strange moment that had observers shaking their heads, he told the supes that he wanted to protect existing rent-controlled housing on the site.
There’s a unit on the site that is zoned for and ought to be housing, but it’s been rented out as a law office for years. That, city officials said, is not a legal use.
Still, the new building would add a rent-controlled unit that would be legal. And Zachs has fought to undermine and destroy rent control his entire career.
Jennifer Fieber, who works at the Tenants Union, testified that “I am satisfied, so is the Planning Department staff, that the unit is not occupied by a tenant.” The neighbors, she said “are in a fight with a law firm that specializes in evicting tenants. He’s throwing around his weight because this is a very scary law firm.”
The board unanimously rejected Zachs’ appeal. I suspect he, too, will take this to court.