38 Year Mission Tenant, Spouse Beat Third Bad Faith OMI Eviction

by Stephen P. Booth, Esq. on May 2, 2017

Family Stands And Fights For Their Dream

By Stephen P. Booth, Esq.

Bad Faith OMI Target

Juan Carlos Ramirez has lived in his Mission District home for 38 years. Although he and his wife Rebecca Suval are new parents, they have been under eviction assault since April 2016. On April 26, 2017 Ramirez and Suval prevailed in Court as against the landlord’s third OMI eviction attempt.

Ramirez and Suval believe this is part of wide-scale owner move-in (“OMI”) abuses facilitated by the Bornstein law firm and other eviction specialists.

In 2015-16 there were 417 owner move-in / qualified-relative move-in notices filed with the Rent Board. That is up from 343 in 2014-15.  While OMI evictions declined from February 2016-2017,  many remain shams. As described in the November 11, 2016 NBC report titled SF Landlords May Have Wrongfully Evicted Hundreds of Tenants,  there appears wide-spread abuse; supposed owners moving-in cannot be found months after the relevant move-in date.

Superior Court Rules Landlord’s OMI Not In Compliance With The Law

On April 26, 2017 Judge Quidachay ruled that landlord Jin Ping Chen Mak’s third eviction attempt was not in compliance with the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. The landlord had sought to serve Ramirez and Suval while they were in the intensive care unit of the hospital attending to their critically fragile son. The papers were crafted in such a way that tenants could not determine what was the supposed eviction date.

The eviction notice also misrepresented the requirements for tenants who claim “protected status” arising from age, disability and catastrophic illness. Ramirez and Suval argued that the eviction papers served by the landlord had a “chilling effect” insofar as landlord’s eviction notice made the tenants’ assertion of their rights more onerous than required under the Rent Ordinance.  Their demurrer was sustained without leave to amend by Judge Quidachay.

Standing And Fighting For Their San Francisco Dream In the Face Of Adversity

Thirty-eight year-old Juan Carlos Ramirez has lived for his entire life at 123 Lexington Street, the upper of a two-unit building located yards away from the now-bustling and stylish Valencia Street corridor.  Juan’s stepmother Juanita, born in Puerto Rico and his father Pablo Ramirez, born in Peru, had settled at 123 Lexington in the 1950’s.  Juanita worked as a nutritionist at Seton Hospital and Pablo worked as a hotel manager. Juan grew-up sharing the apartment with Pablo and Juanita and his brother Pablo, Jr.

Juan recalls that all during the 1980’s Lexington Street was an undesirable location and landlords had difficulty finding reliable tenants. When the crack epidemic hit San Francisco, the Mission District was hit hard and crime rates soared.  Throughout, 123 Lexington remained the home for Juan and his family and the Mission was their community and they were model tenants who always timely paid their rent. The lower unit, 125 Lexington, was consistently rented to 6 or more persons even though it only has one bedroom. Neither landlord Jin Ping Mak nor her husband Yau Jin Mak ever resided at the Lexington premises for the 38 years Juan has been present.

In 2102 Juan met the woman that he would marry, Rebecca Suval. They fell in love instantly, became roommates and continued to enjoy the Lexington neighborhood. The landlord recognized Rebecca as the other tenant-in-possession. In May 2016, just after the first set of eviction papers were served, Rebecca and Juan were happy to learn that they were going to have a child, to be born on January 20, 2017. However, with the joy they felt, came great fear. The pending OMI eviction caused extreme stress and anxiety. The thought of losing their home just as they were  bringing a child into the world was excruciatingly stressful.

On October 7, 2016, after feeling ill, Rebecca suffered early rupture of the amniotic sac (breaking of her water) for which she was immediately hospitalized. Their child was then born extremely early on October 28, 2016, i.e., at 28 weeks with a dangerously small birth weight of  2 pounds and ten ounces.

From October 28, 2016 until January 4, 2017 the Suval-Ramirez baby was sustained by hospital incubator, connected to a C-path and feeding tube. After weeks of touch-and-go as to the vitality of their baby, on January 4, 2017 Rebeca and Juan were able to celebrate the bringing of their child home. This was certainly a monumental step as for many weeks Rebecca and Juan could not even hold their child due to his fragile state. Their baby is not 15 and ½ pounds.

Juan Carlos Ramirez and his wife Susan Suval are not about to give up their home. Bringing a child into the world makes their will that much stronger. In spite of their landlord’s multiple eviction attempts, Juan and Susan and their child Ryan are thriving in their home in the mission.

History Of Dangerous Conditions Leading to Fire

Although 123-125 Lexington is zoned as two-unit building. in the 2000’s landlord Jin Ping Mak began to rent-out the basement level to multiple persons as she had  divided it into several  cubicle-like rooms. There was no kitchen and bathrooms were makeshift. The landlord was very hushed about who was renting the basement; apparently she was renting unpermitted units. Juan was concerned about the coming and going of numerous unknown persons in the basement unit and felt that his own unit had become insecure as a result. The landlord also turned a blind eye to maintenance and repairs for many years.

Juan was particularly concerned about the electrical system, which was further encumbered when Jin Ping Mak began renting-out the basement level. Juan could not even operate a high-quality carpet cleaner as it would blow the electrical circuit. Juan complained to the landlord or her son whenever the electricity blew-out due to overload. The landlord ignored the repeated requests, yet she was sure to demand regular increases in the rent.

In December 2015 the basement unit went up in flames. Fire inspectors were called and arrived. There was serious smoke damage and debris that entered the entire building, including Rebecca and Juan’s unit. Every piece of furniture and clothing owned by Rebecca and Juan reeked of smoke. The landlord refused to remedy the damage. Rebecca and Juan had to finally clean all clothing and sterilize virtually every item in every cabinet in the apartment. The landlord would not pay this cost. The electricity remained completely out for days. Juan repeatedly asked that the owner remedy the fire damage and replace the carpet that was worn, old and fire-damaged, to no avail.

At this same time Rebecca Suval was suffering from a rare neuropathic condition that originates from a pinched nerve in the brain, which results in severe facial pain. Rebecca would soon have to have brain surgery.  It was a very stressful time. Because Rebecca was due to have brain surgery on December 12, 2015 and really needed a calm and cleanly home, Juan redoubled his efforts to get the landlord to address substandard conditions.

For three months after the devastating fire, the landlord ignored Juan and Rebecca’s requests to simply bring the premises up to pre-fire condition, bring the electrical system up to code and to replace the filthy 15 year-old carpet. After three months of requests, in March 2016 the only thing the landlord offered was a can of paint, and told Juan to paint-over the effects of the fire damage.

In fact, in response to Juan’s requests, the landlord’s son John Mak, accused Juan of calling the SF Building Inspectors about the condition of the premises. Almost immediately after the accusation and Juan’s requests to make the premise habitable, the landlord in April 2016 served Juan and Rebecca with an owner move-in eviction notice. Tenants believe that their landlord seeks eviction as retaliation.

Suing For Substandard Maintenance and Dangerous Conditions Leading to Fire

Often tenants are hesitant to assert their rights for fear of being evicted by a landlord. The landlord tenant relationship can be like an abusive relationship where the one holding power, reins without fear of legal consequences.  For a long time Ramirez and Suval endured substandard conditions, which led to a dangerous fire. They are now seeking legal redress, and have filed a lawsuit as against the landlord for her neglectful conduct resulting in the many substandard conditions in and about their home.  These tenants truly intend to stand and fight for their San Francisco dream.

Stephen P. Booth is an attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic who represents Rebecca Suval and Juan Carlos Ramirez.

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