Ellis Act Evictor Squares Off With DBI Chief Lee on Wednesday

by Randy Shaw on December 13, 2005

The appeal of DBI Director Amy Lee’s home renovation permits by notorious eviction attorney Andrew Zacks and his client, the mysterious “Citizens for the Equal Treatment in the Permit Process,” will be heard Wednesday at the Board of Appeals. Since filing the appeal Zacks has steadfastly refused to identify any members of the previously- unheard of group, leading many to conclude that the appeal simply sought to further harass Amy Lee. Documents obtained by Beyond Chron reveal that two of Zacks’ most prominent clients have recently submitted misleading if not fraudulent permit applications to the DBI, further confirming that harassment, rather than a desire for an honest permit process, drives this case.

This has not been the best of holiday seasons at DBI Director Amy Lee’s house. One day before internal renovations were set to begin to meet the needs of her growing family, the project was suspended as a result of a bizarre appeal by a secret organization represented by eviction attorney, Andrew Zacks.

Lee and her family of five had already moved much of their furniture into storage, ripped up carpets, and would all sleep in the home’s living room until the renovation was complete. But they have been forced to live in these tight quarters for a month while awaiting Wednesday’s hearing on the appeal.

There will be no Christmas tree at the Lee’s house this season, as there is no room. All of these hardships, as well as increased storage costs and attorneys’ fees, have been caused by an attorney who claims to care about homeowners’ rights. Thanks to Zacks, a precedent has been set for unidentified “clients” to inflict financial and emotional harm on innocent homeowners.

Zacks’ appeal of a permit normally obtained over the counter is highly unusual, if not unprecedented. Even more suspect is the attorney’s refusal to identity any of the persons who are his clients. This has led many to conclude that the appeal is funded by those seeking to pressure Lee to leave the DBI, where she was appointed Acting Director last spring following 2005’s most controversial local hearing.

Attorneys for Lee contend that in addition to seeking Lee’s departure, the appeal is designed to ensure that she is replaced with someone who will give special treatment to the appellant in this case and Zacks’ future clients.

Since the controversy over the appeal emerged, Zacks has insisted that his secret clients simply desire “equal treatment” in the permit process. But Zacks’ representation of serial permit process abusers WB Coyle and Gary Rossi (who control multiple partnerships in North Beach engaged in Ellis Act evictions), undermines such a claim.

On June 13, 2005, an LLC controlled by Coyle and Rossi was cited by the DBI for performing work at 426 Francisco Street that was outside the scope of their permit. Neither Zacks nor the owners challenged the legitimacy of the Notice of Violation issued.

On April 28, 2005, a partnership controlled by Coyle and Rossi applied to renovate 744 Union Street, another building they purchased and then quickly invoked the Ellis Act. The proposed scope of work included remodeling a kitchen and bath, repairing/replacing as much as 200 square feet of wood floors, replacing damaged subfloor, and refinishing floors in the entire apartment.

Zacks’ clients (who, he told Beyond Chron, he does not represent on permit issues), listed the estimated cost of the job as only $!5,000, a remarkably low price for such extensive remodeling. Since permit fees are linked to the proposed job cost, lowballing renovation expenses is a common but illegal practice.

In addition, the renovations at 744 Union commenced without notice to the tenants, jeopardizing the tenants health and safety by turning the still occupied units into a construction site. It is illegal to engage in work even authorized by permit if it is carried out in a manner that jeopardizes the health of occupants.

In response to these illegalities, DBI forced Zacks’ clients to stop this permit misuse. The Coyle and Rossi partnership then filed a revised permit application on November 23 (nine days after the appeal of Lee’s permit). Now the same proposed work is said to cost only $5000 (which means even lower permit fees!)

Both 426 Francisco Street and 744 Union represent the type of permit abuse that should concern Zacks’ client, the “Citizens for Equal Treatment in the Permit Process.” But this group with a secret membership has ignored these abuses, and has undermined its alleged agenda by hiring the same attorney who has spent months litigating on behalf of serial permit violators (the tenants’ appeal of North Beach Partners’ permit application for 744 Union will be heard on January 25, 2006).

Zack’s chief claim—that Lee is essentially trying to add two stories to her home without permit—is undermined by the fact that nothing in the building’s footprint or height will be expanded. But the goal of this appeal has never been to prevail—it has been to harass Lee into leaving DBI.

To date, no Supervisor has introduced legislation requiring that when a group files a challenge with the Board of Appeals, at least one member be identified. Enacting legislation in response to what could be a unique fact situation is not good policy, but in this case the city’s homeowners deserve this protection.

Lee’s contractor is prepared to commence work as soon as the Board of Appeals rejects the appeal. Unless Zacks’ and his secret clients have new tricks up their sleeves, Lee’s family should be enjoying the fruits of the remodel by Valentine’s Day.

Send feedback to rshaw@beyondchron.org

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