Mid-Market Landlord Files Mass Eviction Lawsuits Against Tenants

by Randy Shaw on March 24, 2014

Despite lacking legal grounds to evict, a controversial Mid-Market landlord has resumed plans to displace 42 tenants from their homes.

On February 19, 2014, a press release was issued, “1049 Market Street Tenants Win a Reprieve in Their Mass Eviction.” But a process server was at the building until 11:30 pm last Friday night knocking on doors and serving unlawful detainer actions against any tenant they could find.

According to Steve Collier, an attorney for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic who along with Matt McFarland will be representing many if not all of the 42 tenants, the eviction is based on the original 60-day notice for “removal from housing use.” The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) suspended the permit to implement this removal, and when the owners dropped their appeal of the suspension on February 19, it left them without “all of the necessary permits” that such an eviction requires.

That’s why the landlords’ sudden decision to resume evictions was unexpected. They will have to convince a court that they do not need permits to convert the tenants’ live/work apartments into offices, even though DBI insists that they do.

Further, the Planning Department has ruled that conversion to offices at 1049 Market would require going through the process for office development required by Prop M. So even if the landlords found a way to evict all of the tenants, the city Planning Commission could reject the office conversion.

And considering how Mayor Lee and D6 Supervisor Kim have publicly opposed the 1049 evictions, the owners chances of having the Planning Commission ratify their displacement of over thirty tenants on a key stretch of Mid-Market is highly unlikely.

A Critical Struggle

On November 12, 2013, 1049 Market tenants rallied in front of their building urging their landlords to withdraw the eviction notices that now underlie the current unlawful detainer actions. Representatives from the city’s tenant groups attended the rally, and a representative of Supervisor Kim’s office told the group that stopping their eviction was a top city priority.

As I wrote on January 7, 2014, Mid-Market has many housing projects planned but none are affordable. This makes it critical to preserve existing rent controlled housing at 1049 Market. It also helps explain why Mayor Lee focused on stopping these evictions last fall. 1049 Market owners’ ability to get a permit to convert housing to offices sparked the mayor’s issuance of an Executive Directive last December to prevent such permits from being obtained in the future.

Some may ask: why is the landlord pursuing the evictions given the legal obstacles put before them by DBI, Planning, and the city’s Rent Ordinance? The answer is that many tenants vacate their homes to avoid the stress caused by lengthy eviction battles.

In fact, some tenants who lived at 1049 Market Street one year ago left not long after the issuance of the November 2013 eviction notices. It’s not a question of tenants not realizing their legal defenses; rather, people have jobs, relationships and personal issues that become intermixed with the fear of losing their home and for some the stress simply becomes too much.

That’s what the 1049 landlords are counting on. If they get even ten tenants to move out before dropping the evictions, they will more than cover their litigation costs by raising rents on the newly vacated units to market levels.

Supporters of the tenants can reduce potential displacement by standing by them in this time of crisis. We saw how a massive outpouring helped the Lee family deal with their eviction, and the same support is needed at 1049 Market.

Unlike other high profile evictions in the city, 1049 Market does not involve the Ellis Act. That’s because there are live-work tenants the landlords are not evicting. And as noted above, the building cannot be converted to offices without meeting all of the requirements for new office developments under Prop M; and chances for the Planning Commission to approve an office conversion at 1049 if tenants are displaced are between zero and nil.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. Attorneys employed by THC will be representing some if not all of the tenants at 1049 Market.

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