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Major victory against fraudulent eviction begs $460K question: Why isn’t SF preventing this?

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Tasked with criminal convictions of scofflaw landlords, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon’s office hasn’t prosecuted a single landlord in a decade. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)
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http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/on-guard/

It should be the outrage of The City.

San Francisco landlords are evicting tenants fraudulently, and reports say these fake-out evictions may number in the hundreds. Landlords claim they will move in themselves or move in a relative, but in reality, the mothers, brothers or whomever never even pick out new curtains.

Instead, landlords throw the apartments back on the market and jack up the rent.

Sadly, once the tenant is gone, they’re gone. Out of sight, out of mind, and the scofflaw activity continues. It’s tough to track who lives in your old apartment, so tenants who fight and stay are as rare as San Francisco snow.

Nicole Delisi, then, is a blizzard.

The Oakland schoolteacher, who lives in the Outer Richmond, fought her landlord’s fraudulent owner-move-in and won. But if she could score so big, why isn’t The City doing more to stop the fraudsters?

All told, Delisi’s win brought her nearly half a million dollars, according to court documents. The jury awarded her $360,000, and with court fees the total adds up to nearly $460,000.

And a newer case just won by her attorney on March 10, also a fraudulent owner-move-in, brought in a $670,000 win.

That’s not chump change. Scofflaw landlords should watch out.

Mark Hooshmand, Delisi’s attorney, told On Guard the tale of the second win, as well. A 20-year tenant, now living with her husband there for 10 years, Delisi’s building was sold in 2007. The new landlord said he was going to move into her apartment.

“The client knew from Day 1 that it was bogus,” Hooshmand told me.

A unit upstairs from saw its lease continuously renewed. The law says if there’s a vacant unit available, you cannot evict someone for an owner move-in, Hooshmand said.

After the eviction, he said, “literally six days later, they rent out the place upstairs and advertised on Craigslist for a bunch of extra money.”

So a jury found in favor of his client, but Hooshmand is sounding an alarm.

An incendiary investigative report from NBC Bay Area showed one in four owner move-in evictions weren’t what they claimed to be — a startling number considering there have been as many as 1,500 owner move-in evictions in the last three years.

NBC reporters knocked on hundreds of doors and instead of finding landlords’ relatives, they found new tenants paying far more than those who were evicted.

Hooshmand drafted a letter this week demanding action from District Attorney George Gascon, who is tasked with criminal convictions of scofflaw landlords.

According to NBC Bay Area, the DA’s Office hasn’t prosecuted a single landlord in a decade.

“We are asking your help in enforcing the law meant to protect all San Francisco residents so that additional harm is prevented,” Hooshmand’s letter reads.

Hold the phone, though. Proving fraud is not so easy, according to DA spokesperson Max Szabo.

Various factors, both in court precedent and elsewhere, make it “nearly impossible” for the DA’s Office to try owner-move-in cases criminally, Szabo said. Hooshmand’s case, by contrast, was a civil case with a lesser burden of proof.

A criminal case must essentially prove the landlord’s intent to not move in when they evict a tenant. The attorneys would have to be telepaths. Short of recruiting Professor X, they’re stuck for now.

Thankfully, this may change. And that’s where you, the public, come in.

Some behind-the-scenes players told On Guard that supervisors, both progressive and moderate, are working on measures to curb fraudulent owner move-ins.

Supervisor Jane Kim called for a hearing on this very topic last November — in four weeks, it will finally be heard, her office said.

But the public will need to stir the pot: Email your supervisors, email the DA’s Office or show up to public meetings to show there’s political will to figure out a solution.

Something might finally be done to fend off these fake-out evictions, but it’ll be a tough road.

* * *

I can’t write enough times how glad I am that Chuck Nevius hung up his columnist hat from the San Francisco Chronicle. The sheer number of times he spread blatantly wrong facts — about politics, homelessness and more — boiled my blood for years.

For all those same years, I prayed to the ink-stained gods he would go back to sports writing. Lo and behold …

Nevius has indeed returned to the sports biz and will knock out a once-a-week sports column for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, he announced on his Twitter feed this month.

“Question: Is baseball still nine a side?” he tweeted.

#backtosports Just accepted offer to write once/week sports column for SR Press Democrat. Question: Is baseball still nine a side?

— C.W. Nevius (@cwnevius) March 10, 2017

Ah, if only he asked such basic questions when he was reporting on politics. It would have served him so well. Good luck, Chuck.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at Facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this column misinterpreted comments from attorney Mark Hooshmand. Hooshmand’s mention of a “bogus” owner move-in was in reference to a case other than that of the column’s focus, Nicole Delisi.

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