The Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to uphold a Planning Commission decision to block the landlords of the Western Addition apartment building that housed centenarian Iris Canada from turning the site into condominiums.
With a 10-1 vote, a majority of the board echoed a unanimous vote by the Planning Commission in March that rejected the application for a condo conversion permit at 668-678 Page St. on the grounds that the six-unit property had been subject to the eviction of a senior and that the landlords failed to indicate this on their application.
San Francisco code prohibits condo conversions at properties where a senior has been evicted.
“The sheriff went into her home and executed an eviction notice, removing all her possessions from her home,” said Board President London Breed. “You can call it eviction. You can call it displacement. She was removed from her home, and there is no other way I see this.”
Canada died in March 2017, a month after her landlords changed the locks to the apartment she had called home for more than half of her life. The landlords claimed she had not resided at 670 Page St. since 2012.
On Tuesday, the board was tasked with weighing elements of what constitutes an eviction and opined on the definitions of residency and displacement.
Jeff Pierce, a current tenant and part owner of the building, said the planning commissioners had based their decision on “misinformation.” Pierce said he shared a wall with Canada and heard “no action” in her apartment for more than three years, alleging the senior had permanently moved to the East Bay to be in her family’s care. Advocates who organized around keeping Canada in her apartment have said repeatedly she maintained her residency there.
Supervisor Jane Kim inquired about the legal definition of a residency and whether this was defined by Planning Code.
City planner David Weissglass said planning code does not give a “specific definition of eviction or displacement,” allowing the commissioners to come to their own conclusions on “whether the property owner did indeed evict or displace” Canada.
“They made the decision that the changing the locks constituted an eviction,” Weissglass said.
Pierce also said Canada was never evicted because she was a part-owner and no longer a renter after entering into a life estate agreement in 2005. He maintained the termination of her life estate agreement did not legally constitute an eviction.
“Had she truly been a tenant under spirit of law, her signature on the conversion would not be required,” Pierce said.
Supervisor Katy Tang, the only member of the board to vote in favor of the appeal, pointed out that Canada was paying off a mortgage rather than rent. “There has been doubt between whether she was evicted as a tenant versus a part owner,” she said.
In 2002, Peter Owens and two other owners purchased the six-unit building and converted the apartments to tenancy-in-common units. They also moved to evict all tenants except for Canada using the Ellis Act.
Pierce said Owens acted in “good faith” by negotiating a lifelong tenancy with Canada through the life estate agreement, granting her part ownership of her unit along with the right to reject a condo-conversion of the property.
But Deepa Varma, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, called this assertion “untrue.”
“They brought an Ellis Act eviction against entire building. Simply because [Canada] was elderly, they had to give her a life estate,” Varma said. “When she began to live for another 10 years, they got impatient. They served her an eviction notice.”
In 2014, the building owners alleged Canada had been living with relatives and let her apartment fall into a state of disrepair. They moved to terminate her life estate agreement and were supported by a court judgment in their favor. Owens eventually succeeded in displacing Canada after the Sheriff’s Department changed her locks in February 2017.
More than two dozen advocates and supporters of Canada urged the supervisors to deny the appeal, which they said was filed out of greed.
“On one hand, we have an elderly woman [put out] on the street, dying … on the other hand, we have property owners who own pretty pricey property and are whining about the fact that they can’t make more,” said Fran Taylor of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “They are calling themselves the victims.”
The supervisors’ decision prohibits the property owners from reapplying for condo conversion permit application for 18 months.