The founder of the foundation behind the Mission District’s David Ireland House is fighting to evict a family of immigrants from a building she owns as she works to establish a temporary lodging facility for artists.
Shortly before the death of visual and conceptual artist David Ireland in 2009, Carlie Wilmans, founder and chair of the 500 Capp Street Foundation, purchased his well known Mission District home-turned-museum and launched a years-long effort to conserve it. The David Ireland House at 500 Capp St. opened to the public in early 2016.
That same year, Wilmans also purchased an adjacent, two-unit residential home at 3463-3465 20th St. Wilmans is now mired in a legal battle with that property’s remaining tenants after invoking the Ellis Act to evict them. In court documents, Wilmans has stated that she purchased the building with the intent to vacate it.
Wilmans did not respond to the San Francisco Examiner’s requests for comment by press time. However Scott Freedman, an attorney with Zacks, Freedman and Patterson PC, the real estate law firm representing her, indicated that she plans to “donate the [3463-3465 20th St. building’s] use, free of charge, for temporary lodging by artists, curators, performers.”
Wilmans is also a trustee of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the California College of the Arts and serves as director of grants of the Phyllis Wattis Foundation. She is the granddaughter of Wattis, a Bay Area arts philanthropist, who died in 2002.
In her deposition, Wilmans indicated that at least one of the rooms in the residential building could be used as office space for the 500 Capp Street Foundation.
After purchasing the residential building under her Limited Liability Company, SMZ Landholdings LLC, Wilmans proceeded to evict the tenants of the bottom unit for breaching lease agreements after they allegedly allowed several people to sleep in the garage, alleged Freedman.
Wilmans then attempted to negotiate a buyout with the tenants remaining in the top unit — a family of six that includes the original tenant, an immigrant from China in her 80s who has lived at the address since 1995; her child and the child’s spouse; her two adult grandchildren and one of their spouses.
“It’s not her first choice to have to terminate anyone’s tenancy,” said Freedman. “We tried for quite some time to interact with these tenants about an agreement, a buyout. It’s their right to say ‘no’… that was essentially the response. I don’t think they actually responded.”
The Ellis Act is a state law that grants landlords wishing to “go out of business” with the unconditional right to evict tenants. Under this law, a landlord must remove all of the units in the building from the rental market, and the property is subject to rental restriction for a 10-year period following the Ellis Act eviction.
Because Wilmans plans to donate the building to the 500 Capp Street Foundation, she is acting lawfully under the Ellis Act, argued Freedman.
“We have questions about that,” said Steven Collier, an attorney with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic who is representing the tenants. “We also think it does not comply with the planning code because it’s [proposing] an institutional use and office use of a residential dwelling.”
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Planning Department confirmed that Wilmans currently is “using the property as what it was last authorized for,” which is a two-family dwelling, and in doing so is not in violation of planning policies. It is unclear whether the foundation would need to seek a change of use to operate out of the building.
Wilmans attempted to buy the tenants out in March 2017, then filed for the eviction in September 2017. However because the original tenant is a senior and claimed disabilities, she was granted a one-year extension in accordance with rental law. The tenants have been fighting off the eviction since, said Collier.
SMZ Holdings filed an unlawful detainer lawsuit against the tenants in October 2018, claiming the tenants “failed to vacate the premises by the end of the withdrawal period of the premises from the rental market,” according to court documents. A trial date has not been set.
“This is a big deal — they are evicting tenants so that artists can temporarily reside there, like we don’t have enough Airbnbs and hotels for people,” said Collier.