Old eviction battle revived as building owners seek condo conversion

Low-income and elderly tenants fought eviction from North Beach property more than a decade ago

A tenancy-in-common building in North Beach that was the subject of a lengthy legal fight over the eviction of low-income, elderly residents and people with disabilities more than ten years ago is now seeking condo conversion approval before the Planning Commission Thursday.

The owners of 424-434 Francisco St. are seeking to turn the joint ownership into six individual condominiums, making the property significantly more attractive to buyers.

However, tenant advocates argue the conversion should not be allowed to go forward because the building has an ugly history of evictions.

Tenants — all low-income and mostly elderly and people with disabilities — were served with Ellis Act eviction in 2004.

In a legal fight over the evictions, a San Francisco Superior Court judge initially ruled against the firm North Beach Partners LLC for violating a law on divided properties. But the First District Court of Appeals overturned the ruling in 2007, the Chronicle previously reported, while stating that the owners agreed to convert to condos as soon as possible.

City law places some restrictions on condo conversions in buildings where evictions have occurred.

“We have a condo conversion ordinance that prohibits conversion to condominiums where the [project sponsor’s] intent is to evict in order to create a vacancy that will result in a conversion,” said Steve Collier, staff attorney with Tenderloin Housing Clinic who represented the evicted tenants. “That’s what happened here.”

But in this case planning staff recommended that the Planning Commission approve the conversion, finding no wrongdoing. A legal representative of the owners and project sponsor did not respond to a request for comment.

Tenants ultimately vacated their homes after the legal fight and two died in the six months after the eviction, according to Senior and Disability Action organizer Theresa Flandrich.

The Francisco Street units were later sold into a TIC structure in 2012. Four years later, a report filed with the Rent Board found that one tenant violated the lease by renting to two unnamed people and multiple short-term lease offenses, according to the Planning Department. Only elderly residents are allowed to reoccupy units that were evicted through the Ellis Act.

Four of the six units are now occupied by owners, one is vacant, and one is rented to a family member for free, according to the Planning Department.

Converting from a TIC to condos makes the property significantly more valuable, because owners won’t be bound to one another under the same mortgage as is the case with TICs.

“The problem of converting units to TICs and TICs to condos is it’s basically increasing the price of housing,” said Scott Weaver, a tenant lawyer with the San Francisco Tenants Union. “[It] displaces poor people and often people of color because of the economic system that we live in. Every time we lose affordable housing units, we’re never going to get it back.”

The Planning Commission will weigh the conversion at its regular meeting on Thursday.

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