Naomi Cooper, resident of 1049 Market Street, speaks during the 1049 Market Street protest Tuesday, March 8, 2016 where 84 artist fight Ellis Act evictions. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Residents protest Ellis Act evictions of mid-Market building

A group of artists and musicians living in an 84-unit building on Market Street are going toe-to-toe with their landlord after being handed notices of what they say is the largest Ellis Act eviction in San Francisco history for their live-work units late last month.

The tenants gathered in front of their 1049 Market St. building on Tuesday with the support of local housing rights organizations, saying they refuse to leave without a fight. Some of the tenants said they have lived in the seven-floor building for more than a decade.

Tenants at 1049 Market St. were handed the eviction notices Feb. 23, according to Steve Collier, an attorney who has worked for the for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic for 28 years. The Ellis Act allows landlords to evict tenants if they decide to take the property off the rental market.

The eviction comes in the midst of a citywide housing crisis and after a three-year tug-of-war between the tenants and the landlord in what residents call an effort to convert the residential units into office spaces.

Legal counsel representing the building’s landlord, John Gall, however, maintained in a statement to the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday that the building has always been commercially zoned, making it “improper” for the tenants to continue living there.

“This is really a blow to The City’s efforts in maintaining rent-controlled housing,” Tommi Avicolli Mecca, an organizer with the Housing Rights Committee, said of the Ellis Act eviction notices. “We are looking at the heart of San Francisco and the heart of San Francisco is being pushed out. They have no place to go.”

The building’s neighborhood is sprinkled with the offices of several tech companies, including Twitter, Spotify and Zoosk, making the location a real estate hotspot in recent years, tenants said.

Naomi Cooper, a retired school teacher and writer who has lived in the building since 1998, said being evicted from her longtime home will leave her little options.

“It’s been hard for us for over two years now, to live under this cloud of uncertainty,” Cooper said. “We just really want to stay.”

The eviction battle began in 2013 when Gall, a former professional baseball player, attempted what has been considered The City’s largest mass-eviction in decades, according to Avicolli Mecca.

At the time, Gall had received a permit from The City, allowing him to demolish the walls between the live-work units, as reported by the San Francisco Examiner. The permit was later revoked in 2014 following pressure from elected officials, according to the Examiner, though the tenants continued to fight against eviction notices up until the landlord filed the Ellis Act eviction, according to Avicolli Mecca.

Another hurdle was that the units were zoned for commercial use but had been knowingly rented out to tenants who worked and lived in the space for decades, the Examiner reported.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who has worked with the tenants since the first eviction attempt in 2013, said she will fight the Ellis Act eviction notices as well.

“That is the type of greedy, speculative behavior that we do not encourage here in San Francisco,” Kim said. “John Gall is not the type of business owner or landlord that we want to support here in San Francisco.”

But Gall’s attorney stated, “These tenants have not paid rent for over two years, and the property’s owner has a pending lawsuit seeking significant damages from the tenants and The City.”

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