It seems nobody is safe from legal attacks in San Francisco's ongoing housing crisis — not at City Hall, and not politicians.
Tenants involved in a lengthy eviction fight were served with lawsuits by their landlord at a City Hall hearing Monday. The landlord is also putting legal pressure on an elected official to drop legislation — the subject of the hearing — that's designed to keep the tenants in their homes.
Several dozen residents of rent-controlled loft apartment units at 1049 and 1067 Market St. have been fighting eviction since fall 2013 with the help of Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes the apartments.
The Mid-Market buildings, not far from City Hall and Twitter's Market Street headquarters, are zoned commercial but were rented out — in violation of city housing code — to tenants since at least the 1990s. Most tenants pay under $900 for single rooms with shared bathrooms, modest accommodations that are well below current San Francisco market rates.
Demand for commercial and residential space is at an all-time high thanks to The City's ongoing technology-fueled economic boom. That has made below-market-rate housing an endangered species.
Legislation authored by Kim last year put a temporary hold on an eviction push from the landlord, 1049 Market Street LLC, and its business agent, San Mateo County resident John Gall.
Gall and his business associates, who bought the building in 2012, served the tenants with eviction notices in late 2013 after receiving a permit from The City to demolish the walls between the units and return the building to commercial use, a move needed to comply with a 2007 notice of violation from The City.
However, that demolition permit was revoked last year under pressure from elected officials. And now Kim is pushing new temporary zoning controls that would require a landlord to obtain Planning Department approval before commercial buildings converted to residences could be converted back to commercial use. The law only applies to certain parts of Mid-Market and South of Market.
That would kibosh the landlord's plans to rent the building out as offices. And that also shows a “bias” on Kim's part toward the tenants and against the landlord, who threatened to sue The City if Kim's new interim controls are approved by the Board of Supervisors, according to a letter from landlord attorney Ryan J. Patterson.
Kim “should recuse herself” from discussions of the legislation, which also violate the owners' “due process,” Patterson told The San Francisco Examiner.
Kim's law “targets a particular property owner to prevent the abatement of hazardous conditions because that property owner needs to evict tenants in order to restore safety” in the building, Patterson said. “That's simply irrational.”
Twenty-one residents of 1049 Market St., many of whom showed up Monday to testify in favor of Kim's legislation at City Hall, were also served with fresh lawsuits seeking back rent and control of the units they are occupying.
That's a never-before-seen move meant to intimidate tenants and elected officials, housing activists said.
“It's outrageous,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, an organizer with the Housing Rights Committee who has been working with the tenants since fall 2013. “I've never heard of this before. It's intimidation tactics, completely.”
Kim was also subpoenaed to testify in a separate but related lawsuit over the future of 1049 Market St., she told The San Francisco Examiner. That case is scheduled to go before a jury this summer.
It's uncommon but not unheard of for a sitting elected official to be subpoenaed. Then-Mayor Gavin Newsom was subpoenaed during the court proceedings over California's ban on same-sex marriage, according to the City Attorney's Office. A spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said city lawyers would seek to “quash” Kim's subpoena.
Kim said Monday that she would not recuse herself from discussions on the legislation and would pursue it despite the threats of legal action.
“Preserving housing is absolutely the priority of this city,” she said.