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Controversial tenants rights ordinance
moves to Board of Supervisors
with recommendation

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Aldrich M. Tan

April 27, 2006

The home of Carole Fanning, 47, is going to be converted into a condominium but she is not going to moving without a legal fight.

Fanning, a disabled copywriter, has been evicted from her apartment on 369 Church Street and has until May 15 to leave her two bedroom apartment. But she does not intend to share the fate of former tenant Lisa Holden, 33, who moved out of the apartment last December.

"My landlord only gave me half of what she was supposed to give me for moving out early," said Holden, a local immigration paralegal. "I'm now living in Oakland and I pay twice as much as I used to because I have to commute into the city daily."

A new ordinance sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin may protect future tenants, especially seniors and people with disabilities, from similar evictions. The Land Use and Economic Development Committee passed the ordinance at its Wednesday meeting.

"I get so many phone calls to my office from tenants who are being evicted," Peskin said. "I don't want to tell them that there is nothing that they can anymore."

Supervisor Aaron Peskin

The ordinance prohibits the Department of Public Works from authorizing the condominium conversion of buildings that have had more than two evictions on and after 1999 or evictions of seniors and disabled people.

Both Holden and Fanning are among over 650 local tenants who were evicted last year through the Ellis Act, a state law that gives landlords unconditional rights to evict all of their tenants to change the use of the building, said Ted Gulickson, manager of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

A growing number of local landlords use such evictions to convert their rental units into affordable condominiums, known as tenancy-in-common, said Randy Brasche, spokesperson of the San Francisco tenancy-in-common Coalition.

Through tenancy-in-common's, former renter families, ranging from two or more, live on the same property in separate housing units but share the mortgage, Brasche said. Owning their own property gives the homeowners equity so they can eventually be able to buy their own homes.

"It's the American dream for someone to be able to afford their own home," Brasche said. "These homeowners just want to be able to have a permanent investment in the city that they love."

Converting their properties into tenancy-in-common's is appealing because many local property owners themselves cannot afford the high costs of maintenance on their properties, landlord Gary Chew said. Chew owns five properties in the Sunset and Richmond districts and in Chinatown.

"Landlords can't afford to maintain the growing costs of housing with the low rent prices mandated by the rent board," Chew said. "It's so expensive to own property in San Francisco that they just give up."

Tenancy-in-common's benefit locals who are interested in finally being able to afford their own homes in an expensive city, said Ryan Chamberlain of SF SOS, a non-partisan, grassroots organization

Chamberlain said he is a tenant and shares a three-bedroom flat in Russian Hill with three roommates.

"As a renter, I constantly struggle over if I can afford to live here in ten years," Chamberlain said.

Not all tenants have the option of ever becoming homeowners, said Jerry Berbriar, 51, who is being evicted from his apartment at 943 Stanyan Street.

Berbriar said his only source of money is social security disability with the help of an AIDS rent subsidy that is only available in San Francisco.

"These people are not in the danger of being homeless and can eventually afford houses in any other city," Berbriar said. "All I'm trying to do is still have a roof over my head!"

The evictions are uprooting people who have invested their lives in San Francisco, senior Marti Sousanis said. Sousanis received her notcee in early January to leave her apartment of 19 years in the Sunset district.

"This is the economic cleansing of San Francisco," Sousanis said.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell said the ordinance protects the city's diversity.

"We need to work at having a diverse city or we're going to be diverse only in food," Maxwell said.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said he used to be a tenancy-in-common advocate.

"We know the folks who benefit from the TICs but what about the folks who hurt?" McGoldrick said. "Our job isn't to protect those who are feeling comfortable. We're here to protect those who aren't feeling comfortable."

Supervisor Geraldo Sandoval said he wants to advocate for homeownership, as a homeowner himself, but not at the expense of people who are disabled and poor.

"I think that if you want to buy a building, then you should offer the tenants a fair amount that gives them the ability to move somewhere else," Sandoval said. "This legislation will make sure that happens."

Peskin said the legislation is a work in progess and is open to amending the legislation that applys to condo conversions since 1999.

"I'm open to negotiating that part," Peskin said.

Opposers of the ordinance asked how much Peskin's own home cost. Peskin said he owns both a house costing $800,000 and a condominium.

"I'm a condo owner and I can still protect the rights of the disadvantaged," Peskin said.




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