Neighbor Deborah Follingstadt is a tenant at 355 Bocana. This month, she says, she was given notice that her landlord plans to raise the monthly rent from $2145 to $8900a month— a jaw-dropping 315% increase. Posting about it on Facebook, Neighbor Deborah says:
I guess I should say 1st – I need a place to live if anyone knows of anything please let me know, even if it is a temporary roommate situation or temporary sublet.
I am not sure if I can stay in the Bay Area for the “long haul”, but in the short term I have a job that I won’t abandon and a community I love. I will give it my best shot but it looks kinda bleak from where I am standing currently.
A lot of you know about this and that for the last two weeks I have been trying to find anything that can make this illegal. Because it looks so absurd when you read it seems that it must be illegal.
However, this is loophole that landlords have found in San Francisco to evict their tenants without actually having to pay relocation, do an “owner move in” or Ellis act. All of which carries a penalty to them and is costly.
So here is the short version of the story, 1st they transferred the title of the house to one of the 6 siblings, stripped the apartment downstairs (the one that Wayne lived in for close to 25 years before they bullied him out) took out the bathroom, and kitchen, put down some crappy carpet and now call it a “storage” space. By doing this it changed the title of the building to a “single family dwelling” which is not protected by rent control and raised my rent to $8900 a month with a $12,500 damage deposit a month. Obviously above market rate and obviously more than anyone would pay.
The few of us who still remain in San Francisco have no choice but to live in sub-par conditions like mold, windows that don’t shut, rodents and countless other issues because there is no other choice, because the rents are so high you can’t move so you don’t. And you know that one day the ax will fall and you will be kicked out so it is not surprising when this happens, but this is just gross and greedy and wrong.
So here it is this is page 5 of the 23 page document that I was served on Monday March 2 (feel free to share and no the typos don’t matter)
Here is the scan of the letter Neighbor Deb claims to have received, outlining the terms of the rent increase proposed by property owner [and Bernal resident] Nadia Lama:
Owner Nadia Lama is member of the Lama family, which has been a presence in Bernal Heights for decades. (CLARIFICATION: Bernalwood’s understanding, not yet fully confirmed, is that 355 Bocana is owned by Nadia Lama alone, and not the entire Lama family. A recent ownership transfer indicates that Nadia Lama acquired the property from a family trust.)
Bernalwood reached out to Nadia Lama and her lawyer over over the weekend to verify the content of the letter and provide an opportunity to respond. We also reached out to Neighbor Deb to do the same. Thus far, Bernalwood has not received a response from any of the parties involved.
UPDATES: Lots happening with this story as it sweeps through the local mediasphere. Much of this is technical, most of it is confusing, and some of it seems somewhat contradictory. Plus, math is hard. Let’s begin:
>> Jeremy Pollock, an aide to D11 Supervisor John Avalos, reached out to Bernalwood to say this:
I’m a legislative aide for Supervisor John Avalos. I just wanted to add my two cents on the 355 Bocana case: it seems pretty clear to me that if the landlord did remove the downstairs apartment, they didn’t get a permit for it, which makes it an illegal merger. There’s no record of any merger permits in the Planning’s system. We’ve asked Planning Department staff to look into this.
>>But Planning approval may not have been required for the single-family conversion, according to some terrific CurbedSF reporting. Curbed was able to reach both Neighbor Deb and Neighbor Nadia Lama’s lawyer to confirm the basic facts presented by Bernalwood above. Long story short: Through a complex series of moves, it appears the property owner effectively reclassified 355 Bocana in a way that made the gobsmacking rent increase legal:
For most of her 11-year tenancy, Follingstad, 46, was protected from large rent hikes under the Rent Ordinance of 1979, because she was living in a multi-unit building (single-family homes and condos are treated differently under the Rent Ordinance). But by 2014, a tenant who had been living in the downstairs apartment moved out, after which, recalls Follingstad, the Lama family ultimately removed the stove, sink, and toilet from the vacant ground-floor unit. “They put down some crappy carpet and now call it a ‘storage’ space,” she wrote in her Facebook post. That change turned her building into a single-family dwelling and effectively dissolved the protection against large rent hikes, or what is known as rent-ceiling-limitation protection.
Normally when landlords want to take a unit out of service, they need to go through discretionary review with the Planning Department, Tobener explains. But because the downstairs unit was not on the books—city documents reflect just one dwelling unit at the address—the landlord needed only building permits to do the work, no blessing from Planning required.
>> Legal notices suggest Nadia Lama became the sole owner of the property at 355 Bocana in December 2014, after ownership was transferred to her from a family trust. (H/T: Neighbor Arno)
>> Nadia Lama also lives in Bernal Heights, according to rather cranky commenter GoldenGateShark. Bernalwood has not been able to verify this independently. Nevertheless, Nadia Lama shall hereafter be Neighbor Nadia Lama.
>> Fallout from the incident took the form of a sign taped to the door of the Lama family’s former store on the corner of Bocana and Cortland this afternoon. Neighbor Jim shared a photo:
>> Further muddying the waters, it would appear that Neighbor Deb was sub-renting the apartment at 355 Bocana via Airbnb. It is unknown if the terms of her lease would have allowed this:
The description of the space posted on Airbnb reads as follows:
I am being kicked out of my home of 11 years. Come celebrate my final months hosting wonderful travelers from all around the world, sharing interesting places to see, eat and enjoy in this beautiful city I have called home for 26 years. I have truly enjoyed my hosting experience and made many friends. My greedy new landlord wants market value for my home, and is forcing me to leave with some very shocking and unsavory tactics. But, I guess that’s life in the San Francisco BOOM town. Sadly, this not only means I loose my home but also loose my city, because I can no longer afford to rent here as an acupuncturist.
My rent controlled apartment has allowed me to have a guest bedroom for my friends and family to stay with me, have a wonderful acupuncture clinic and spa, host travelers who wanted a real San Francisco experience, and also have a place for my patient’s families to stay when their loved ones were in crisis. It has been a wonderful journey. Help make the end of this era a special and memorable one!
>> It’s an Official Media Frenzy! Cue the TV reporters:
UPDATE 18 March, 2015: via the SF Chronicle, Denise Ledbetter, the lawyer representing property owner Nadia Lama, has released a statement on the matter:
The rent increase that has generated this controversy is actually an offer by the owner to rent a substantially larger home than was originally rented. In addition to the upper level (in which tenant currently resides), Ms. Follingstad will have access to at least 60% more space which can be used by the tenant to offset the rent increase through her existing Air BnB business. As interested parties are now aware, there are many sides to a story. Rent Control Ordinances create unreasonable expectations upon which tenants rely. In this case, rent control simply does not apply to this tenancy.
When a small property owner finally has an opportunity to increase the rent – via State law – the City gives almost no choice to the owner but to take the opportunity to increase the rent. If owners were allowed modest increases over time, we would not see this kind of dramatic rent increase required.
San Francisco’s promotion of Airbnb-type hotel use further reduces available housing to middle income residents. A comprehensive housing policy is required for San Francisco County residents – landlords and tenants. Commercial profit making use of a tenants rent regulated rental unit should be disallowed.
San Francisco County unfairly burdens small property owners with a societal problem that should be shared by all residents – not just those whose owners’ whose properties were built prior to June 13, 1979. Small property owners are not being subsidized by the government for what is truly a problem for all of society. An economically sound housing policy – fair to all – is required to avoid further displacement of our middle income residents.
PHOTO: 355 Bocana on March 15, 2015, by Telstar Logistics