Eviction Set to Proceed of 100-Year-Old African American Woman in San Francisco
Peter Owens feels hurt. That’s what he said in the courtroom to Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a tenant rights defender. Tommi spent months fighting for Iris Canada, a 100 y.o. African-American lady, who faces eviction from her flat she moved into over 60 years ago. Mr. Owens is her landlord. He sent a flurry of text messages to Mrs. Canada’s grandniece, Iris Merriouns, imploring her to stop protecting her great-aunt — it harms him and his family.
After the court ruled in favor of the landlord, Iris Canada has been living a thrilling life. Every Tuesday she gets an extension obtained by her lawyer so she can remain in her apartment one more week. The situation has lasted for months. Tomorrow, on February 7th, the San Francisco Supreme Court might decide the finale chord in this story.
In 2015, Iris Canada and Peter Owens opened a new chapter in their long-term relations. Iris was asked to sign an application for the condo conversion of her 6-unit building, owned by Peter Owens, his wife Carolyn Radish, and his brother Stephen Owens. She refused to sign the application because it contained pre-completed fields, filled out by Mr. Owens, which would have deprived her of certain rights. Since then, she has been harassed for the past two years — the case is still being processed by the City Attorney. And yet, she doesn’t give up.
The landlords cured their disappointment by hiring a formidable law firm, “Zacks, Freedman & Patterson,” notorious for their frequent defense of controversial eviction cases. The juridical process resulted in a decision, issued by San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Robertson II, to evict Mrs. Canada and dispossess her from her status as a “life estate holder” of her apartment unit.
The trial proved to be very dramatic for both: Iris must leave her home — and her entire life. After receiving a Sheriff’s eviction notice, she was hospitalized with cardiac arrest and is now in recovery. Peter Owens, after unprecedented media coverage, had to resign from his post as Director of the Office of Community and Economic Development in Burlington, VT. And yet, he doesn’t give up.
It is dramatic for society. Mrs. Canada’s case garnered immense media coverage across the country and beyond. Iris’ fight has been supported by numerous well-known activists and tenants rights organizations: The Housing Rights Committee, Casa Justa, The Homeless Advocacy Project, many others. Local politicians have come up with bold statements in her defense. Altogether, it did delay her eviction but it didn’t change the outcome. All the mechanisms in civil society — all the efforts of community to protect its most vulnerable members — have seemed to fail. We still don’t have clarity on how to resist a climate in which such evictions are now rampant. But, I believe, we shouldn’t give up.
With this case we start a project dedicated to the outrageous problems we suffer from in San Francisco. Housing Crisis, law abuse in eviction cases, destruction of LGBTQ and other communities’ living environments, displacement of people of color, et al. We will investigate, organize community dialogue, and host political debates in an effort to find a way out together.
Iris Canada’s story is symbolic for San Francisco, past and present. The housing crisis makes all of us vulnerable — makes all of us a potential Job — or a potential Iris Canada. In the Biblical story of Job, this man lost everything he had under odd yet unassuming circumstances — God and the Devil bet on him. In Iris’ story, the underlying circumstances are less evident.
The Devil is in the detail — so let’s plunge into them.
Iris and Iris
Iris Merriouns is a person whom Peter Owens blames in all his adversities. Without her vigorous support Mr. Owens would already have persuaded Mrs. Canada to sign whatever he wanted her to sign, or get rid of her quietly. Dennis Zaragoza is Iris Canada’s attorney who keeps relentless battle for her. All the information here is officially presented to the court in the declarations of Iris Canada, Iris Merriouns, and Dennis Zaragoza’s memorandum.
So, first we talked with Iris Merriouns, for over 3 hours. She is a grandniece — but she is actually a granddaughter, named after her step-grandmother. Iris Canada raised her mom from a small girl, in this very building. Mrs. Canada moved into this house in the late 1940s, together with her husband, who was a merchant marine. She was a nurse. They migrated from Texas looking for a better life. At the time, many black families were streaming into North California not just for jobs, but because they had been treated badly in the South. “Even if my aunt had had blue eyes and light skin, treatment of African Americans in the South was horrible”, Ms. Merriouns says.
In close vicinity to their home, Mrs. Canada and her husband were surrounded by a large bloc of extended family. They all lived within short walking distance. The Fillmore neighborhood — which Iris Merriouns refuses to call by its new name “Hayes Valley” — became a harbor for such black families searching for a decent life. Iris Merriouns grew up here. Today, her great-aunt remains the only black tenant in her building. Virtually all of her family has long since moved to Oakland.
In the great displacement of black community form the Fillmore, one of the most tragic chapters in San Francisco history, there were some rare exceptions. While black people were banned from buying property here, Iris’ original African-American landlord, James Stevenson, managed to hold on to his property. He owned five buildings in the old neighborhood. “He always told my aunt she should never be worried about a place to live.” When James was sick, Iris took care of him. When he died, the property went to his heirs.
In 2002 the building was sold off. Peter Owens bought it. Peter Owens is not from San Francisco. He lives in New Hampshire, but he and his partners, the “Owens group” owns several buildings here. Before long, Peter evicted all existing tenants under Ellis Act. As an elderly person Iris had one year to move out. However, she didn’t want to leave her home. She sought assistance from the Tenderloin housing clinic, where Stephen Collier agreed to represent her interests. Mr. Collier has gained a reputation as a tenacious attorney specializing in Ellis Act evictions. They reached a settlement with the Owens group and Iris became a life estate holder. Her life estate cost $250,000. She paid a deposit of $17,000 and then $700 every month.
Talking to the media, Peter Owens swears he willingly granted the life estate to Iris. This makes some people feel that Peter’s generosity has been rewarded with Iris Canada’s ingratitude.
“Do you also remember the first time we meet in your living room in the summer of 2002? You were in tears at the prospect being evicted. I re-assured you we’d figure out how you could stay in your home. I made good on that promise (though some suggested I was foolish to do so). All I am asking is for you to show me the same respect in return,” Peter wrote to Iris Canada, demanding she sign the application.
But the truth is, had Mrs. Canada been evicted under the Ellis Act, it would have put an end to Mr. Owen’s condo conversion plans. Following the law that had been in effect in San Francisco between January 1, 2000 and April 30, 2005, no fault eviction of a protected tenant would nullify chances to win the condo lottery. In practice, conversion lawyers say, these chances reached 2%. (http://www.andysirkin.com/HTMLArticle.cfm?Article=158) .
Brewing Iris Canada’s eviction for the Ellis Act, Peter put the entire enterprise at risk fooling those who bought the other five units as “tenants-in-common” (TIC). TIC is a step toward condo conversion. Buyers who are not big real estate investors, but who put all their money into one flat, do so hoping to convert it into a condominium. The condo conversion increases property value over time, and makes TIC members complete owners. Ironically, Iris Canada’s resistance left the door open to this opportunity for Mr. Owens and Iris’ new neighbors. However, the neighbors didn’t appreciate it. Their frustration continued to mount for years when the conversion was delayed. And, instead of asking Peter questions, they turned the tension against Mrs. Canada.
Let’s go back to the Iris Merriouns story. “Hell is other people,” Jean-Paul Sartre as if he had divined the situation on Page Street.
Iris had been living her life in the firm believe she was safe. She didn’t pay much attention to certain nuisances. Peter Owens, when he purchased the building, renovated all the units except for hers. Her apartment decayed, some repairs were done by relatives. Later, Peter will press charges against Iris that she neglected the property. Later, Iris Canada and Iris Merriouns will discover in the life estate agreement that Iris, who turned 88 y.o. when she signed it, was responsible for financing repairs. And Stephen Collier will email Peter Owens questioning him whether the original settlement documents contained this point. As well as point that she cannot have a co-occupant (including a caregiver) in her 2 bedroom apartment. Some pages seemed to be inserted after-the-fact. That is, faked.
But then only one thing mattered to Iris: that she could remain home full of memories and sweet trinkets. Tons of porcelain figures, dollies, and family photos. She didn’t notice how dark clouds had gathered. The patience of neighbors was running out. Peter Owens loaned his new tenants money to buy their percentage in the TIC. Banks don’t readily loan money to TIC ventures. So, Peter loaned money and they pay him back every month with interest. He offered this to everyone except for Iris, even though she wanted to buy her unit and use the same privileges as everybody else. But in Peter’s mind, she was not eligible to become a full-fledged participant in the enterprise. It’s easy to assume why. She was old, so he could get her unit back after she died. “When he sold other apartments, she was here. But he told her, that she was already an owner. She didn’t realize that she was buying a right to live here”, Ms. Merriouns said.
In 2012, Iris Canada got sick. After spending time in the hospital, she recovered with relatives. In her absence the apartment was invaded by neighbors. One of them, named Mishel, had a key. Neither Mrs. Canada nor family members were aware of how someone else had a key. There was no necessity in it. A family member lived across the street and was always there in case of emergency. However, not seeing Iris for a while and presuming the worst, they just entered her flat.
The family wanted a student nurse, a relative, to stay with Iris. Peter Owens, despite claiming to care so much about Mrs. Canada, emailed Ms. Merriouns saying that her aunt was not allowed to have caregivers at her home. At the time, Iris was suffering the loss of her step-daughter Helen, Iris Merriouns’ mother, who had recently died from cancer. Family tried to hide this from Iris, but she guessed when Helen did not visit her for a long time. The family finally revealed the truth, Iris collapsed and was readmitted to the hospital.
Somehow, though, she recovered enough to impress Peter Owens, who visited California in 2014. He wanted to see Iris. They met in Starbucks, Iris, Iris, and Peter — who was apparently shocked seeing Iris Canada in a suit, pearls, and a nice haircut. They talked about nothing — Ms. Merriouns left with the impression that Mr. Owens was testing her aunt’s mental clarity.
Right after this meeting, Mr. Owens submitted an application for a condo conversion. This application containes a field in which tenants declare whether or not they want to buy their unit. Mrs. Canada received the documents with field per-completed by Mr. Owens, who had marked “no” at this question. “Why did he put “no?” — Iris Merriouns puzzled. “Oh, that’s because she was already an owner”. She took these documents and went to a legal firm. “This is fraudulent,” they said. Iris Canada refused to sign this. And then the harassment began.
In her absence, Peter entered her home. After his visit, a bag with Iris’ documents went away, including papers of the life estate acquisition. Mr. Owens admitted this at the court and justified his actions by claiming he “felt that the bag of documents constituted a fire hazard.” So, he threw them away. Furthermore, there is an independent witness statement about a camera that was placed to capture images from Mrs. Canada’s front door.
Then, there came the voices. Howling voices that called Iris’ name after midnight, and mysterious strangers emerging on her porch. Once, some neighbors began banging on Iris’ exterior wall and front door, droning “Iris… Iris… Iris…” For 20 minutes. Two relatives were with Iris when it happened. Soon after, she had a stroke.
Were it a level playing field for everybody, including Iris, this TIC on Page street would already have been converted into their cherished condo. This simple idea seemed to never light up the neighbors. When Iris Merriouns asked her aunt what kind of relations she had with these people, she replied: “They don’t talk to me.” Iris Canada asked the Owens Group to follow the condo conversion law. In October 2015, they said they didn’t want her to purchase. Right after this conversation, one female neighbor met Iris and screamed into her face: “You cannot buy, you cannot buy!”.
Me (with round eyes): “Why? Why would they rather engage in abuse of an elder than accept equal rights and make way for the conversion?”
Iris Merriouns: “This is America. They don’t want us. For them, it’s like if she dies, then property can go to her family, and they don’t want a black family here. For them, she is not even a person. Even though she was here long before them, they feel entitled to push her out.”
I guess, it’s called racism. If you have another explanation — tell me. Why people hinder one person to enjoy the same privileges they do. Why, instead of pursuing their interest, they pursue Iris Canada. Why they’re so confident she cannot implement her rights. Peter doesn’t care. For him, it seems, it is about Iris age. He scarcely expected her to live so long. For them it’s different. I am not sure if they tell themselves “I don’t want to have a black family here”. But they irrationally turn their tension and rage against Iris and her relatives instead of making their landlord responsible. I guess, when people feel stressed out and disappointed, they resort to their racist prejudices rather than thinking logically.
When the trick with condo application failed, the Owens Group filed a lawsuit against Iris Canada. Case NO. CGC-14–543437. They sought to declare a forfeiture of Mrs. Canada’s rights as a life estate holder. They alleged that she had not permanently resided at her home; she had violated the contract restriction on having co-occupants; she had committed waste which materially reduced the market value of the unit. All the neighbors signed a petition that they didn’t see Iris for a long time. “Black people are invisible,” Iris Merriouns said to me during the interview.
The judge A. James Robertson II somehow decided against Iris Canada. He declined all the motions of Iris’ defender, Dennis Zaragoza. When the eviction notice decorated Mrs. Canada’s door, Peter texted Iris Merriouns: “Iris, you always have power to change this outcome and give peace your great-aunt. The facts are quite simple: the court found Iris Canada failed to permanently reside and only occupied, and revoked her rights. For over 2 years you had the power to restore Iris’ rights by advising her to sign the application that has no impact on her whatsoever. But you have refused.”
“Failed to permanently reside.” Iris Merriouns said that in personal conversation Mr.Owens admitted that Iris Canada did reside at her apartment. But he never recognized this at the court.
Iris Merriouns knew where her aunt was for a long time. First, she got into the hospital. Then she stayed with her family in Oakland for a couple weeks. Helen, Iris Merriouns’ mom, then found out she had cancer. “My mother had cancer, and we had to decide something. We decided: my aunt is old, my mother is dying, let them go on a trip. And they went. They went to Texas, they went to Florida, they went to Los Angeles, on the road — they didn’t fly. We gave them a lot of money, because it was the last go-around. They traveled with a physical therapist and a therapist, and my fiancée did some driving and my uncle did some too. They drove a big trailer. They were in Texas for 2 months, then my uncle took them to Florida. He is an architect and a preacher. They stayed there, they just enjoyed their life. My mom’s condition was getting down, so she came back to California.” Then Iris and Iris traveled to Los Angeles.
When the women came back, they discovered that Peter had changed the lock. At that time, the apartment was invaded. They were afraid of the worst. While Peter and neighbors were obsessing about Iris’ death, she and her dying step-daughter were celebrating their lives. This is the thing. Everybody, not only Peter, would feel hurt in such a situation.
Tommi & The Activists’ Fight for Iris
“How do you even bear this?” — I asked Tommi Avicolli Mecca when the story smashed me. He deals with cases like this on a daily basis, for good many years. He works at the Housing Rights Committee. He is a legendary LGBTQ activist, Housing Rights activist, Human Rights activist, a musician and a poet. “I have my music,” — he replied. He also has a heightened sense of justice, and an overwhelming sense of humanity. He has rescued many from eviction, homelessness, and, probably, death.
Housing is a human right — this is his firm belief. Everybody should have a right to have a home, just like as it’s a right to breath the air. For Tommi making money on housing is immoral. He would like to see housing to be taken off the market. It’s for life, not for profit.
Iris Merriouns walked into Tommi’s office in early March, 2016 holding a sheriff’s notice. 5 days away from eviction. “I talked to myself: “Oh my God! How are they going to put on the street a 99 y.o. woman now?!” Tommi acted immediately. He directed Iris Merriouns to the Eviction Defense and their lawyers helped to get a stay, to get a delay. Tommi with his colleagues organized a press-conference, so the story went viral. He called the Burlington City Council where Peter Owens worked: “Are you aware of what this guy is doing?” They were like: “No, really? Wow! He is evicting a 99 y.o. person?!” City Council members were preparing a resolution to ask him to resign, but he resigned before they did.
“Then I talked to the Homeless Advocacy project asking to make a motion to relieve Iris from forfeiture. That actually means in eviction case the lawyer says: if this person is evicted, there is no place to go and/or this person will probably die. It doesn’t work in every case, but here it did. Because it was so much publicity. The motion was introduced to the court and the judge granted it. But the judge also allowed the other side to file for legal fees. Which was absurd.” The judge claimed that there was the law that allowed that. Dennis says that it is nonsense. Iris was given 30 days to pay $ 164,000. Mark Chernev, Owens’ lawyer, pressured an eviction order and the judge signed it. “Dennis obtains delay of eviction every week. I don’t know how long he can do this. We kept actions, protests, press-conferences. We know the judge is listening. I think he cares about publicity. He doesn’t want his name connected to evicting her.”
I asked Tommi what we can do else in this case. In the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club we resolved to write a letter to the Board of Supervisors. But they have no power over the court. This Judge was appointed, not elected. The governor might have influence. The question remains how the society can prevent injustice, and we will figure it out.
For Tommi, this is the longest campaign in which he has been involved. Usually, such campaigns bring fruits. Landlords cut the evictions. “It is a pressure, it is a public shame. I don’t know how Peter bears it. Every piece of media was in favor of Iris.”
“I talked to Peter once, at the court room before the hearings. He came up to me with explanations how TIC owners were putting pressure on him. He said “You have to understand the pressure I’m getting”. I said “What about pressure on Iris”. He said “This is very painful for me and my family”. I said, “Think, how it’s painful for this 99 y.o.” He wanted me to understand his situation. And I said him many times “Peter, are you really going to evict a 99 y.o. woman. Just say, yes or no. At the end of the day, after all the legal stuff over, are you going to evict a 99 y.o. woman.” He never answered it. He said “Oh, it is a pressure on me, I love this woman. Her family just wants to buy unit so they can own it.” And I kept saying to him “You are going to evict a 100 y.o. woman. What you are saying, I don’t care about it. I don’t care if the family wants to buy it. They deserve it. An African-American family. The whole African-American families were displaced from the neighborhood. Who does more deserve it than an African-American family.” He didn’t answer me when I said that. Redevelopment is a tragedy in this country.”
Peter Owens: “It’s a case of apples and oranges”
I asked for commentaries Mark Chernev, Peter Owen’s lawyer. We met at the court when I attended Iris’ hearings. I asked him how did he feel pressuring the eviction of a 100 y.o. He said “There is law.”
I love law, this is a beautiful idea. To guarantee justice, equal rights for everybody. If it doesn’t work I suspect the law abuse.
Mark said “Why does she want to buy it, she is 100 y.o.?”. “Because it’s her rights?”, I answered. He said “This apartment is not for selling, she cannot push it.” He advised to investigate this case, and I’ve been doing this. At the moment I don’t understand how the law which guarantees occupants a right to buy their unit when it’s converting into condo has been dismissed in this case.
Mark is in high rush preparing to the hearings on Tuesday, so he redirected me to Peter Owens. Peter sent me the emails he’d written to Iris Canada and Iris Merriouns, to help me better understand his perspective.
From the letters I’ve learnt that Mr. Owens believes that he loves and cares about Iris Canada. To summarize his perspective on the situation it appears as follows: He does blame Iris Merriouns in pursuing her own interest. “..this case not about Iris Canada, its about her grand-niece’s campaign to bully us out of our property.” “The agreement granted Iris Canada (and only Iris Canada) the right to live in her apartment for $700/mo for as long as she was able to live there permanently and on her own.”
He believes, that Iris Canada doesn’t have the right to purchase her unit and interprets this situation as “a case of apples and oranges,” meaning she have different rights from everybody else in the building. He claims that Iris did fail to reside permanently in her unit, so by the contract they would already evict her, but they made a proposal to forgive it in exchange of her sign at the application for the condo conversion. “It would have allowed her to keep her unoccupied home intact for the rest of her life. But under pressure from Ms. Merriouns, she has refused.”
Here are my questions and his responses:
1. Me: The life estate agreement reached in 2005 served the interest of both sides: (a) Mrs. Canada couldn’t remain a tenant in a building taken off the rental market; no fault eviction of a protected tenant diminished down to 2% your chances of winning the condo conversion lottery. Thus, there is no reason to pretend it was simply your generosity, am I correct? (b) Why did she need an attorney, and why did it take 2 years to reach the agreement if you ever intended to grant it?
Peter Owens: (a) Here you are dead wrong. We granted Iris the life estate for only one reason: is was the right thing to do. Period. At the time, we had every right to evict her with impunity; i.e. without any impact on condo conversion. The rules penalizing condo conversions for building with evictions were not enacted until several years later. (A full legal history of the statute is detailed in Mark Chernev’s 11–1–17 MPA — attached).
(b) She needed an attorney to protect her rights. Every tenant, especially elderly ones, needs an attorney because sometime people try to take advantage of them. I don’t know why it took 2 years. The parties agreed to the life estate in concept in early 2004. I was was told it was the first agreement of its kind to be developed in SF. Maybe that was part of the delay. But, I agree, it seemed to take forever (18 more months!!) to get it finalized .
2. The original copy has gone — presumably with a plastic bag thrown away by you for fire safety reasons. The copy you sent instead, contained unsigned pages and conditions that surprised Mrs. Canada’s attorney. Even omitting the suggestion that some pages were inserted later, the conditions raise questions: (a) If you really cared about Iris, why would you impose on an 88 y.o. a maintenance and repair requirement? (b) How do you feel about requiring a senior person to be the sole occupant when she clearly needs a caregiver?
Peter Owens: The story that the original was thrown away is absurd. All of the original documents were sent to the SF Recorders office and recorded in 2005. The Superior Court certified the Life Estate presented in court as accurate and true. Furthermore, the core term of the Life Estate has never been in dispute — she is obliged to permanently reside as the sole and only occupant.
(a) As a deeded owner, Iris was responsible for maintenance inside the unit. That’s the way it works when you are an owner. Remember, our agreement allowed her to stay for LESS than she had been paying in rent. The life estate payment did not come close to covering our carrying cost of the unit. We paid for all common area and exterior maintenance costs which are the vast majority of the required upkeep. In spite of this, we always understood she may not be able to fully take care of the place and have always offered to help her with any maintenance she needed.
(b) We also have always offered to make provisions for a caregiver whenever needed — that was never a problem. As I have stated many times, the occupancy requirement was to protect us from someone other that Iris Canada claiming rights to the unit — and that is exactly what has happened.
3. Are you aware of Sec.1388 of SF Subdivision Code saying that any tenant must be offered the right to purchase her unit? “Tenant” means “occupant”, there is no apples and oranges here. Iris Canada solicited to implement this right. Do you have any explanations for your refusal besides your concern that she cannot afford it?
Peter Owens: Again you are mistaken. There is no first right of purchase. Again, the legal facts are outlined in Mark Chernev’s 11–1–17 MPA. Our position was affirmed as correct by the Superior Court on several occasions. A three judge panel of the California Court of Appeals also unanimously agreed there was no merit to the defendants arguments and rejected all motions for further relief. Both judgements are attached.
Are you seriously suggesting you understand the law better than the judges?
Our intent was always to help Ms Canada, not her family. Over those two year period while we worked out the agreement, “the family” was nowhere to be found. They were not involved. Don’t you find it curious that they only surface years later when they think there is money to be made?
4. After refusal to sign the application Iris Canada was subjected to harassment, like invasion of her apartment, voices that called her name after midnight, a camera placed over her door. What do you know about it?
Peter Owens: These are ‘red herring’ allegations. There were several security cameras installed around the property because of security incidents in the building — they had nothing to do with the condo application. It is my understanding that the one the front hall was volutarily moved at Ms Merriouns’ request. There was also a scheduled inspection of the unit by the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection several years ago — before we even knew Iris Canada’s signature was required. At that point we were not even certain Ms Canada was still alive as she had disappeared and left no contact information. As for your other allegations, given their source and the fact that neither the courts nor the SF Police dept have given them any weight, I am extremely skeptical.
5. From your letters you seem to really appreciate family values. Do you accept that Iris Canada can have the same feelings about her family? If so, why do you believe it is Iris Merriouns’ interest to reserve her great-aunt’s right to become a complete owner of her flat. Don’t you think that Iris Canada cares about her descendants, as any other human being? It means love. Don’t you think that it is dehumanizing to assume that the only thing she needs is to live alone, deprived from her rights, even in an affordable housing? Can you define the age when a human person loses interests people are usually expected to have?
Peter Owens: David: We all care about our families. But it is manifestly ludicrous to take the position that Iris Canada should be able to give her family what is not hers to give — i.e. our property. Rights were not taken away from her, they were given to her — rights she previously did not have. The granted ownership rights were EXPLICITLY restricted to benefit Iris Canada alone. The rights were EXPLICITLY limited to her natural life. That is why it is called a “Life Estate.” Her family did not acquire any rights. The Life Estate is crystal clear on this point.
Over the course of the agreement’s life, we have subsidized Iris Canada residing there to the tune of 100’s of thousands of dollars in carrying costs and forfeited rent. $700 /month doesn’t come close to covering the costs of the unit (taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, debt service, etc). But we did it without complaint because that’s what we signed up to do. We kept our end of the agreement.
In what moral universal is it fair to ask us to forfeit our property at a huge loss to some stranger just because she thinks she deserves it? That is arrogance beyond belief. What kind of person would demand that? How is that remotely fair or just?
The plain truth is — no matter how much her family might wish otherwise — Iris Canada did not buy and does not own the right to pass the apartment on to her family. That is simply fact.
With respect to family values, I will say that I would never, never, NEVER, parade around my elderly relatives and subject them to completely unnecessary distress in order to advance my own self-serving needs. Again, what kind of person would do that?
In fairness, I would finally note that Iris Canada is lucky to have a family who cares about her. Unlike many elders, she has family who took her in when she could no longer care for herself. She is not alone, she is surrounded by people who love her. That is a wonderful thing.
You’ve Heard Both Sides. Draw Your Own Conclusion.
In terms of her contract from Peter Owens’ words it sounds like a trap. She would violate it in any event — whether she stays with relatives or they stay with her. She’s been punished out of fear that they would claim the property. She needs her family to be around. This is a part of normal life.
The question with right to be offered an opportunity to buy her unit is guaranteed by SF Subdivision Code. Lawyers who are not involved in this story confirm that. Why the judge decided it’s not her right, I don’t know. We should address this question to a panel discussion with independent lawyers, we hope to have.
The proposal to restore Iris’ life estate in exchange of signed the application where somebody else says “no” to the question if she wants to buy it sounds very slippery. And even besides this purchase issues a person just have a right to refuse. For his or her own reason. Nobody can be forced, except for cases when you will be punished for staying with relatives of having them around.
And, if Peter Owens cares about Iris Canada, why does he evict her? He has issues with Iris Merriouns, why just not let Iris Canada to live her life? A normal life, with family relations and everything else people usually enjoy. Condo conversion can wait. TIC is always a venture with unpredictable result. As well as all the property business. If this business cannot survive without control over somebody’s life and death, I am gonna agree with Tommi, it must not exist. If we have such a muddled law that allows to manipulate it, it’s time to change the law.
The Community Says: No, You Cannot Evict Iris Canada
The community feels hurt. Lawyers I talked to, politicians, and activists are outraged by the situation and by many of the aspects that enabled it.
Dean Preston, a State Executive Director of “Tenants Together”, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights, a former candidate for Supervisor in District 5 where Iris resides comments:
“This whole nightmare for Iris began over a decade ago because the state’s Ellis Act allows speculators to do horrible evictions for profit. The Ellis Act needs to be repealed. Without the Ellis Act, there would never have been an eviction in the first place, and Iris would be peacefully residing in her home without these threats of eviction.”
The community is ready to stand for Iris. The San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition, Housing Rights Committee, and others call people to come out for a biggest party ever, “Eviction Blockade for Mrs. Iris Canada — Likely Feb. 15th!” (Details and RSVP here). The eviction might be scheduled on this day, and if so, we will hold the fort from 6 am to 6 pm. 670 Page street.
“This eviction crosses a line. We will put our bodies on the line to stand between the sheriff and Iris as part of an eviction blockade if it comes to that. Eviction in this case is a death sentence, and nobody should be okay with that.”, Dean Preston said.
I will be there. Also, I will proceed, with colleagues, this project, “Dialogue For Life”. Investigation and dialogue. Between lawyers who can explain why it’s so easy to ignore somebody’s right or dismiss the law. Politicians, on how we can defeat the Ellis Act that ruins lives in this City. Tenants and homeowners. Homeowners often take side of big developers, but in this story we see how ownership is fragile if it crosses big real estate business interest. You can follow, support or participate.
In the Biblical story, Job won by compelling God to talk to him, not to the Devil. In our story we can win, too — if only we talk to each other.
Published with editing assistance by Ryan MacCarrigan.
2/6/2017: A shorter, edited version of this piece was originally published at 48Hills.org.