By NOAH BUHAYAR
On April 25, 2004, Ingrid Sanchez sent a letter introducing herself to the tenants at 871 Capp Street, the apartment building her partner Suttinee Saguandeekul had purchased a few days before and entrusted her to manage.
“Remember that your apartment is your home. Take care of it. We want you to enjoy your home. That is why you should let me know what you need. We will give you the peace, privacy and respect that you deserve as our tenant,” read the last paragraph.
For Manuel Corado, those words are now a sick joke, a parody of the relationship he should have with his landlord but doesn’t. The 55-year-old janitor alleges Sanchez and her employees are harassing him and his common-law wife, Maria Alvarado, by jamming their locks, smearing feces on their door and threatening their safety. The building manager is trying, he said, to force the couple out of the $637-a-month rent-controlled studio apartment where they have lived for the last 12 years.
Recounting the events of the past few weeks, Corado, on the verge of tears, complained about his health. Neither he nor his wife have gotten a decent night’s sleep in weeks, he said.
“We’re not living de choto,” said Corado. “We’re paying the rent, and she is violating our rights. We’re human beings.”
Sanchez denied Corado’s allegations, said he failed to pay the rent in October and accused him of being uncooperative with repairmen. The tenant said those accusations are false.
Tenant advocates said Corado’s story is an extreme example of what happens when a neighborhood gentrifies and landlords have a financial incentive to push out longtime residents.
A comparable apartment in the adjacent building, which is owned and managed by the same two-person team, rents for $965 a month. Corado pays relatively little because city ordinances allow landlords to raise tenants’ rents only a certain percentage every year. When a longtime renter moves out, monthly fees can be adjusted upward to reflect market conditions.
Cinthya Muñoz-Ramos, one of Corado’s case managers at St. Peter’s Housing Committee, said that extreme intimidation was not the modus operandi of most landlords, but harassment is not uncommon. She estimated that St. Peter’s handles 10 to 15 such cases a month around San Francisco. Sixty percent of these are in the Mission.
Muñoz-Ramos said some landlords are chronic offenders, and counted Sanchez among them. “We just don’t know how she can get away with so many things,” said the case manager, who along with two co-workers has been spending several hours on the Corado case each week.
The couple said they never had a good relationship with Sanchez, but the situation turned violent in July when Sanchez allegedly tried to run her car into Alvarado, who was standing in front of the garage. In the police report, obtained through St. Peter’s staff, Sanchez said of Corado and Alvarado: “If they don’t leave this place, they will leave as cadavers!”
That was only the beginning, the couple alleges. On September 9th, Corado was cuffed and detained by the police after Sanchez called police and accused him of cutting her hand, according to Muñoz-Ramos. Police released Corado after 15 minutes of questioning and told Sanchez to go to the hospital, but no charges were filed, according to Muñoz-Ramos.
Four days later, on September 13th, Corado and his wife said, they returned from their jobs as janitors at San Francisco International Airport to find feces smeared on the door. On September 16th, Corado took out a restraining order against Sanchez. The next day, there was blood on the door, sketching out the letter “M.” He called the police.
“We feel scared because we don’t know what we’re going to find when we get back from work,” he said.
On September 18th, Sanchez and John Harvey Butler, a contractor who works on the premises sometimes, took out restraining orders against Corado. In it, they allege that the tenant harasses them and doesn’t allow them to do their work. In a telephone interview, Sanchez said that Corado had threatened her verbally on several occasions.
“Anytime I’m there, I’m assaulted,” she said.
Saguandeekul, the building owner, alleged that she had spent about $80,000 fixing up Corado’s apartment since she took over, replacing the toilet (twice), kitchen appliances, and installing a fan in the bathroom to keep mold from growing there. She said Corado was often hostile to contractors she tried to send in to make repairs, and accused him of breaking things and then calling the city building inspector.
The inside of the apartment hardly showed signs of a complete home makeover. Corado said he had patched up a large hole in the front room wall himself. Waterproofing around the bathroom tub was peeling back, and the fixtures showed signs of wear.
On September 22nd, 29th, and Ocober 1st, the couple returned home to find their lock jammed. Were it not for the help of a locksmith friend, Corado said, he and his wife would have been left out on the street. They now sleep with an alarm on the door. He keeps the three broken door handles in a plastic bag.
Sanchez said she hadn’t received Corado’s October rent. Corado, however, has a certified mail receipt showing that he sent a money order on September 27th to Sanchez’s P.O. Box.
“Even if I get it, we’re not going to deposit it,” said Sanchez. “We’re going to court.”
In 2005, St. Peter’s aided other tenants who lived in the four units at 871 Capp in bringing a civil suit against Saguandeekul and Sanchez for wrongful eviction. The Corados and their neighbors, who were not facing displacement at the time, joined the suit alleging other Rent Code violations.
The opening complaints in that case identified Sanchez as an “ex felon with convictions for discharging a firearm into a residence, carrying a concealed weapon, flight from a police officer, leaving the scene of an accident, and driving under the influence.” This could not be confirmed independently, and Sanchez could not be reached for comment.
The case was settled out of court and dismissed in November 2006 for an undisclosed sum, but not before the tenants in a $1,200-a-month apartment left of their own accord. Those units now rent for $1,700, said Muñoz-Ramos from St. Peter’s.
But Saguandeekul said the unit rents for $1,200, adding that it went for around $900 a month when the plaintiffs in the suit left. When pressed to explain why the rent had gone down, she said that she uses an Internet tool to get the market rate for a unit.
The current tenant was unavailable for comment.
Corado and his wife are now the only tenants at 871 Capp who have remained since Sanchez and Saguandeekul took over. He said they decided to stay in their unit because the judge assured them that they had the right to continue renting and expect that the unit would be habitable. It is unclear how much money they received in the settlement.
J. Scott Weaver, the attorney who represented the tenants at 871 Capp in the 2005 contingency case, said Corado and his wife probably stayed because they’re part of a community in the Mission, and it’s unlikely that they could find such inexpensive rent elsewhere in the neighborhood.
“The thing about displacement in this community is that you don’t move up, you move out,” he added.
After the last few weeks, however, Corado and his wife were reconsidering their decision.