Hours after the Sheriff’s department removed them from their unit in the historic Redlick Building Tuesday, the former tenants gathered at the corner of 17th and Mission to protest their eviction from the large, second-floor space they had occupied for two years.
Chanting “End Evictions Now” and grabbing attention with a huge banner, “Rick Holman: Stop the Evictions” the former tenants from a collectively run events space called In the Works asked passersby to sign a pledge to stop patronizing businesses that occupy the properties of evicted tenants. It is unclear who will occupy their former space.
The rally marked the latest development in an ongoing struggle that has been brewing since April when developer Rick Holman purchased the building. The demonstration consisted of a group of about a dozen tenants. Activists from the group, No Eviction Summer, joined them.
The members of In the Works and Eviction Free Summer warned that Holman wants to remove many more tenants, but in an email message to Mission Local Holman denied such intentions.
At least four existing tenants have recently renewed expired leases. Thrift Town, which occupies the first floor of the building, is one such tenant. Store supervisor Athena Craig said that the new ownership isn’t a problem for most of the tenants in the building, which is known as the site of an historical sign, 17 Reasons Why!, first put up by a furniture store in 1935. The iconic sign was replaced by a billboard in 2002.
“We’re happy with the new ownership,” Craig said. Though she declined to comment on any rent increases or changes to Thrift Town’s lease, she explained that “there’s been improvements in the building like new elevators… Nobody has complained to me about anything.”
Holman added, “We are working hard to improve a building that has been neglected for years,” and cited recent fixes to the fire sprinkler system, windows and lighting fixtures. “We want to make the Redlick Building a safe and comfortable place for our existing tenants to operate their non-profits, arts and businesses.”
The protesting tenants filed a stay of the eviction arguing hardship because one its members is HIV positive and at risk of losing his insurance, but on Tuesday a Superior Court Judge of the Housing Court denied their request. Later in the afternoon several deputies from the sheriff’s department, accompanied by Holman, entered the building and forced the remaining residents in the unit to leave.
“They gave us one minute to grab what we could,” said Chema Henández Gil, a former tenant and member of In the Works. “Deputies followed us all the way out the building.”
The tenants were evicted based on the grounds that they were violating the terms of their lease by subleasing the property and illegally living in a commercial space.
Henández Gil said that the group had a written agreement with the previous landlord about the live-work usage of the space and the multiple residents it housed.
“The previous landlord knew that there were multiple people using the unit, and knew there was residential use,” Hernádez Gil said. Holman said in an e-mail there were no existing agreements with the previous landlord. “The prior owner has told us that they never agreed to any live-work situation nor saw the buildout,” he said.
Holman also said that there were safety violations in the unit such as non-permitted construction of illegal units within the existing space.
“This is a commercial office building, and not a residential one. San Francisco building, safety and fire codes don’t permit residency in commercial buildings,” Holman wrote.
Ted Hexler, another former tenant who organized Food Not Bombs events in the space, said that while only three names were on the lease and 18 people lived in the space, no formal subleasing was occurring.
“We were acting as a functioning collective,” Hexler said. “None of us had any more say or legal rights. We were roommates with an equal say.”
According to the evicted tenants, relationships with their new landlord were combative from the very beginning.
“He bought the building on April 5, we met him on April 8, by the end of the week were given three day’s notice to leave,” Hernández Gil said of the collective’s relationship with Holman. “We were not given any opportunity to make a case for ourselves.”
“When he came, he came in badgering us, hardly allowing us to say anything,” Hexler said.
“After we filed the eviction, we attempted to work with the occupants for weeks to create a mutually agreeable parting of ways, but our various offers, including payment, were declined,” Holman said. “When the negotiations broke down, we then moved forward aggressively to evict them.”
For Christopher Cook, an organizer with Eviction Free Summer, protesting the eviction of the members of In the Works is about reminding landlords across the city that there are “real consequences when a community is disrupted.”
Update: A previous version of this article stated that the Rent Board denied the tenant’s stay of eviction. This was incorrect and has been corrected.