By NOAH BUHAYAR

Myriam Zamora stood shaking her head last Wednesday afternoon on the steps of her clients’ studio apartment at 871 Capp Street. The building inspector was late and the keys she held in her hand were now useless.

“This is the fifth time,” the St. Peter’s Housing Committee caseworker said, showing how the lock to the apartment was jammed again—a key broken off in the handle. She called the police.

Drama is nothing new at 871 Capp Street. In October, Mission Loc@l reported on a months-old feud between Zamora’s client, Manuel Corado, and his landlady, Ingrid Sanchez. Now, more recent scuffles over payment, building inspections and restraining order violations have pushed the case even closer to a lawsuit.

The tenant said he and his common-law wife, Maria Alvarado, have every right to live in the $637.51-a-month rent-controlled studio apartment peacefully. The landlady said she wanted a problem-free tenant. Both sides, however, had already taken out restraining orders against one another and were gathering evidence to take one another to court.

In October, Corado alleged that the property owner and her workers were harassing him by jamming his lock, smearing blood and feces on his door, and refusing to claim his rent checks. It was a ploy, Corado said, to force him out of the  apartment where he and Alvarado had lived for 12 years.

“We’re not living de choto,” he said at the time. “We’re paying the rent, and she is violating our rights.”

Sanchez vigorously denied these allegations and countered with her own. She described Corado as a problem tenant, said he was uncooperative with her repairmen and alleged he was verbally abusive.

“I am afraid of this man. That’s why I’m never here alone,” she said on Wednesday afternoon outside the apartment as a police officer took his report about the lock.

Sanchez said Corado’s allegation that he was being forced out of his apartment because he paid only $637 a month was baseless. “It’s not because of his rent,” she said, adding that she and her partner, Suttinee Saguandeekul, knew how much rent could be earned from the building when they bought it in 2004. Sanchez said she wanted him out of the building because he created a lot of problems for her workers and for the other tenants.

Corado pays relatively little for his apartment because he has lived there for several years. City law prohibits landlords from increasing the rent on tenants more than a certain percentage every year. If a tenant leaves, however, landlords can adjust the price to reflect market values.

According to Sanchez, the current market rate for Corado’s apartment is about $900—roughly $260 more than he is paying. She said she has other units on the property that also rent for well below market rate and has never had a problem with those tenants.

But she added later that she and her partner are unable to cover their $7,500-a-month mortgage payments for the eight-unit property on rent alone. “We’re negative every month,” she said.

In October and November, Corado sent his rent to Sanchez’s post office box in Novato via certified mail. Both money orders went unclaimed and were mailed back by the post office. On November 17th, Sanchez posted a notice on Corado’s door that he had three days to pay rent for the two months, as well as a 10 percent late fee, or leave the apartment.

When pressed to explain why she refused rent checks that would help with a struggling investment, Sanchez said her policy was to accept rent sent only via regular mail. “I’m not going to receive any certified mail from Mr. Corado,” she said. “Nobody can force me to do it.”

Cynthia Muñoz-Ramos, one of Corado’s other caseworkers at St. Peter’s, said that denial of his payment is illegal. Given the history of the relationship, she added, certified-mail receipts are important documentation for Corado and Alvarado in their case against Sanchez. “If they send it regular mail, she can say, ‘You never paid me,’” said Muñoz-Ramos.

Sanchez recently accepted Corado and Alvarado’s October, November, and December rent—but only after more drama.

On November 19th, St. Peter’s staff helped Corado file a complaint with the city building inspector, mandating that Sanchez fix plumbing in the bathroom, clean up mold on the ceiling and remove an obstruction blocking the back door within 30 days.

Ten days later, Corado and Sanchez got into an altercation on the apartment steps. The landlady called the police and Corado was arrested for violating a restraining order.  He spent the weekend in county jail. But on Monday the charges were dropped, according to Karen Hull, his attorney. Police would not comment on the incident.

“I can’t stand these cowardly kind of bullies,” said Hull. “She hates these people with a passion that is beyond reason.”

Hull represented Corado, Alvarado and seven other tenants at the property in a 2005 wrongful eviction case against Sanchez and Saguandeekul. The suit was settled for an undisclosed sum. All the tenants who brought the case except for Corado and Alvarado have since moved out.

Court documents from that case identify 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.

With all that has happened in the last several months, Hull said she was going to pick the case back up. Her first order of business was to make sure her clients were safe. “I would hope to get some protective structure within a week,” she said.

With enough evidence, Corado and Alvarado could file a wrongful eviction lawsuit against Sanchez, explained Hull. Damages in those cases vary widely, but can be on the order of several thousand dollars.

For her part, Sanchez said she was considering filing a civil suit against Corado for damages to the property.

Meanwhile, St. Peter’s staff have encouraged Corado and Alvarado to start looking for another home.