Some 50 people marched on Wednesday afternoon to protest the apparent eviction of some 16 tenants from their home at 3150-3154 26th St. in a case in which tenants say the property manager stole their rent instead of giving it to the landlord.
Around 20 people originally lived in the three units at the corner of 26th and Lucky as subtenants of property manager German Maldonado, the only tenant who has a rental agreement with landlord Thomas Aquilina. The subtenants paid their rent to Maldonado, who then failed to pay the landlord, according to the tenants. Many have cancelled checks to prove payment.
Regardless, tenants said, they are being evicted for failure to pay. Maldonado, on the other hand, will be allowed to stay in his unit after reaching a settlement with the landlord, according to the tenants and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. Maldonado and Aquilina could not be reached for comment.
Not once has there been direct contact between the landlord and the tenants. Instead, tenants found out from Douglaz Erazo, a property manager for Aquilina’s two units at 3156 and 3160 26th Street, that they would have until September 2 to move out. Others found out from Maldonado, but not in person.
“I got an eviction notice through a text message,” said Esther Brecha, another tenant in the building. “I’ve never actually seen anything in writing, so I don’t know, I don’t know anything. All I know is we’re being evicted.”
“Nothing has been served to us,” said Tom Anderson, a tenant who spoke at the rally. “If there was a notice put on your door, he [Maldonado] took it off before we could see it.”
Maria Machetes, another tenant, said that she saw eviction notices posted on the premise in early May because she works in the morning, but was assured by Maldonado that it would all be handled. “He told us that everything would be okay, that he was taking care of it,” she said.
The tenants believe that Aquilina and Maldonado colluded to remove them, saying that a settlement between the two allows Maldonado to remain. Tenants claim Erazo, Aquilina’s other property manager, confirmed to them that Maldonado would be allowed to stay in his unit while the others would have to go. Four of the original 20 tenants have already left, possibly for fear of deportation, according to one tenant who asked to remain anonymous. Maldonado, he said, is known for having called ICE on a previous tenant who was then deported.
Tenants said there have been other longstanding problems.
“There are cockroaches, mice, rats. Nothing’s been repaired,” said the anonymous tenant, a charge supported by the press release from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. “They’ve even rented out the back egress, preventing us from using the fire escape.”
But for all these serious (and possibly criminal) charges, the evictees have “had a hard time” finding legal representation, according to Anderson. They have taken their case to Causa Justa/Just Cause, the Housing Rights Clinic, and the Eviction Defense Collaborative, among others. “We need somebody to help us legally,” he added.
In the meantime, direct action will have to do. The protest today began at noon outside the tenants’ building, hearing testimonies from tenants, organizers, and some politicians.
“We’re talking about real scumbags,” said Supervisor John Avalos who was at the protest. “I can’t even imagine that there is anything legal about this.”
“It is shameful what Maldonado is doing,” said Edwin Lindo, an intern for Supervisor David Campos. “Someone found a loophole, and now people are facing eviction. We need to come out here and we need to fight.”
When the protesters returned to the 26th Street building, Anderson read out a letter sent by the tenants to landlord Aquilina, asking him to get in contact with them regarding the missing (for them, stolen) rent, in hopes of setting the record straight.
“We want our money back, but more importantly we want our dignity back and we want our homes back,” said Machetes.