Advocates for the tenants who were displaced by a fire at Mission and 22nd streets last year held a press conference Friday to affirm that tenants do in fact have the right to return.

“The tenants in this building have not lost their rent control rights. These tenants maintain their right to return,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee. “I am feeling confident that this building will never lose rent control. And the community is going to make sure that it never loses rent control.”

The city has ordered that the building be torn down to street level, sparing the basement, but the Department of Building Inspection said that although the word “demolish” appears several times in in the order, it actually will require the owner to get an “alteration” permit for the demolition.   

Advocates said that technicality – an alteration permit versus a demolition permit –  means the original building will still exist and therefore it will remain under rent control and local laws governing the right to return.

Advocates for the business tenants would also like to see an agreement that allows business tenants to return as well.

“This building is an ecosystem…so many of the people that live in the building actually worked in it as well,” said Gabriel Medina of the Mission Economic Development Agency, who called for assistance for the businesses to be able to return as well.

Medina also affirmed the tenants’ continued right to return.

“We saw permits without any notification to the residents to the businesses to the neighborhood that this building was going to be potentially demolished,” Medina said. “And we had to make sure and we’re happy to make sure that they have 100 percent right of return.”

But Medina also pointed out that it can take years for a damaged building to be repaired. Tenants who have been relocated to Treasure Island or Parkmerced or other temporary housing have one additional year to stay in those locations – making it imperative for action to be taken quickly on the building.

“If this goes on the way it’s been going in this case, it could be two three four five years,” Medina said. “And we all know, it’s hard for people to try to hang on to a home that they deserve and they have a right to come back to.”

Supervisor David Campos said that his office would try to find new housing for the tenants once their tenure in their temporary apartments runs out.

An attorney representing the owner of the building, Hawk Ling Lou, did not immediately return a call for comment as to Lou’s intentions for the property.

Advocates are now demanding that the city take decisive action on the building. They called for the city to take over the building under eminent domain and build affordable housing in its place.

Luis Granados, executive director of the Mission Economic Development Agency, said the nonprofit would still like to buy the site from Lou and build affordable housing there while still allowing the tenants to return at their previous rent.

“This landlord is a bad actor,” said Supervisor David Campos. “I think the city has to explore every single option with the possibility of actually taking this building over.”

“This is, for us, an icon  building,” said Roberto Hernandez, an organizer with Our Mission No Eviction.

Hernandez also called for the District Attorney to file criminal charges against Lou. The District Attorney’s office said Tuesday that no case was ever presented to the office for a charging decision.