Update, 7/24/16: The San Francisco Examiner reports that the landlords and tenant have reached a settlement, though the tenant’s lawyer did not offer any additional details about whether she would be able to remain in place, saying only that both parties are happy with the deal.
Protesters posted in front of the downtown office of a tech company on Thursday afternoon to call out one of its employees who recently purchased a Mission District home and is evicting a teacher and her daugher who live there.
Earlier this year, school teacher Michelle Malliet and her daughter were served with an eviction notice for causing a “nuisance” by using gas and electrical appliances in their in-law apartment after two tech workers purchased Mission District building. Malliet is a part-time special education aide at a Noe Valley school and teaches at an afterschool program in the Mission.
Though they had lived without incident in the illegal unit for some eight years, the family was given the notice by Mathieu Verbeeck and Catherine Crevel on March 11 with just three days to vacate their home on 20th and Hampshire streets.
“This is a new attempt to evict tenants by saying that just by living in an illegal unit and using appliances there, the tenant is creating ‘a nuisance,’” said Malliet’s attorney, Joseph Tobener, adding that he has seen only three such eviction cases in San Francisco.
This unusual legal tactic, coupled with the threat of a teacher and single mother losing her home, did not sit well with the city’s educators and tenant advocates, who in return also tried a new approach.
Armed with posters and a megaphone, some 20 people protested the impending eviction at the 546 Bryant St. office of Mubi, a film website headquartered in London that employs one of the evicting landlords.
“We are not blaming Mubi for this eviction – we are saying, ‘talk with your VP of product development and tell him that you don’t like this attention on your company,’” said one of the protest’s organizers, Christopher Cook, about the public shaming.
The group taped flyers with the landlord’s image reading “there are unoccupied homes for sale. Go buy one,” on the tech office’s Bryant street entrance.
“We are sending a clear message – if you don’t want to be a good landlord, don’t buy a home that has people living in it,” said Cook.
Teachers who came to support Malliet said that her eviction was especially damaging, as it would likely displace a 20-year San Francisco Unified School District veteran who primarily serves low-income and disadvantaged families. It comes in the midst of a housing crisis that has already displaced many qualified educators.
“The school district is scrambling to find teachers like her,” said Matthew Hardy of the United Educators of San Francisco, a union that represents teachers and paraprofessionals. Hardy explained that the district’s struggle with high turnovers and low retention rates has reached a “crisis point.”
“We are fighting for Michelle, because if this eviction goes through, there will be a gaping hole where she serves,” said Hardy.
Despite the protesters’ vocal efforts, the company remained mum about the eviction on Thursday. One disgruntled worker who exited the Bryant Street building asked the protesters if they had “chosen this spot on purpose,” but hurried off without awaiting a reply. It is unclear if Malliet’s new landlord, Verbeeck, was at work.
Regardless, Cook said he believed that the message had gotten through. “They know we are here today whether they are here or not.”
Malliet, who was also present at the protest, said that she was not surprised at the company’s silence, but appreciated the community support.
“I feel taken care of, ” she said. “When I first got that notice, I thought I was alone in this eviction.”
Still, Malliet had hoped for a dialogue. “I’m open to talk.”
The 49-year-old teacher said that spending the past four months splitting her time between “teaching special-needs children, parenting, and keeping up with this eviction” has been difficult for her.
“I’m still hoping to stay,” said the San Francisco native, adding that she had hoped that the building was purchased “as an investment” and never thought the landlords would move to evict her. “I grew up in this city and I want the same for my daughter.”
That does not seem to be the plan of her new landlords. The city permits building owners to bring illegal units up to code by following a stipulated process – a route that could prevent Malliet’s displacement. But Tobener, the attorney, said that the new landlords have not indicated that they wish to initiate this process.
“The landlords can fix this building and put it in a good condition, and the city would support them in legalizing the unit,” said Tobener, adding that in the eight years that Malliet has lived in the in-law, not a single complaint was filed with the Department of Building Inspections or voiced by the previous landlord.
“Its a matter of money and convenience for them,” said Tobener, adding that he got the sense that the couple “didn’t buy the building to be landlords.”