Richard Padilla stands in front of his residence on 15th Street. Photo by Julian Mark

Richard Padilla, perhaps better known by his drag name, “Renita Valdez,” stood in a long hallway of his apartment at 1779-1781 15th Street Monday evening. He pointed to the constellation of plaques covering the walls that Renita Valdez has garnered throughout the years.

“These are my accolades,” Padilla said. “You know, for being a part of the community.” He was particularly proud of ones given to him from former State Sen. Mark Leno and current State Sen. Scott Wiener.

This personal Hall of Fame, in fact, has been growing for the last 22 years — the time Padilla has lived here. But now, he, his three roommates, and the resident of an in-law unit downstairs are facing an Ellis Act eviction.  

“They just want to get rid of us,” Padilla said.

Padilla believes it’s not a simple case of his landlords, Leslie Wan and Brian Keller, wanting to exit the rental market — the nominal purpose of an Ellis Act eviction. “We’re being discriminated against,” he claimed.

Although his landlords deny that discrimination is involved — and Padilla says they’ve never explicitly used derogatory terms — the longtime tenant says he has felt an undeniable sense of repugnance from the landlords, who live in the unit above them.

“The look of disgust, the look of shielding their children from us when we’re dressed in drag,” he said. “You get that feeling, when people look at you.”

He added that Wan and Keller have harassed them by throwing away some of their drag costumes and disposing of furniture in their backyard, where the roommates and their friends would often hang out. “That’s another form of discrimination,” he said.

These episodes are only part of an ongoing saga between those residing with Padilla and their landlords. They are detailed in a lawsuit filed last October that alleges the harassment and discrimination. (At one point, the lawsuit alleges, Wan covered her son’s eyes and told him to go upstairs when she saw one of the tenants, Freddie Miranda, dressed in drag.)

Although Padilla alleges the landlords have been trying to shoo him out for years — first with an owner-move-in eviction in 2014 that was later dismissed by a judge — the situation came to a head three weeks ago, when Wan and Keller offered all four of their tenants a $50,000 settlement, according to Padilla.

“My lawyer laughed and left the room,” Padilla said. “That’s when we knew we had to fight.”

A trial is set for November. The tenants have also alerted media outlets, and hosted a press conference in front of their house Monday evening.

Logos Branchflower has been living at the residence for the last eight years. The only emotion he could convey was “exhaustion.” Sadly, he said, the feeling was all too common.

“We’ve been going through eviction attempts at this house for years,” he said.

Before he moved into his house on 15th Street, he said, he had been priced out of his longtime residence in the Castro. He said it was very difficult to find his current living arrangement. “I don’t know where I’d go,” he said, when asked if he would have to leave San Francisco if evicted.

Branchflower pointed to his artwork, which seemed to populate every bit of space in his room — paintings, artificial stained glass (tissue paper and foam board), a plethora of Fimo clay votives that line his shelves. He has been working with Fimo since the 1980s, but said he has not been producing much artwork lately.

“I’m exhausted,” he reiterated. “It’s hard to do anything when your living situation is in jeopardy.”

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. Kind of Ironic that a person who would have had the government tell them what clothes they had to wear in the 1970″s, now wants to have the government tell their property owner, who they have to rent too. Are landlords not part of the “community” ? Just who qualifies for this “community”?

  2. Depends on what kinda drag the folks are wearing.. if it’s a bit too revealing, I would shield my kids eyes too. The examples of discrimination are pretty weak in my opinion. The $50K for 4 roommates.. $200K sounds like a good faith effort. Would be difficult for the courts to side with Richard in this case.

  3. I hope the tenants get to stay. As for the landlords, if they’re so bothered by drag, they’ve made a very odd choice of where to live. Not that discrimination is acceptable anywhere, but here of all places? That’s two blocks from the Castro.

    We need to come together to both support tenants like Padilla and Branchflower as best we can, and also build dramatically more housing to end the shortage — so we won’t still have people stuck in precarious situations like this in 20 years.

    1. In 1979 (39 years ago) Dianne Feinstein said we had a housing crisis and we would “fix” it with rent control. Well rent control is the reason for this situation, why should the owners be forced to keep these people at a huge rent discount for life ? Thats the only reason they are refusing to leave, they have a huge unearned privilege, rent control, bestowed on them. The government used to force married couples to stay together for life. Forcing property owners to keep tenants for life is just as ridiculous.

  4. The case seems awfully weak based on the allegations of discrimination. Looks of disgust? Hmm. What would Judge Judy say?
    The real issue seems to be the Ellis Act and its provisions.

    1. “My lawyer laughed and left the room” at the 50K settlement and then “we knew we had to fight.” Presumably their lawyer might get them some more money to settle, but it seems to me, based on the Ellis Act provisions and the details in the article, they will lose in court. Perhaps the tenants need another lawyer.

  5. No mention of what kind of rent Richard is paying but after 22 years of rent control it must be a pittance by any metric. In his shoes I’d play every card I could think of and make a few up too, as well as reach out to any two-bit blog willing desperate for an ‘evil landlord’ narrative.

  6. If I was the landlord, I might Ellis the building too. You have to worry about providing for your family and your means for retirement,
    or do you choose to subsidize the rent for life of your tenants? Easy choice. Maybe you want to have use of more of the building, and if you wait, legislation can change and it will cost 300k or 500k to get possession, or even be able to sell it.
    It really pay now, or potentially pay a lot more later. It doesn’t pay to be a property owner.

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