Penny Schoner, 84, lived happily in the one-bedroom apartment she’d had since the 1980s. That changed in 2012, when Veritas Investments bought her apartment building. Suddenly, she said, management ignored her requests for repairs — including one to remove the wasp’s nest that sat outside her bedroom window.

“They were in my hair and my clothing, and I got stung a bunch of times,” Schoner said.

Schoner is one of 68 residents — including 11 senior citizens — that filed a lawsuit on October 11, 2018, against Veritas, one of the largest housing companies in San Francisco.

The tenants, who reside in 30 of the company’s empire of 240 buildings across the city, cited a long list of issues, including harassment, emotional distress, and failure to provide housing services.

The judge has yet to set a date for the case, but a case management conference is set for March 13, 2019. This will allow both parties to schedule a date for the trial, unless settlements are made before it’s brought to a judge.

Veritas, the tenants’ charge, wants them out, and Schoner knows why. She lives in a rent-controlled building at 3663 20th St. and pays $462 a month for her one-bedroom apartment. Tenants who now move into Vertias’ newly renovated studio apartments, in the same neighborhood as Schoner, pay approximately $2,500 a month.

“I’m on very limited income and I can’t go anywhere else,” said Schoner as she sat in her living room, rubbing her leg. “I’m old now, I have leg problems, but I’m gonna go up and down those stairs as long as I possibly can and I’m not expecting to leave here in the next 10 years.”

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Schoner said problems arose soon after Veritas bought the three-story building in 2012. Unable to get a response from them for two years, she finally made a written request, asking them to repair some of her apartment’s issues.

“Our records show several letters or contacts regarding requests Ms. Schoner made since 2014, and we responded at each point,” said Ron Heckmann, a spokesperson for Veritas.

Schoner disagrees.

Luckily, the wasps “never came back.” Heckmann said he thought the bee issue was “thought to be taken care of by window repairs.”

Still, Schoner said, some issues remain, including a request to replace a bedroom window and provide screens for the bedroom and bathroom. Other issues she repaired herself: broken bathroom tiles and a wall in bathroom that caved in during a neighbor’s renovations.

Penny Schoner has lived in her apartment since the 1980s. She says trouble started in 2012, when Veritas bought the building. Photo by Tsanavi Spoonhunter.

She showed me a loose casing on her bedroom window and the absence of screens. Looking through her screenless window, she pointed to the other windows in a newer tenant’s apartment. Those have been upgraded. She wants hers to be as tight.

“A steady stream of air comes in here, so I just dress for it: I wear leg warmers, and sweatshirt and a hat,” said Schoner. “And heaters do very little good, if anything, because I have one heater here (in the living room) and then I have an electric heater. There’s no heater in the bedroom.”

Heckmann, on the other hand, said that the window was repaired in 2017. “But it appears some issues remain, which we’re addressing.”

Schoner is far from a complainer who expects someone to take care of her. She grew up on a ranch in Sacramento Valley and can easily make her own renovations. She built the sink, kitchen counter and a shelved pantry in her apartment.

She’s also made some of her own furniture pieces, including the bed frame and closet. “I’ve always wanted sliding doors,” she said, smiling as she slid her closet doors back and forth.

She does not even mind Veritas renovating apartments for the newer tenants. The problem is when those renovations directly impact her.

In the midst of her neighbor’s renovations in apartment 3663A, some of Schoner’s bathroom tiles broke. In the letter, she requested that the landlord set new tiles. She waited one month and finally gave up.

“I went out and bought the tile and the wood and fixed it myself,” Schoner said. “I didn’t even mention it, I just did it. I didn’t want any attention on it because for me to do repairs would be damaging their building.”

Then, the bathroom wall caved in on her. The landlord responded by giving her a key to a bathroom located in a separate building. While she waited for the repairs to be done, she spent six weeks using the bathroom in another building.

Next, during a demolition in another neighbor’s apartment, workers punctured her living room wall. In her letter to Veritas, she said the wall only needed some new plaster, not much, and that she didn’t have any on hand.

During the time reporting this piece, Hechmann followed up with Schoner on several issues. He also cited a statement from Violation Radar, an independent firm that compiles data on tenant complaints and notifies property management groups. According to them, Veritas is one of the most, if not the most, proactive property management company in San Francisco in dealing with complaints and violations. Although Violation Radar doesn’t have the data to share, the statement, they said, is based on the city’s data for tracking complaints.

“Many of our residents make changes or improvements to their interiors, and such was the case with Ms. Schoner, as her letter indicated, so we were not aware of lingering concerns about the walls she patched or the replaced tiles,” said Heckmann.

But repairs were not the only issue.

Veritas issued a three-day notice to pay a month’s worth of rent on May 15, 2017. Schoner said she had sent a check for that month, but had to go to the bank to request proof of payment. Since then, she said, she makes payments in person.

“I was scared,” said Schoner. “[It was] unsettling,” Schoners said, even though her familiarity with the law should have made her more confident. “They woke me up at night, 11 at night I got a call from Veritas, or Greentree.”

Like Schoner, all of the senior plaintiffs are citing emotional distress. As self-sufficient as she is, the harassment got to her.

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  1. I simply do not understand why none of these people fill out the form from the Rent Board re: decrease in services, then call 311 and report that there are issues. They send an inspector out and if the company doesn’t repair everything they start getting fined, which obviously they don’t want. I’m going through exactly this same thing right now, and you better believe I’m getting everyone involved and will go for the jugular at mediation!

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    1. First of all, habitability issues are fielded by DBI not 311 or The Rent Board. The Rent Board acts solely as an impartial third party to ensure The Rental Stabilization and Arbitration ordinances are adhered to by both landlords and tenants. Secondly, lodging a complaint with DBi is a process and it’s never a simple matter of filing out a form. Many tenants are scared of retaliation, I have faced numerous retaliatory actions by my landlord for asserting my rights. Many other tenants I know have as well. SF, being a large, multi-cultural city with many residents whose first language is another than English face unique challenges in understanding the procedures for making complaints and often are unaware of thier rights altogether. Landlords like Veritas and the. Lembis before them use this to their advantage, often to harass and intimidate tenants who speak another language. When was the last time you heard of property owners providing a translator when communicating with tenants? It’s a law in NYC now and landlords must also provide written communications specific to the tenants native tongue if they don’t speak or read English. You also make it sound like it’s a cakewalk to petition the rent board for a reduced rent due to habitability issues or reduction in services. This too is a long, drawn out process wrapped up in a tremendous volume of paperwork and red tape. A mediation hearing must also take place with the tenant petitioner and landlord appearing before a rent board judge. This often takes many months during which time the tenant is obligated to pay their regular monthly rent while still living with the habitability or repair issues unresolved.

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  2. A screen? Ace hardware. Not covered by rent control— obviously. New window? You the planning department to blame and your own rent controlled status. Think about it.

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