A judge on Friday put a halt to a nearly three-year campaign by property manager The John Stewart Company to evict a mother and her five children from Valencia Gardens, a public housing facility at 15th and Valencia Streets.
In his proposed decision, Judge Richard B. Ulmer Jr. barred the management company from evicting Shantel McClendon and her children from the public housing facility, ruling that The John Stewart Co’s hands were legally “unclean.” In his view, the company acted dishonestly on four separate occasions in its attempts to expel the single mother from her home of more than 15 years.
“I’m happy about that,” McClendon said Wednesday over the phone. “I still have to endure the stress.”
McClendon was referring to a quote from John Stewart Co. CEO Jack Gardner in a Tuesday San Francisco Chronicle article stating, “We do not feel the draft ruling is consistent with the law or the facts in this matter, and are currently reviewing our options.”
He added that “we may have no choice but to continue to pursue legal remedies.”
The management company has until Aug. 31 to file an objection to the proposed decision, said Ryan Murphy, a lawyer with Eviction Defense Collaborative, which has been representing McClendon in the monthslong eviction battle. He said, sans an objection to the decision, the John Stewart Co. can still appeal.
In a phone interview, Gardner reiterated what he told the Chronicle, adding: “Turning a blind eye to illegal occupants would not only violate the law, but would be unfair to all the residents who comply with their leases, as well as all the people on the waiting list for a unit.”
Ulmer made his decision based on four instances in which he found the management company had acted unfairly in its attempts to evict McClendon.
Several of them concern the father of three of McClendon’s children, Rasheed Loveless, and the fact that Loveless was a frequent visitor at McClendon’s residence — far more frequent than is generally permitted.
Although the management company unsuccessfully attempted to evict McClendon on the grounds of Loveless’s extended stays in 2016, it subsequently moved to evict her five more times on other grounds, such as back rent.
Only after McClendon came up with the rent, remedying management’s other concerns, did the management company resurrect Loveless’s stays and attempt to evict McClendon again, 21 months later.
The judge also found that the management company acted unfairly in May 2018 in having McClendon sign a “recertification of tenancy” it had drafted containing a list of her apartment’s occupants that did not include Loveless. The management company subsequently served her with an eviction notice alleging she failed to report him.
“In short [The John Stewart Company] authored a document that it demanded McClendon sign, knowing that it would use that document to seek to evict McClendon and her family,” Ulmer wrote. “This was, at minimum, bad faith and establishes unclean hands.”
Additionally, the judge found that, in May 2018, the management purposefully withheld Loveless’s alleged “unauthorized occupancy,” which was grounds for eviction, only after McClendon was able to seek rental assistance from Hamilton Families and paid the company $3,412.
Then, in July 2018, the John Stewart Company’s lawyers suggested that Loveless apply to become a live-in aide to McClendon, which would allow him to stay for extended periods at the apartment and help McClendon care for her children. Two months later, the management company said he could not become an aide because he was a family member, which the judge said the company already knew.
Nevertheless, as a result of the live-in aide application — which was the management company’s suggestion — it discovered Loveless had a criminal history, which it subsequently attempted to use as grounds for yet another eviction notice. (Loveless began serving a prison sentence in 2019 and is not currently living at the housing complex.)
Ulmer found that the scenario the management company created was unfair.
All told, said McClendon’s lawyer Murphy, the management company has served McClendon 14 eviction notices since 2016.
“It’s remarkable that there are four distinct reasons of bad faith provided by the judge,” he said. “That’s a lot.”
The John Stewart Co. also made headlines in March, when it aggressively tried to evict 18-year-old Terrance Hall from his Valencia Gardens apartment immediately following his grandmother’s death. He was temporarily allowed to stay.
For her part, McClendon said that, if possible, she may want to leave Valencia Gardens because of all that has transpired. “It’s too much,” she said. “I don’t feel safe.”
This article has been updated with comments from the president of The John Stewart Company.