Michael Campesino, a serial evictor landlord, whom Mission Local on Tuesday revealed is making his rounds in the Mission District, is himself being evicted from a Nob Hill apartment he began subleasing a little more than a year ago. 

Although the roles are reversed in the bizarre case of 1534-1538 Jones St., the alleged pattern of behavior of the person at its center — Campesino, 39 — is almost identical to his alleged abuses as a landlord in the Mission and elsewhere: preying on the weak, breaking into residences by force, and a monomaniacal desire for profit. This time he acted as a tenant and his prey was 60-year-old Brent Marsh, who is battling stage-four cancer.

“The brief encounters I had with Campesino clearly shows that he is a cold, calculating sociopath,” Karen Uchiyama, the lawyer handling the eviction, wrote in an email. 

Likewise, Marsh, the master tenant Uchiyama is representing pro-bono, characterized Campesino as a “predator.” 

Campesino, in an email, responded to Mission Local’s questions about his behavior on Jones Street by writing that we were “missing 95 percent of the story,” and implying that Marsh is an “abusive master tenant which predates me ….” 

But Campesino himself has been dogged by lawsuits alleging he has been an abusive landlord. Three lawsuits that Mission Local detailed in an article published Tuesday allege that Campesino allegedly broke into several tenants’ bedrooms, barricading himself in one of them with a plywood board. He also allegedly allowed substandard home conditions to proliferate, including exposing child tenants to lead paint. His alleged goal: To get tenants out. 

Furthermore, in the last two years, Campesino has spent millions of dollars acquiring at least four buildings in the Mission District. He successfully forced out a pair of families in one building and has begun the process of clearing out three others. 

60-year-old Brent Marsh getting treatment for cancer.

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The Jones Street affair is different only in Campesino’s role as a tenant rather than a landlord/owner. 

Around the time of his buying spree in the Mission, Campesino in October 2018 approached Marsh about subleasing a bedroom and two-room suite in Marsh’s apartment on Jones Street near Pacific Avenue. There, Marsh was the master tenant of one of the building’s three units. Campesino agreed to lease the bedroom and suite on Jones Street for $2,700 per month. 

“He seemed like any normal tech guy,” Marsh recalled from a hospital bed in San Francisco where he was receiving cancer treatment. But “his intent became obvious early on.”  

Even before Campesino’s tenancy began on Nov. 10, 2018, he allegedly sent Marsh a message complaining that the rent was too high and that he was going to the San Francisco Rent Board for clarity on the matter. Campesino argued that he should only pay $500 for the room and the suite (the Rent Board subsequently ruled he should only pay $1,026 a month). 

This action led Marsh to believe Campesino was conning him, and he immediately had his lawyer, Uchiyama, return Campesino’s deposit and cancel the agreement on Nov. 7, 2018 — three days before his tenancy officially began. As a lawsuit later filed by Marsh states: Marsh’s “illness and financial condition made [Marsh] vulnerable to predatory people in the past.” (Marsh’s income is around $910 a month, and he needs the extra rental income to survive, according to Uchiyama.)

So Marsh changed the locks and told his landlord Campesino should not be allowed in. 

But Campesino allegedly insisted on staying — even though Marsh and Uchiyama believe that Campesino has been living all along at a building he owns down the street at 1372 Jackson St. 

Campesino, according to the lawsuit Marsh eventually filed on Nov. 30, 2018, put glue in the front door lock a day after he was told his lease was being rescinded. Less than a week later, when Marsh was returning from a doctor’s appointment, he noticed that the front door locks were then drilled out, according to Marsh’s lawsuit. It was allegedly Campesino’s doing.

When Marsh looked up, he told Mission Local, he saw Campesino smiling and waving down at him with a GoPro camera mounted on his head. “So I called the cops, thinking this guy’s a nut,” Marsh said. 

Around 10 police officers showed up, Marsh said, and stayed for three or four hours. Campesino reportedly threw his lease agreement down for the police to see. They ultimately determined that Campesino being in the room was a “civil matter” that needed to be resolved in court, according to the lawsuit. 

“It scared the hell out of me,” Marsh said. “I never felt safe in the house after he was there.” 

Campesino is still, technically, a tenant in the building. Marsh rarely sees him, he said, noting that Campesino comes in and out from time to time. 

In Marsh’s November 2018 suit he alleges that Campesino was a nuisance and should not be a tenant in the apartment. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in May 2019, ruling that Campesino can remain until Marsh can properly evict him. Marsh and Uchiyama are appealing the decision. 

Again, Uchiyama and Marsh believe that Campesino has been living at a building down the street all along, 1372 Jackson St., which he purchased in May 2017 for $1.55 million. It is one of at least six buildings Campesino owns in San Francisco, many of them purchased in the last three years. 

So it’s not surprising that Marsh and Uchiyama also believe that it has been Campesino’s intention to wait for Marsh to die of cancer so that Campesino could take over the apartment as a master tenant. And further, that Campesino wants to eventually buy the building.

“Obviously,” Uchiyama wrote in an email, “Campesino plans to take over the building and utilize the Ellis Act to evict all of the low-paying tenants there.” 

That would certainly be in line with Campesino’s modus operandi — as he texted a tenant of a Mission District property he purchased in December, 927-935 Alabama St., that he’s “doing Ellises all the time” and that it’s a “business” he knows well. 

“On the one hand, I don’t care who’s there [at the apartment] after I’m dead,” Marsh told Mission Local in his hospital room. “But to think this guy is there just take advantage of me, knowing I’ve got terminal cancer — it’s like hell now.” 

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38 Comments

  1. Tenant from hell for exercising his rights to not be gouged for rent from his predatory landlord (master tenant)? How about we ask why this landlord from hell was trying to charge $1700 more than the legally allowable amount.

    1. At the same time, Marsh clearly is not fit to be a party to Campensinos performance art of revealing the truly absurd hijinks of both master tenants and landlords alike in this city.

      1. It doesn’t matter what market rate is. It matters what the legally allowable rent was. Unless you’re condoning profiteering on the back of unwitting tenants?

        1. Not to mention unwitting landlords – did Marsh’s landlord know that Marsh was making money off the landlord’s property?

    2. To clarify, even though I did ask more for rent than I should have:
      1. I stated the true amount of rent in the written lease and he agreed to it by telling me it was half of what he was paying for rent, which turned out to be the amount of his mortgage payment for his own house
      2. The space he rented included two bedrooms and a private living room, with views of both bridges, plus a shared guest room
      3. All of the rooms were furnished
      4. I never received any extra money from him than what the rent board decided on
      5. Except for four months prior, in 30 years I never charged more than the actual rent
      5. Karen Uchiyama represented me pro bono and in spite of who she represented in the past, she literally saved my life.

      1. Thanks for clarifying Brian, and you don’t need this extra burden in your life right now, especially since there are plenty of other people Michael can harass to prove his point. I hope you recover and can follow the rent board guidelines in the future — I know illness can be a time of need especially in our medical system.

  2. Isn’t Karen Uchiyama the lawyer who represented the notorious Annie Kihagi?

    Campesino is a scourge and should be evicted out of the entire Bay Area.

  3. Can I get information about the Mission evictions? From what addresses did he evict tenants? Thanks.

  4. A sad object lesson about “greed” and the need to follow the rules. Master tenants cannot sublet space for more than they proportionally pay for it. Also, master tenants need to provide subtenants with the proper paperwork in the sublease if they want to be able to evict those subtenants without “just cause”.

    Can Marsh even evict his sh!tty subtenant now? It would have been useful if the article’s author had asked some probing questions. But I think the attempts to get rid of him by other means show that Marsh did not do his paperwork correctly. In that respect, he’s become the poor landlord saddled with a bad tenant enjoying the full protections of the city’s rent ordinance.

    Even worse, if Marsh had just offered his space for rent at the allowed price, he would have had his pick of good subtenants and would not be in this situation.

    Will the landlord inherit Campesino as the master tenant? Hopefully not, and hopefully the landlord did the proper lawyering before this whole thing started.

    Rent Control is a cruel master. Be careful it doesn’t bite you in the tushy.

    1. I met Mr Campesino several yrs ago, acting as a contractor. He offered me a deal, which sounded ‘too good to be true’. I’m glad I didn’t follow thru on it.

      That he is playing both sides of the game, speaks to … how rotten the game has become.

      Situations like these will be used by activistas to try to remove or severely hinder the Ellis Act. LLCs really have no. moral business using it, but they do serve a function as the only alt for desperate owners, with the restrictions that have developed. How else does a long time owner get their property or the value therein back? The act was meant to provide relief for small prop owners – not large landlords or LLCs. That small owner occupants should have to wait 12 mths (and often more!) to regain their uint(s) is absurd.

      Sure, there’s the argument about “where will we go?” – frankly, that should be the responsibility of The City; which has relied upon a relatively small group of private individuals to provide these massive public benefits, to house those folks. As an owner – specially one who resides on the property – to have to put up with daily assaults, complaints and threats from. those who are being ejected is almost impossible to take for a year or more’s time as currently provisioned. Thus the entrance of an LLC, which can provide a quick cash outlet while they handle things at a distance. “Real person” owner-occupants ought to be able to go out of business and get their property back with all due speed (like a Non-Payment). And if this becomes the case, its not meant to provide a business model for a serial offender, but to provide relief from onerous govmint exploitation.

      Do that, and you’d rid the City of characters like these LLCs.

    2. Brent was allowed to rescind the lease within a certain number of days and he did that. He shouldn’t have to formally evict because there is no lease in play.

    3. You have a lot of latitude to ask a tenant to leave if you share the unit, both as landlord and master tenant. Though as landlord you actually have less latitude than master tenant if you have more than one roommate. The city’s laws are ripe for exploitation.

      1. JT – the master tenant MUST state in the initial lease that the new sub/tenant is not entitled to Eviction protection. If this is not explicitly stated in writing (which I’m assuming is (one of) Brent’s problem), then the new sub/tenant enjoys all the ‘protections’ of RC.

        It is true that a MT enjoys more latitude than a simllarly situated owner; as a MT can have multiple roomies, where an owner can only have one and still exercise the removal of Eviction protection. Not sure if the rent is also controlled, In the MT’s case, its limited to the current rent (however that gets divided up).

      2. Mr. Marsh has been down this road before, though, previously taking in a tenant and attempting to evict them in 2016. Same lawyer, too.

        1. Interesting. Reusing the lawyer and then crediting her for taking his case pro bono in the comments suggests they have a relationship beyond just this one case. In this light, his comment sure reads like it’s trying to rescue her character.

  5. Take good care of yourself Brent. I hope you can find peace and serenity in this stressful situation. Sending you warm thoughts.

  6. I sympathise with Brent in dealing with an allegedly vexatious tenant while going through cancer treatment.

    I was surprised to learn that a master tenant can’t charge sub-tenants more than their share of the lease – effectively rent gouging behaviour that I’ve experienced personally. Good to know next time!

    I was also surprised to read this article from Broke Ass Stewart re: crafting a master tenant agreement, which mentions another case involving Brent Marsh having legal issues as a master tenant. Surely after that experience, he would have been better informed about the legality of this before he tried to lease his place for more rent than he was allowed to?

    https://brokeassstuart.com/sf/2018/06/28/this-iron-clad-master-tenant-agreement-may-save-your-housing-freedom/

    1. My niece (who is a lawyer, born in SF but new to the SF game) had a situation with a Master Tenant who was charging more rent that they was lawful. When she found out, she contested it w/ the Rent Board and Tenants Union, but was not able to prevail. She moved out thereafter – leaving that situaiotn to another ‘sucker’.

      There ought to be a way to hold MTs accountable to vulnerable subtenants. While enforcement upon pain of Eviction won’t be sustainable as an immediate remedy, education and repayment of excess unreasonable rent payments ought to be payable thru monthly paybacks – and THAT ought to be enforceable thru pain of eviction; or removal to a City-sponsored housing unit.

      Some MTs, and apparently Brent Marsh is one, have v little income in which to repay. I think the term is “uncollectible’. Perhaps Jail-time might be an acceptable substitute. If rent control is supposed to suppress landlord greed, it shouldn’t be used as a cover or incentive for tenant greed.

    2. NED,

      Thank you very, very much for the incredibly informative Broke Ass Stuart link.
      It’s a dog eat cat war out there.
      Suppose one of the unintended consequences of an ever increasing mountain of rent control laws/ordinances is the mandatory requirement for folks to become legal experts.

      One thing – there does not seem to be mention of the following within the example IronClad Agreement (am I missing something?):

      “Include in your written subtenant agreement that the first month of his/her residency in the unit is on a trial basis, and that if all master tenants are happy with the situation, the subtenant will be permitted to remain, but if not, the subtenant will agree to vacate at that time.”

      These days one must think like a sociopath.
      The MT could provision this with a “Trial Period” and also take the deposit.
      Perhaps even put in a provision the Trial Period will last 28 days.
      This gets around the 30 day requirement for a tenant to gain official tenancy.

      Then:

      Surprise – the trial period didn’t work out.
      Good luck getting your deposit back.
      Small claims court?
      You’ll win the judgement but actually collecting the money would be 90% of the effort.
      For the MT – rinse and repeat providing you’re experienced with Unlawful Detainers and getting your victim out ASAP.
      Perhaps under this scenario the MT could just change the locks and have minimal dealings with the legal process.

      That said – it’s always a dicey proposition getting the deposit back in any event.

      Everybody in the rental/housing game has the potential to be victimized.
      Including landlords and property owners – one of the reasons some are bailing out to TIC flippers or leaving units vacant.
      This can be a brutal city to make your home.

  7. People behaving badly. Seems to me that both parties in this situation are motivated by bad intent to take advantage of the other. Neither of them are admirable and this article’s slant implying medical condition or wealth is justification for misusing and violating rent control regulations is appalling. The article would be informative about rent control if it explained the rationale of the judges’ rulings in the eviction cases.

  8. This story doesn’t pass the sniff test. It seems like Julian Mark wants so badly to portray Campesino as a horrible person, that he’s willing to abet slander: “So it’s not surprising that Marsh and Uchiyama also believe that it has been Campesino’s intention to wait for Marsh to die of cancer so that Campesino could take over the apartment as a master tenant. And further, that Campesino wants to eventually buy the building.

    “Obviously,” Uchiyama wrote in an email, “Campesino plans to take over the building and utilize the Ellis Act to evict all of the low-paying tenants there.””

    Mr. Mark, you have no proof of these claims. Also, Mr. Marsh seems to be the only one legally in the wrong here, as he has been determined to have been vastly overcharging for a rent-controlled space and has also been told he has to go through the regular channels if he wants to try to evict… Which isn’t guaranteed. We only have his word that Campesino meddled with the front locks, and in the comments we’ve learned that he’s tried to evict someone before using the same lawyer.

    We’ve also learned that this angelic lawyer represented Anne Kihagi, a important detail which Mr. Mark seems to have omitted, despite the vicious articles written about the latter published in this same periodical.

    Mr. Campesino may in fact be an awful piece of work. But this business deserves real, unbiased journalism, not wildly-slanted hit pieces that omit uncomfortable details that might derail one’s sympathy for the so-called “victim”.

    I personally don’t trust the word of someone who tried to charge $2,700/mo for something for which he was only legally entitled to charge $1,026/mo. Mr. Mark, if you want to consider yourself an actual journalist and not just a propagandist, do better.

    1. Frankie: I edited the piece and at the last minute took out the reference to Anne Kihagi because it slowed the story down. I should have kept it in. As to Campesino, the story shows clearly a pattern of questionable behavior – as a landlord and as a tenant. You can decide for yourself how you view such behavior. Best, Lydia

      1. He has a point though. Marsh tried to charge $2,700 a month when he was only allowed to charge $1.026 a month (presumably the pro-rated part of the total rent for that apartment).

        So nobody comes out of this looking that good. How much of the bad behavior of both landlords and tenants in SF is due to rent control, and the way it forces people to deal with others who they do not want to share a space with.

        Nobody counts the human cost of rent control.

      2. Lydia, with all due respect, when you take out the facts that demonstrate that there might be other bad actors involved, you’re right: it speeds up your narrative… But that’s only because you have cheated the reader out of the ability to make up their own minds. You’ve forced them to jump to your conclusion, which is why this is propaganda, not reporting.

        As far as what kind of man Campesino is, from this article, all I see is a greedy man, Marsh who tries to illegally charge over 2.5x’s the legal rate for an apartment, and when the new tenant calls him out for this illegality, he decides the tenant is a “nuisance tenant” and tries to illegally deprive him of his contractually promised new home by changing the locks. He claims his new tenant did illegal things to gain entry, which wouldn’t have been necessary if he hadn’t acted illegally. The police and courts both side with the tenant, so he peddles his story to the local gossip rag, who he knows will back him up, despite the fact he clearly doesn’t have the law on his side, wielding his illness as a weapon. And you publish his slanderous unproven statements about Campesino’s goals.

        None of that adds up to Campesino being the bad actor here. He might not be a good guy, but this situation isn’t the proof of that you were hoping it would be… And I can see from other commenters that I’m not the only person who’s seen through this reporting and recognized it as a hit piece with a lot of obvious plot holes!

        Please do better! You have the opportunity to do real reporting for this neighborhood… But journalism, real journalism values objective reporting, which this is not.

    2. The speculation is also unreasonable. If a master tenant ends the lease for any reason (including death), the landlord of the unit will have the opportunity to establish a _new_ lease with any subtenants and uncontrolled rents. The only exception is if a subtenant can argue they were also recognized as master tenants by pointing to, e.g., past communications with the landlord. Few landlords in the city are dumb enough to inadvertently end up in that situation. Therefore, the idea that Mike was simply trying to take over an apartment is a practical unlikelihood and misrepresentation of the laws.

  9. Michael Campesino is a poor example of a human. He leverages loopholes in San Francisco, and I hear stories of taking advantage of tenants in Oakland and B berkeley as well. the plywood put up, drilling out locks? Who does that?

    Campesino has been taking advantage of old and sick people for a few years now.

  10. The term “master tenant” is new to me. I’m not a local. The rent laws in SF sound crazy & awful to me. If you know of a good source that describes the basics of how rentals work in SF, then please point me in that direction.

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