Carmelo Foy-Martí slipped on his sneakers then stood in front of his home, prepared to guard it. The 12-year-old knew the owner wanted to move in and relegate Foy-Martí’s family elsewhere, so he practiced his press conference talking points with his mom beforehand: he was born in that house, and having to leave it was unfair.
“This eviction is awful, but we will push through it,” Foy-Martí told the 50-odd activists and politicians crowding his driveway. “To be kicked out from this house that I’ve lived in all my life is very hard. So thanks everyone for coming and … yeah.”
The Foy-Martí family may be evicted from the 23rd Street home after the owners, Peter and Tanya Omran, invoked an owner move-in eviction notice in April, 2021. On Tuesday, the Foy-Martí family held a press conference on their front steps to condemn a San Francisco Superior Court judge for not upholding local eviction protections, which could have prevented their present situation.
“We’re seeing our hands tied by the fact that the judges aren’t respecting San Francisco’s laws, and we want to raise attention to that,” Fernando Martí, an artist and community advocate who has lived in this home for 23 years, told Mission Local.
The Foy-Martí family — a couple and their child, Carmelo — pointed to a recently extended local emergency ordinance that prohibits evictions until Nov. 30 for any reason other than nonpayment of rent, an Ellis Act eviction, or health and safety issues. The San Francisco Superior Court, however, ruled in their case last week that this city ordinance can’t be enforced, since the statewide eviction law preempts it — and the state ended certain eviction protections on Sept. 30.
“There’s a dispute between tenant advocates and landlord attorneys about whether it is correct,” said Steve Collier, an attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic who represents the Foy-Martís. “I think that the law is not preempted, and it’s unfortunate that the lower San Francisco court has ruled that way.”
Collier and Foy told Mission Local they haven’t filed for an appeal.
Mission Local reached out to the Omrans multiple times and received no response. This article will be updated if and when they respond.
Meanwhile, Martí, the co-director for the Council of Community Housing Organizations and an Ecuadorian immigrant, dreads a move; he’s lived in the rent-controlled, two-bedroom apartment since 1998.
In 2018, the building’s longtime owner sold it to the Omrans. The next year, the Omrans expressed interest in buying Martí out so their daughter, Tatiana, could live there.
In San Francisco, a property owner can “recover” a unit and move in themselves or their immediate family members if they plan to live there for at least three years.
Martí and his spouse, Michelle Foy, refused a buyout. The Omrans then served them an owner move-in eviction notice, which was ultimately thrown out over a mistake in paperwork. Then “covid came, and gave us a reprieve for a little time” before a new owner move-in notice arrived in April, 2021, Martí said.
The Omrans served the eviction notice in April, 2021, timing it 60 days before the then-eviction moratorium was set to expire in June, Martí said, which he argued was acting in “bad faith.” The Omrans also own at least three other properties in San Francisco, some which have supposedly been used as short-term rentals. Martí argued that their daughter could move into one of those, instead. “If the daughter needs a place to live, she’s got a place.”
Martí said it’s possible his spouse and son may be uprooted to someplace outside of San Francisco, given their jobs at community nonprofits and on their salaries, “it will be difficult to stay.” Owner move-in evictions require landlords to give displaced tenants a relocation payment of at least $4,500, and to offer a vacant unit in San Francisco.
Foy, who’s a community advocate for the Chinese Progressive Association, said while her family is worried, they understand others who face evictions may not have their same ability to challenge it. The Foy-Martís know dozens of housing advocates and local politicians, several of whom showed up at Tuesday’s press conference and have helped delay their removal. They also have enough money to land on their feet elsewhere, or look into the city’s first-time homebuyer program, she said.
“Our situation is not ideal, it’s stressful, we don’t know what will happen,” Foy told Mission Local. “It’s also, I want to uplift our situation and connect it to other people who are experiencing insecurity around housing. The idea that the real estate speculators and landlords shouldn’t have this kind of power over some people’s lives.”
The Omrans run a Christian ministry in the Middle East that aids refugees, called Heart of Mercy International. They also own Abana Coffee, a coffee plantation in Ethiopia; and Red Sea Trading, a coffee import company.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Foy-Martís’ district, said in a press statement that District 8 receives the second-highest number of no-fault evictions in the city. “We are seeing a lot of displacement, speculation, and monster homes. Many residents are losing their homes through no fault of their own, and we are losing the soul of our neighborhoods.”
Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Myrna Melgar, and Dean Preston also spoke at the conference.
Preston, a tenants’ attorney, said violating the emergency ordinance is wrong. “It’s not only unconscionable and immoral, it is blatantly illegal,” Preston said. “There’s no way in hell we’ll tolerate this eviction.”
Citywide, owner move-in evictions have steadily declined since 2015, according to Mission Local data analysis. The Foy-Martís’ is one of 17 reported this year.
While no court date has been set yet, the case will likely go to trial in November, Martí said.