Carmelo Foy-Martí , Michelle Foy, and Fernando Martí advocate against their eviction in front of their home. Photo by Annika Hom, taken Oct. 12, 2021.

Although a family of housing activists originally intended to battle their eviction case in court, last week they opted to accept a “bittersweet” settlement with their landlords.

“We were very committed to pushing on, but I could really see how, for a lot of things, it’s not worth it,” said tenant Fernando Martí, who works as an artist and a co-director of the housing nonprofit Council of Community Housing Organizations.

Martí lived in that house for 23 years, along with his spouse, Michelle Foy, who is the finance and administration director for the Chinese Progressive Association, and their 12-year-old son Carmelo. In 2019, their property owners, Peter and Tanya Omran, told the Foy-Martís they wished to buy out their lease on 23rd Street, because their daughter needed a place to live. The Foy-Martís pay $1,606 a month for the two-bedroom home.

With no response to the offer, the Omrans initiated an owner-move-in eviction, which allows owners to evict tenants as long as they or immediate family members plan to live there for at least three consecutive years. 

In response, the Foy-Martís announced they would take the Omrans to court. In their lawsuit, they argued that the Omrans owned other properties in San Francisco suitable for their daughter, and painted the eviction as bad-faith.

Initially, the trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 10. But, according to an email sent by the Foy-Martí family on Jan. 7, the parties agreed to settle following mediation. 

The proposed settlement allows the Foy-Martí family to live rent-free in their home until Aug. 31, 2023, “giving us time to, hopefully, find a place we can afford in the city,” stated the Jan. 7 email. An official agreement has not yet been drafted, the email added, and “our attorney has advised us not to discuss the specific terms beyond what’s here until the agreement is signed.”

The Omrans could not be reached for comment. 

The deal the Omrans made will cost them more than $32,000 in lost rent. In owner-move in-evictions, landlords are required to compensate tenants with a relocation fee starting at $4,500 “with a maximum payment of $13,500 per unit,” according to the San Francisco Rent Board

Generally, there’s little a tenant can do to escape a legitimate owner-move-in-eviction, said Carlos Jato, a tenant attorney unrelated to this particular case. “It’s really hard to defend,” he said. If a tenant can prove that there is no family member who moves in, the tenant can make a case. Usually, this wins the former tenant money, but not a chance to re-occupy the property.  

While the situation nears resolution, the Foy-Martí family feels “many mixed emotions as we sit with this new reality and process all that has come before as part of this fight,” they said in their email. During the 23 years Martí lived in that house, he made numerous meaningful memories, including Carmelo’s birth and his days printmaking in his home studio. The benefits of rent control enabled him to continue working as an artist and activist.

“That’s part of the story of someone’s home. All the love that goes into the place,” Martí told Mission Local. “As an artist, you work with objects and things, and part of being in a home is making it into that space that holds you and your family.”

That changed in 2018, when the Omrans became the new owners and expressed their desire to move in a year later.  

Unwilling to go without a fight, last October the Foy-Martís drummed up attention and rallied dozens of advocates and politicians to protest on their behalf, which quickly gained media attention. The community also circulated a petition in defense of the activists that accumulated 500 signatures, according to the January email. 

The Foy-Martís thanked the community and urged them to aid others in the same situation. Others might not be as open to airing out personal issues to the media, or be as in-the-know on affordable housing options.

“Let’s make it such that all tenants fighting eviction have this kind of support,” the email said. “The fight is so much bigger than just one family.” Martí said he received two phone calls recently from people in similar eviction predicaments who asked his advice. 

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Citywide, owner-move-in eviction notices have steadily declined since 2015, according to Mission Local data analysis. The most recent data spans up to November, 2021, in which there were 27 owner-move-in evictions, compared to 425 in 2015. Jato says it fell, in part, due to tighter restrictions on owner-move-in evictions implemented in the city.

It is unclear what will happen to the Omrans’ daughter in the meantime. The family owns multiple properties in the Bay Area, and runs Heart of Mercy International, a Christian ministry in the Middle East that aids refugees. 

The Foy-Martís plan to remain in San Francisco, and ideally in the Mission. Addressing their supporters in an email, they added, “We will likely call on y’all, once it comes time, to help pack books and sort through 23 years of nesting here on 23rd St. :-).”

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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24 Comments

  1. It is unfortunate for them, but if they wanted to never leave the house the should have bought it. That is the difference between renting and owning, and why owning is more expensive (at least in the short run).

    1. Brad, do you really believe that anyone could have just bought aSF home? Even 23 years ago? If these owners own multiple properties, that are in the landlord business. They likely chose this family to evict due to them being longest term tenant.

    2. If housing is a ‘human right’, which human is being referred too? The human who owns the property or the human who uses the corrupt power of government to extort the use of property from the actual owner?

  2. Anyone want to put money on whether these nonprofiteers, who’s political portfolio has included anti-eviction and anti-displacement over the decades, “stumble” across a “John Elberling” style housing plan?

    1. You don’t have to “come from money” to be in a family that owns real estate in this city. There are plenty of families that have owned properties for generations, most of those I know personally are immigrants or children of immigrants.

      We really need to stop framing property ownership as an evil for those who have it, and as an entitlement to those who are renting. Too many lawsuits (designed purely for financial gain) in this city.

      1. The landlords in this case bought the property in 2018, so, yeah, let’s not paint them as middle-class mom-and-pop landlords, not when they’re paying premium prices in a hot market. The kind of people you’re talking about have been priced out of buying in the San Francisco market. They either have to go elsewhere. Or keep renting.

        1. Didn’t Hillary Ronen manage to move from the Mission to her Bernal aerie to live amongst the other nonprofit elites at the top of the market in 2018 as well?

      2. Lol mom n pop landlords, these ain’t it considering they bought in at the apex year 2018.

        Try again with your spirited defense of the rich.

    2. Ken m You’re correct. It is nice for the daughter. That’s why so many people who don’t have money aspire and act to become financially secure and even rich so their other family members can have it nice. Usually means not having it nice for themselves to increase the chances their other family members will.

  3. Yet, Mr. Marti continues to support anti-housing-creation policies that, over the course, of the last 4+ decades, have led to our chronic housing shortage and the resulting runaway housing costs.

    These same anti-housing policies exacerbate the very conditions that create the pressure for owner-move-in evictions.

  4. Nice work if you can get it…$32K in free rent plus other freebies to white college graduates. These are the people who benefit from rent control. The city just keeps getting whiter.

    1. >white college graduates

      What does “white” mean here, given that the content of the story you are commenting on makes it clear the family being evicted is not white?

  5. Getting uprooted for the sake of the multiple property owners to jack up the rent is terrible. This is the story of thing that directly contribute to affordable housing shortage.

  6. I’m a landlord too and I agree 100% with Brad. Renting is more for people who doesn’t plan to live there for a long time. If people wants to stay for ever and call it home they should keep in mind that they are not the owners of the proprety and that sooner or later they will be asked to leave, to return the property. The property doesn’t belong to them so why do they insist in staying??! ! It’s nonsense. Landlords are kind enough to ask the tenants properly and with anticipation but if they refuse to leave in the proper time given then landlords have no other option but to file an eviction to recover what belongs to them even if it means to force their exit.

    1. Nope! If a person/company owns many properties and runs a rental business, the tenants do not need to promise to move soon after moving in. Most who have lived in SF for decades do not own. Why should greedy landlords be allowed to ruin our lives?

    2. Asking a tenant to leave isn’t a act of kindness. Local SF rent control laws require landlords to have “just cause” and compensate tenants who are formally told to leave. If a tenant simply moves out after being “kindly asked to leave”, they forfeit compensation or even their right to stay without landlord’s just cause for eviction. That “kind” act is actually a attempt to weasel out of having “just cause” and paying the tenant what the law requires.

  7. People are so quick to judge without all the information, it’s only when we find ourselves facing similar hardships that we truly understand or empathize with another person’s struggle. It sounds like the tenants were within their right to fight the breach of contract that they had come to rely on for the past 23 years. While new owners had means and money to simply give notice that they no longer wished to extend their lease instead of trying to force an eviction. Compassion and courtesy towards others seems to have disappeared.

    1. Empathy from Carson City Apparently the house is subject to local rent control regulations that require just cause to terminate a tenancy. The owner couldn’t recover the property by simply not extending the lease.

      1. Yet the tenant can terminate anytime they want? How is this fair and equitable, for government to grant one side contract benefits to just one party in a contract? I think it’s unconstitutional and hope the SCOTUS takes up this issue.

        1. Steve. Generally a term lease obligates the lessee to pay the full amount of the contract even if the lessee vacates early. However, it can have provisions for the lessee to “break” the lease that allow reduced payment. Just cause ordinances haven’t been applies to commercial leases. In 1976 the California Supreme decided that local rent control laws can be constitutional, Birkenfeld v. Berkeley. Rent control hasn’t been found unconstitutional under federal law.

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