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.
One rat infestation resulted in a tenant’s illness, according to a doctor’s note. In September, that tenant died.
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. :-).”