Twenty people showed up at 2120 Market Street in the rain to support the family last Thursday. Photo by Chuqin Jiang
Twenty people showed up at 2120 Market Street in the rain to support the family last Thursday. Photo by Chuqin Jiang

In one of the first uses of a new law that allows tenants to form a union to negotiate with landlords, renters at 140 Julian Ave. have formed a union to save a Latinx family from being evicted.

Some 75 percent of the tenants at the 21-unit building between 15th and 16th streets formed the union in October, and are demanding that the landlord meet with the group to discuss the notice sent to Melissa Morales and Edgar Arturo Chay, who have lived in the Julian Avenue building for 27 years. 

Without the new law, “a tenant facing this type of eviction would be faced to meet with their landlord alone,” said Allyn Mejia, lead organizer of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. 

The landlord has yet to reply, but once again, last week, some 20 friends and tenants protested in front of the offices of Anchor Realty and Del Campo Investments at Market Street. 

A poster stating tenants’ demand in support of the family. Photo by Chuqin Jiang.

The troubles for Morales and Chay began in July, when the couple received an official notice that set out the landlord’s rights in the case of sublessees who remain after the leaseholder has vacated the apartment. In this case, Carlos DeLeon was the original tenant, but he moved out long ago. 

Morales and Chay, who are monolingual Spanish speakers, moved into the 98-year-old building in 1995, and have lived in the two-bedroom unit ever since, paying less than $1,000 a month for the apartment.

If they’re able to prove that they moved in before 1996, the document would seem to establish their rights to rent control. “An owner may increase the rent by any amount allowed by this section to a lawful sublessee or assignee who did not reside at the dwelling or unit prior to January 1, 1996,” the document states. 

“But the landlord is counting on them being confused by the legalese, and self-evicting,” said Liz Gobbo, the Communications Coordinator of Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, in an email referring to the notice. 

The 1996 date is included in the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, allowing landlords of rent controlled buildings to raise rents when a unit becomes vacant. 

Tenant advocates, however, said that Morales and Chay are still entitled to the rent-controlled rates because Costa-Hawkins was not in place when they took over the apartment.

It’s unclear why the realtor is trying to impose the increase now, rather than when the original leaseholder moved out, or how this dispute will be resolved.   

Morales, 51, said the apartment was her first place to stay in the city, and the only home their 11-year-old daughter, Leidy, has ever known. She was desperate when she first received the notice, but on Thursday, the community’s support gave her confidence that the landlord will make a concession.

“I feel so content with all the support shown by my neighbors,” Morales said in Spanish. “I don’t have any backup plan if we get evicted. But I am convinced that the landlord is gonna change at a certain point. That’s why everyone is working so hard together.”

Last Thursday, while the crowd kept chanting ‘take the rent,’ the family, accompanied by other residents in the same building and members of the Housing Right Committee, stepped into the office to drop off their rent check. But the staffer inside said she couldn’t accept the payment until receiving further notice from her company. The company has not accepted the couple’s checks since Nov. 1.

Morales and Chay attempted to drop off their rent check, but were refused. Photo by Chuqin Jiang.

Mejia then gave the staffer a demand letter from the 140 Julian SouthEast Tenants Association. It also included a copy of a petition to set up the tenants association, signed by the majority of the tenants residing at 140 Julian Ave.

In the letter, the association asked the landlord to acknowledge the existence of the union, and take the first step toward fair negotiation.

Earlier this year, the city passed legislation, sponsored by seven supervisors, known as the Union-At-Home Ordinance. It ensured tenants’ rights to form associations if residents in at least half of the units in a building agree to do so. Once the association is legal, the landlord is required to discuss, in good faith, the common concerns with the association, and to attend at least one meeting every three months, as requested in writing.

When seeing tht the office refused to take Morales’ payment, another resident withheld his rent as an impromptu show of support. 

An hour after the action, Anchor Realty’s attorney attempted to contact Mejia from the Housing Rights Committee via email and phone, in a reversal of the landlord’s previous refusal to engage with any “non-resident advocates” regarding 140 Julian. 

Mejia urged the company to contact the tenant association directly, as requested in the letter. 

Shashank Biradar, a market-rate tenant in the same building for the past six months, said he first heard about what happened to the family two months ago. He then agreed to become the steward of the building’s tenants association. 

“I feel happy to have the opportunity to support my neighbor,” said Biradar. “I think the association can play a really positive role in protecting tenants and their rights in the future.”

The tenants association said that if it doesn’t get a response, its members will decide what to do next at the building-wide meeting, later this month. 

The association first submitted its completed majority petition at the end of October, asking the landlord to withdraw the notice on Morales’ family, and expressing a willingness to negotiate.

Chay and Morales (far left) and the 140 Julian Tenants Association. Photo provided by HRCSF.

After Morales’ payment was first declined, on Nov. 1, the association submitted two other letters, but never heard back from the landlord. 

Mission Local tried to contact Anchor Realty and Del Campo Investments, but has received no comment yet.

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INTERN DATA REPORTER. Chuqin has two degrees in data journalism and she is passionate about making data more accessible to readers. Before arriving in the Mission, she covered small business and migratory birds in New York City while learning to code and design at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. She loves coastal cities, including SF and her hometown Ningbo.

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  1. What’s better than rent control? A tax on vacant lots and unoccupied buildings. While rent control makes it less attractive to supply accommodation, a vacant-property tax makes it less attractive NOT to! Such a tax, although sometimes called a “vacancy tax”, is not limited to what real-estate agents call “vacancies” — that is, properties available for rent. It also applies to vacant lots and empty properties that are not on the rental market, and prompts the owners to get them habitable and occupied in order to avoid the tax.

    By the way, the desired *avoidance* of the vacant-property tax would increase economic activity, expanding the bases of other taxes and allowing their rates to be reduced, so that everyone else—including tenants, home owners, and landlords with tenants—would pay LESS tax!