SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — A 100-year-old woman fighting to stay in her apartment in San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighborhood could soon face eviction after a judge found Wednesday that she had failed to pay court-ordered attorney’s fees.
The ruling, which grants property owners the right to evict Iris Canada, is the latest development in a long-running battle over her apartment at 670 Page St., where she has lived since the 1950s.
Canada was granted a lifetime estate in the apartment in 2005, allowing her to stay for the rest of her life, when the rest of the building underwent an Ellis Act eviction and five other units were sold as tenancies-in-common.
However, property owners Peter Owens, Stephen Owens and Carolyne Radishe, moved to terminate that lifetime estate and evict Canada in 2014, alleging that she had been living with family members since 2012 and had neglected the apartment for so long that the utilities were shut off and it became uninhabitable.
The court found in the landlords’ favor, and in April ruled that Canada could stay in her apartment only if she accepted strict limits on her occupancy and paid the property owners’ attorney’s fees.
However, Canada cannot pay the fees, which total more than $150,000, according to tenant advocates who have been rallying to her cause.
Canada’s attorney Dennis Zaragoza said he plans to file a motion Friday seeking to dismiss previous court rulings on the grounds that they were made at a time when the case was technically in federal court, and
outside the state court’s jurisdiction.
Zaragoza said the landlords moved to remove Canada in 2014 because they want to convert the building to condominiums.
“This litigation was started by the plaintiff to try to force Iris Canada to sign some documents,” Zaragoza said.
Attorneys for the property owners have said they will drop the demand for legal fees and let Canada stay if she agrees to sign paperwork allowing the building to convert to condos.
They say her signature is legally required because her lifetime estate gives her an ownership claim on the building, although attorney Mark Chernev Thursday noted that the lifetime estate was actually terminated several months ago by the court.
Chernev alleged that Canada’s family members were pushing her to hold out on signing the paperwork in an attempt to force his clients to sell the unit to them at well below market rate.
“The condo is worth $1.8 million and she wants to buy it for $600,000,” he said.
He said the unit had been offered to Canada when the Ellis Act eviction occurred but she had been unable to afford it and had instead negotiated the lifetime estate with the help of a tenant’s attorney.
“She couldn’t afford it and she didn’t want it. This was what she wanted,” Chernev said of the lifetime estate. “Now all that we’re asking is that she agree to sign the condominium conversion paperwork.”
Activists have said they plan to approach San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon’s office Friday with a demand that he file elder abuse charges against the property owner.
Tiny Gray-Garcia, an advocate with Poor Magazine, said she planned to make the request at San Francisco’s Hall of Justice along with members of Senior Disability Action and other groups. She argued that the ongoing financial and emotional duress were causing undue strain on a frail older woman.
“A lot of folks are very concerned that this might end up in her death, there are already elders who have died from the stress of these evictions,” Gray-Garcia said.
It remains unclear when or if the property owners will move to evict Canada. Chernev indicated the offer to let her stay as long as she signed the paperwork still stands as of Thursday.
When asked if the property owners would consider selling the unit to Canada or her family to end the litigation, however, Chernev said they would offer right of first refusal if it were on the market, but “It’s not for sale.”