Sunset Residents Facing Homelessness: Realtor's Sixth Ellis Act Eviction in 12 Years

By Thomas K. Pendergast

During the first week of the new year, at least 11 long-time tenants in a Sunset District apartment building found out they face an Ellis Act eviction.

They do have a lawyer and plan to either fight the eviction in court or at least get more than 120 days to find new homes.

The Ellis Act permits property owners to take their buildings out of the rental market if they decide they no longer want to be landlords. Its use in this case has turned the lives of residents at the 1635 10th Ave. building upside down, forcing them to face the prospect of homelessness for the first time in many years.

"All of us have been here for a long time. I've been here 30 years; I really don't want to relocate. This is my home, my neighborhood," says Dawn Griffin, 55, an administrative assistant in the health field. "I can't afford anything in San Francisco and I work here. I'm a native San Franciscan. My family's here; My whole life is here and I'd have to relocate to another city, and I have a very unreliable vehicle … It would be an extreme hardship."

Vivian Montesdeoca, 57, is originally from Cuba and has been living in the building for more than 23 years.

"I live with my mother, who is quite old; she is 90 years old and she suffers from Alzheimer's and dementia. This is really bad for her because she will become completely disoriented," says Montesdeoca. "She knows everybody here. Everybody knows her and it would be very, very hard for us to move and also find in San Francisco a place to live."

Julie Jellison is a nurse at UCSF who has been living in the building for 18 years. Her husband Loren is on disability. Both are 53 years of age.

"I'm in total shock. I never thought this would actually happen," says Jellison. "I mean, I was born and raised here in San Francisco and I've seen a lot of changes here but the rents are just horrid. Even for what I do, salary-wise, it would be very difficult to live here in San Francisco and I don't want to have to move out of the City. We don't really have anything saved up to move and that's going to be another hardship right there.

"We're an eight-unit building and this kind of stuff doesn't usually happen to an eight-unit building, usually (it happens to) smaller buildings," she said.

The Ellis Act was designed to give property owners a way out if they decide, for whatever reason, to pull a building out of the rental business.

The former owner of the building could not be reached for comment as of presstime. However, Rose Eger, 59, a musician who has lived in the apartment for 19 years with her husband Willie, offered information that suggests the situation might have been difficult enough that the property owner wanted out. She notes that in recent years the building needed numerous repairs to the infrastructure, the lighting system, etc., perhaps due to the age of the building, which, according to a real estate website, was built in 1961.

She also mentions that some of the neighbors have not been getting along so well in the last couple of years, arguing about each others' noise and things like that, and the landlord did not seem to want further involvement in all the drama anymore.

"I think that had something to do with it, what led up to all of this," says Eger.

Elba E. Borgen bought the property in August 2012, according to Griffin. Borgen works at Frank Howard Allen Realtors, the company behind 1635 10th Avenue Venture Associates, the name on the petition seeking the Ellis Act evictions.

Borgen is not a stranger to the process of evicting through the Ellis Act. Since 2001 the real estate agent has filed Ellis Act petitions with the SF Rent Stabilization Board on at least five other buildings.

Numerous calls to Borgen at Frank Howard Allen Realtors were not returned, nor was an e-mail or messages left at two other voice-mail machines.

The most recent of her Ellis Act evictions was filed in 2006 and garnered Borgen considerable attention on Internet blogs.

On a July 10, 2006 post at the Beyond Chron blog, Casey Mills accused Borgen of being a "serial Ellis Act evictor" when she evicted all of the residents at 1530 McAllister St.

"The residents represent a cross-section of San Francisco," Mills wrote, "including a family of four with children 8-months and four-and-one-half years old; a woman pregnant with a child due at approximately the time she and her husband are supposed to leave their home; an 89-year-old woman on Social Security with no immediate family to provide her with a place to stay should she be evicted; and an African-American senior who spent the last 25 years in his unit."

Another blogger at the time, Lincoln Madison, said "one of the buyers of the property, Elba Borgen, has already gone 'out of business' four separate times, kicking out responsible tenants each time in order to turn a fast profit from converting the building into TICs. Real estate experts estimate that an empty building is worth 20 percent more than an occupied building, just by virtue of being rid of those pesky tenants."

That property was eventually sold as a tenancy in common a few years later. There are now at least six people living in that building.

The residents living on 10th Avenue are upset that they will be the latest victim of a law that they feel is being abused.

"We need to make people aware of this Ellis Act abuse because these Realtors are buying up properties and using Ellis Act loopholes to make a huge profit at the expense of people like us who are low-income, long-term residents," Griffin said. "San Francisco has a huge homeless problem and things like this are only adding to it."