Seriously? Evicting a 99-year-old? Rally at Tuesday hearing

This is how bad things are getting: Iris Canada could lose her home of more than 60 years, despite a lifetime lease

CALL TO ACTION: Rally for Iris Canada, a 99-year-old African American woman in the Fillmore threatened with eviction. At a hearing Tuesday, April 19, 8:30 a.m., in the Courthouse, 400 McAllister, San Francisco, her lawyers will argue to make her temporary stay permanent. Join the two-to-three-hour rally outside.

by Tim Redmond

Iris Canada, 99, consults with her niece, Iris Merriouns, at the press conference on April 12. – Photo: 48 Hills
Iris Canada, 99, consults with her niece, Iris Merriouns, at the press conference on April 12. – Photo: 48 Hills

Supporters of a 99-year-old woman facing eviction from a Page Street apartment rallied in front of the Superior Court building on April 12 asking that Iris Canada, who moved into her apartment in the 1940s, be allowed to say for the rest of her life.

The owners of the property, Peter Owens, Carolyn Radisch and Steven Owens, at least two of whom now live on the East Coast, want Canada out within days. But she’s won at least a temporary stay while the courts try to sort this out.

It’s a long and convoluted property tale.

Peter Owens and Radisch, who are married, bought the 670 Page St. unit as a tenancy in common in 2002, along with Steven, who is Peter’s brother. It appears they saw it as an investment, since it had a long-term tenant and none of them made any effort to move in.

They are now trying to convert the building to condos, which would make the property significantly more valuable.

According to court papers, in 2005 the owners sought to evict Canada under the Ellis Act, but she got a lawyer and fought back. As part of a settlement in that case, her attorney, Steven Collier, said in a declaration, the owners agreed to allow Canada to purchase a lifetime lease for $250,000, payable at $700 a month.

The deal allows her to stay in the apartment as long as she maintains it and is able to live there.

But Peter Owens said in an Oct. 5, 2015, declaration that he became convinced Canada no longer occupied the apartment. And so, under the terms of the lifetime lease, he moved to evict her.

He said he entered her apartment in 2014, and found the toilet bowl dry, mold in the bathtub, a strong odor, and “it was patently obvious nobody had used the furniture in a long time.”

The owners agreed to allow Canada to purchase a lifetime lease for $250,000, payable at $700 a month. The deal allows her to stay in the apartment as long as she maintains it and is able to live there.

He also said she had fallen behind on her monthly payments, but acknowledged that Canada’s niece, Iris Merriouns, ultimately sent him all the back payments.

He frames the discussion as a health and safety issue, implying that Canada can’t live on her own and has abandoned the place. But that’s not what housing advocates saw when they visited last week.

“It’s like anybody’s apartment,” Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee told me. “She was still in her bed when I got there. There was no bad odor. The apartment I saw looked like a place where someone is living.”

The pictures I saw on ABC 7 tonight bore absolutely no resemblance to what the landlord alleged in court. The apartment appeared clean, well-maintained – and lived-in.

Canada does have a regular care-giver, which is not surprising for a 99-year-old. (Apparently one of the possible eviction issues is that she’s not supposed to have roommates – but seriously, evicting a senior for having a live-in caregiver?)

“Her family looks after her,” Mecca said.

This is the rally for Iris Canada outside the courthouse on April 12, when a one-week temporary stay of her eviction was won. Readers are urged to make the rally at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19, even larger to help win a permanent stay. – Photo: Wayne Freeman
This is the rally for Iris Canada outside the courthouse on April 12, when a one-week temporary stay of her eviction was won. Readers are urged to make the rally at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19, even larger to help win a permanent stay. – Photo: Wayne Freeman

Canada moved to the city in the 1940s, her niece told me. Her late husband was a merchant marine sailor; she was a nurse. The two-bedroom apartment where she lives, on Page between Fillmore and Steiner, was once in the heart of a Black neighborhood, but now she’s the only African American living in the building.

Owens, the evictor, is apparently the head of the Community and Economic Development Office in Burlington, Vermont, where Bernie Sanders got his start as mayor. According to the city’s weekly newspaper, Seven Days, the head of the agency is a former planner at the Presidio Trust in San Francisco and is married to Carolyn Radisch, who lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.

In his court statements, Owens speaks of leaving San Francisco to move to Hanover. I couldn’t reach him this afternoon. A staffer in Owens’ office told me Wednesday, April 13, that Owens is out of town and has not been responding to email.

Andrew Zachs, the notorious eviction lawyer representing the owners, refused to talk to reporters at the hearing April 12.

Canada’s family agrees there are periods when she wasn’t always in the apartment – she’s had health issues and has been hospitalized. She spends time with family.

But on one level, the legal niceties don’t exactly matter. She’s 99 years old. And it’s pretty much never OK to evict a 99-year-old.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who was on hand for the press conference this afternoon, agreed. “That’s crossing the line,” she said.

On one level, the legal niceties don’t exactly matter. She’s 99 years old. And it’s pretty much never OK to evict a 99-year-old.

The court granted Canada a one-week stay. The sheriff isn’t going to be excited about doing this particular eviction. And at some point, the landlord in Burlington is going to have to ask if this fight is really worth it.

Tim Redmond, longtime editor of San Francisco’s premiere weekly newspaper, The Bay Guardian, now out of print, is executive editor of 48 Hills, which he founded in October 2013 and where this story first appeared. He can be reached at info@48hills.org or http://www.48hills.org/contact/.