The story that broke earlier this week about the longtime tenant in a Bernal Heights rent-controlled unit has continued to churn, despite the fact that the tenant herself seems to have no legal recourse but to walk away shaking her fist in the air. The latest development is a statement from the landlord's attorney, Denise Leadbetter, who blithely tells SFGate, "There are many sides to a story."
There sure are, Denise. The tenant's side to the story is that she's an acupuncturist who, at age 46, has been living hand-to-mouth and hanging on in the city she loves, living in a rent-controlled apartment for the last ten years for $2145 a month. The building changed hands, a local family, the Lamas, who own several properties, then began doing their level best to make top dollar from their property. But first they needed the two tenants living under rent control to get out, and after bullying her downstairs neighbor out and converting his apartment to "storage space," they then offered the whole house to upstairs tenant Debra Follingstad for quadruple her rent, $8900.
It came out this week that Follingstad had sometimes rented out her second bedroom on Airbnb. Though this was never cited as a reason for an eviction, it seems likely to have been leaked to the press by the landlord's attorney, who now adds that detail into her statement.
The rent increase that has generated this controversy is actually an offer by the owner to rent a substantially larger home than was originally rented,” Leadbetter says. "In addition to the upper level (in which tenant currently resides), Ms. Follingstad will have access to at least 60% more space which can be used by the tenant to offset the rent increase through her existing Airbnb business."
Leadbetter also implies that there was some anger on the part of the landlord about Follingstad's Airbnb business which, by the way, was only making her $90 a night if and when she had a guest. Leadbetter writes, "San Francisco’s promotion of Airbnb-type hotel use further reduces available housing to middle income residents. A comprehensive housing policy is required for San Francisco County residents landlords and tenants. Commercial profit making use of a tenants rent regulated rental unit should be disallowed.”
Follingstad insists that the Airbnb thing had never come up, and she told SFGate earlier that landlord Nadia Lama was unaware of her Airbnb business, which she only used to "make ends meet" when her acupuncture business was slow.
Also, if the landlord now wants to suggests that Follingstad was in the wrong to be renting a room via Airbnb, what was the motivation for kicking out the downstairs tenant, who had also been there many years paying below-market rent?
Well, the real motivation is, obviously, skirting rent control, as Leadbetter admits in the rest of her statement. "When a small property owner finally has an opportunity to increase the rent via State law the City gives almost no choice to the owner but to take the opportunity to increase the rent. If owners were allowed modest increases over time, we would not see this kind of dramatic rent increase required.”
There it is.
Update: KQED tracked down Wayne Moore, the aforementioned downstairs tenant who was bullied out. "They were raising the rent every year," Moore says, saying they were already breaking rent control laws. "Every damn year. I didn’t have the time or energy to fight it, so I just paid it." The story goes on to explain the drama within the Lama family that is likely behind the move to ersatz-evict Follingstad.