Today's "gotta hear both sides" landlord-tenant dispute comes from ABC 7, and the landlord's lawyers are presenting it as a "case study" that argues renters are afforded too many rights and resources.
The landlord is Stan Lee: A San Francisco firefighter with a 20-year history of service. He's also the 2004 recipient of a commendation for rescuing a woman trapped beneath a light rail car. In 1999, he purchased an Inner Sunset split-level with a tenant in a rent-controlled unit on the first floor — and he's been trying to put out a proverbial fire at home ever since.
That tenant is Daniel Whittaker, a web developer who's lived in San Francisco since 1987. He's a tenants' rights advocate, who says, "I make pretty good money... In any other city, I could probably own a house and here in San Francisco right now, if I had to be relocated, I honestly don't know what I'm going to do."
"They did everything... possible [to evict me]," says Whittaker, "they made my life hell because they stand to reap millions off this building." The building is worth, according to Zillow, $1.6 million. Whittaker adds that he's currently disabled: If he were to be Ellis Act evicted he would get more money than most, but not enough to cover first and last months' rent.
"I thought that San Francisco would be the place that I spent the rest of my life in," he says, choking up, "but I'm actually making plans to go to maybe Portland if we don't win."
But, security footage in Stan Lee's building shows Whittaker swearing, presumably at Lee, "f--- you, idiot, stupid Chinese s---" and flipping off the camera. It also shows him nearly sideswiping Lee with his car. So, are those crocodile tears from Whittaker?
Whittaker, says Lee, has had checks bounce and is late on his rent 30 percent of the time. "If we were to come home and my tenant's leaving, my kids will not venture out of the garage unless I'm escorting them," says Lee. "That's how afraid they are of him."
But Whittaker, with free legal help from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, won his Ellis Act case, and has stayed put since. According to Lee's lawyer, the "pendulum" has swung too far in favor of tenants and their rights, and "our current mayor and the current folks that are in charge right now have really, really lost sight of the rights of property owners."
In the end, Lee sued Whittaker for back rent, he says damaging his own credit, while receiving rent sporadically. Now Lee wants his mother-in-law to move into the downstairs unit, since "It's just not worth it anymore, being landlords in San Francisco. We just want to live peacefully in our building."
The relative move-in might work, though Lee doesn't sound thrilled about it. "There's another financial burden here because my mother-in-law, I'm going to be cooking for her, helping her do her laundry here, just like she was part of the family household, which she is."
San Francisco was abuzz with the story, shared virally on Facebook, of a Bernal Heights landlord who quadrupled a tenant's rent, exercising a legal loophole to essentially evict her. That tenant has since moved out, and isn't sure what she'll do.
But to present this story as somehow the antithesis of that one is probably another "gotta hear both sides" trap. As San Francisco is teeming with landlord-tenant disputes, it's a strong legal system and broad set of rights on both sides of any dispute that stand to keep things fair.
Mayor Ed Lee, when asked about the case, said, "I'm sorry to hear if someone has felt that they have maybe an inordinate amount of steps to go through, but we emphasize fairness. There are rights to be protected by both landlords and tenants, and I'm hoping that if we can look into it to make sure that they're getting the support and services that they have. People have rights in the city."