It's one of those stories that makes you do a double take: art museum curator and newly minted landlord evicts a 34-year tenant, who just so happens to be an artist and woodworker that has put thousands of hours of his own time into fixing up the home. Wait, really? That's what Eviction Free San Francisco claims, and the group has organized a protest at the de Young Museum, scheduled for tomorrow, to call attention to the situation.
According to EFSF, the problem started in 2013 when Assistant Curator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Emma Acker's husband and in-laws purchased the Duboce Triangle home lived in by artist David Brenkus. The new owners, the Harshawat family, then forced out the previous owner — who was at the time still living in the building. The Harshawat family has now apparently began eviction proceedings against Brenkus.
The San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder confirms that the house was purchased by the Harshawats in 2013.
EFSF claims that Acker enthusiastically supports the eviction. From the protest Facebook page:
Emma Acker is a driving force behind this eviction. She has told David, "You don't seem to understand that we own it now -it is ours!" and "We don't want to share it with you!"
Brenkus is an experimental photographer whose home doubles as his studio and gallery.
While SFist could not independently verify the claims made by EFSF, according to a press release sent out by the group Brenkus is firm in his decision to fight the eviction.
The protest goes down tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. outside the de Young Museum.
Update 9:20 a.m., October 19th: ABC 7 caught up with both the Harshawats and Brenkus over the weekend, and found that as is often the case with housing disputes, the story is complicated.
Artist David Brenkus has lived on the top floor of a three-story building in Duboce Triangle for the past 34 years. [...] He pays $735 a month for the two-bedroom unit.
The Harshawat family purchased the building in 2013 - the ground floor unit for the grandparents, middle floor for [Emma Acker and her husband Ish] and the top floor for brother Kaveet.
Only Kaveet can't move in because Brenkus refuses to move out, even after the family offered him an $80,000 buyout.
"I think our lawyer said it's the most generous offer he's seen in 25 years," Ish said.
In February, they filed for an Ellis Act eviction, which allows landlords to evict tenants if a family member plans to occupy the unit.
Acker told ABC 7 that her name isn't on the property title, and as such she has "no legal ability to evict David Brenkus."
It is clear, however, that Brenkus isn't buying Acker's claim of non-involvement — a sentiment he was not reluctant to share with the same ABC 7 reporters.
"I just find that bizarre, that an art curator is evicting a local artist."
Ish Harshawat reached out to SFist over the weekend, providing a statement that both disputes claims made by Brenkus and portrays the Harshawat family as a victim of harassment and bullying. The statement reads, in part:
We did everything we could to try to resolve this issue amicably, filing the Ellis Act eviction was our absolute last resort,” Ish Harshawat said. “We understand that any tenant would want to continue to take advantage of the bargain Mr. Brenkus has, but that doesn’t mean that my family should be kept from moving into our own home.”
“We are sympathetic to the housing plight in San Francisco but this type of effort does a great disservice to a very important issue,” Acker said. “We will make every effort to continue to defend ourselves against Mr. Brenkus’ outrageous claims and refuse to give in to his bullying tactics.”