In a fairly shocking report even by contemporary SF slumlord standards, the Chron finds that a longtime popular laundromat in the Excelsior has secretly been serving for more than ten years as a horrifyingly dangerous and exploitive illegal apartment racket. Michael Bodley reports in the Chronicle that Clean Wash Center, the gigantic 24-hour coin-op laundromat and dry cleaning service at 4690 Mission Street (at Persia Avenue) has been illegally renting out 20 squalid units in its basement, and these units were so rife with code violations that a San Francisco Fire Department spokesman called the place a "death trap."
The report, which contains several disturbing photos of the slummy and shabby units, reads like a dismal Charles Dickens tale set in modern-day San Francisco. “Fire officials who inspected the basement Jan. 5 found it had been illegally subdivided into 20 units divided by panels of drywall,” Bodley reports. “Each unit measured roughly 150 square feet. A crude bathroom blocked a hallway, exposed wires poked through the walls, and extension cords powered both fans and space heaters. The sole exit was 200 feet from the farthest unit.”
In what must be the saddest circumstance of Apartment Sadness we’ve heard in awhile, tenants were paying up to $1,000 a month to live in these circumstances with washing machines running loudly above them 24/7, and 20 people sharing four bathrooms whose slapdash plumbing often filled the place with the smell of sewage.
The illegal units were apparently discovered in a January 5 city inspection, spurred by an anonymous tip and widespread safety concerns that followed after the December Ghost Ship fire that took 36 lives.
Fire Department spokesperson Jonathan Baxter told the Chronicle that “We determined immediately that there were very egregious fire code violations that were present, that we believed would result in death of occupants if a fire or disaster occurred at that building.”
Inspectors returned a month later to find that not one code violation had been fixed or addressed. With pressure from the city growing, the landlords tried to evict all of the tenants and immediately cut off their electricity. Several tenants remained because they couldn’t find other housing options, forced to live with candles and flashlights in units that had no windows or sunlight.
These tenants are now suing the landlord Ernesto Paredes and the building’s owner Melissa Mendoza. Their suit argues that their removal constituted a no-fault eviction, entitling them to thousands of dollars in relocation fees and reimbursement of portions of their paid rent.