California Court Orders City of San Francisco to Allow Condo Conversion in Iris Canada Case
Re-affirms owner property rights can’t be violated for politically motivated and punitive reasons
San Francisco – The California Court of Appeals ordered the City of San Francisco to approve a 2017 condo conversion application by the owners of a six-unit building on Page Street, declaring that “the City abused its discretion in denying the…application” over false claims that an elderly woman still lived in one of the units.
The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel on Friday rejected the Planning Commission’s false claims that the owners had evicted the resident, as well as rejecting claims that the owners provided false information in their conversion application.
The strongly worded decision, which affirmed the property rights of the owners, was signed by Judge Alison M. Tucher of the First District Court of Appeal. She was joined in her opinion by Judge Tracie L. Brown and Presiding Judge Stuart Pollak. (decision attached).
“The City’s Board of Supervisors, its Planning Commission, and tenant activist groups, wanted to prevent the lawful conversion of the building to condos by making false claims that they were protecting a vulnerable resident, in order to score political points with certain groups in the city,” said Andrew Zacks of Zacks, Freedman & Patterson PC, the lead attorney representing the owners. “The Appeals Court rejected the City’s claims in no uncertain terms. This is welcome news for property owners who follow the law and should not have their rights violated in the name of political pandering.”
The owners, Peter M. Owens, his wife Carolyn A. Radisch, and brother Stephen L. Owens, bought the six-unit building at 670 Page St. in 2002, in which two units were already vacant. Under The Ellis Act, the owners removed the building from the rental market, invested in significant renovations, and then offered five of the units for sale as TICs. The sixth unit was occupied by an elderly resident, Iris Canada. The building’s owners generously agreed in 2005 to give her a “life estate” in the unit. That agreement allowed her to occupy the apartment for the rest of her life, at a fixed rent, as long as she continued living there as its sole occupant.
The TIC purchasers, along with the building owners, had always intended to seek to convert the building to condos once Canada voluntarily moved out of her apartment. She did so in 2012, when she was 96 years old and by necessity was being cared for by relatives in their homes. Shortly after, the owners applied for the conversion – but were denied by the Planning Commission, which claimed that Canada still occupied the apartment.
The appeals court, however, declared there was “overwhelming evidence” that Canada had vacated the apartment in 2012, which allowed the owners to exercise their rights to terminate the 2005 agreement. In fact, the apartment was not only vacant, but it had been terribly neglected and was filled “with rotting food, trash, roaches, and dead and dying vermin caught in traps,” according to the judgment against the City of San Francisco.
“From the beginning, the owners respected Iris Canada’s long-term residency of the apartment as well as her advanced age, and entered into a generous agreement to keep her in her home as long as possible,” said Zacks. “But the City, tenant activists, and Ms. Canada’s grandniece spun a false tale of uncaring owners and painted them as callously evicting an elderly resident – and in the process, denied the owners’ rights as well as the rights of the other residents who desired a condo conversion.”
Zacks said “We’re grateful that the court rejected these overt attempts to deny these owners their rights and tell the City to keep punitive politics out of its decisions.”
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