KQED: Lama Family Feud Lies at Heart of Big Bocana Rent Increase

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Veteran reporter Dan Brekke knows how to do the legwork required to crack a story open. These days he works for KQED, where he just published a remarkably detailed report on the Lama family dispute that lies at the heart of the now-infamous 315 Bocana rent-increase controversy.

Brekke’s reporting largely confirms rumors that have been rippling through Bernal Heights for the last few days, to the effect that as a result of the family feud, Bernal neighbor and 355 Bocana property owner Nadia Lama hoped to evict Neigbor Deb Follingstad, because Neighbor Nadia herself needs a place to live.

Brekke reports:

Superior Court filings show that Nina Gelfant and Gayle Worrell alleged they were forced from their one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 720-square-foot Cortland Avenue apartment [in 2013] after the Lamas raised the rent from $1,650 to $4,250 — 157 percent.

The suit argued that the rent increase was far above market rate and designed to get Gelfant and Worrell to leave so that Lamas could sell the property.

That sale, [tenant-rights lawyer Joe] Tobener suggested in a trial brief that outlined more than $1 million in potential damages, was triggered by a battle among Shukry Lama’s heirs over the property he’d left behind when he died in 2012.

“Chuck Lama’s heirs were fighting over their share of the inheritance which demanded selling properties or having the heirs occupy them as residences,” Tobener’s brief says.

That alleged squabble also appears to have played a role in Nadia Lama’s dramatic increase of Deb Follingstad’s rent.

In September 2013, she filed a probate petition in Superior Court seeking to compel her sister Claudia, the overseer of several family trusts set up by [deceased family patriarch] Chuck Lama, to account for the family’s assets. Assets named in the petition and exhibits include a small Cortland Avenue market, Chuck’s Store, the store’s liquor license, eight residential properties in San Francisco, one in Burlingame, and unspecified real estate in Chile.

The court proceeding resulted in an agreement last Dec. 31 in which the three Lama sisters and their three brothers, along with some of their children, agreed to close the family trusts and distribute their assets.

The property Nadia Lama was to receive includes a 2006 Toyota Avalon; $25,000 to pay the legal bills she’d incurred; a little more than $750,000 in cash due upon the sale of two of the family’s properties; and finally, the Bocana Street residence occupied by Deb Follingstad and the $7,500 to hire a lawyer to evict her.

The agreement also requires Nadia Lama to vacate her current home, a couple of doors up from Follingstad and still owned by her siblings, by the end of April. If she doesn’t, the document says, she’ll have to pay $4,000 a month rent to four of her siblings who will continue as owners; and if she does anything to interfere with their renting out the home she’s supposed to vacate, she’ll owe her siblings $10,000 in damages.

Kudos to Dan Brekke and KQED for the excellent work following the paper trail. Read Brekke’s full report on the KQED website, right here.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

67 thoughts on “KQED: Lama Family Feud Lies at Heart of Big Bocana Rent Increase

  1. This is a very interesting article to me, as my family is currently drawing up a Living Trust, and I’ve become very aware of how you can really leave behind some requirements that are very difficult to accommodate.

    • It would appear that the landlord doesn’t want to utilize an Ellis Act eviction which would entitle the tenant to relocation fees. Might have been easier and cheaper at this rate as it sounds like this process may drag out for both parties.

      • She’s set to get $750,000 in cash and she doesn’t want to pay her long-term tenant what’s due? it would certainly be the fair and civilize thing to do, being as she won the birth lottery and all

      • There’s gotta be some strategy behind all this maneuver, one would hope. I think the plan might have carried out as planned except for the media attention.

      • She should give her tenant what she’s due under the law if she plans to move into the unit. Disgusting, selfish behavior.

    • Having been evicted myself via OMI, I know the ramifications of on-the-books OMIs are tricky, so maybe that’s a factor. For instance, in a multi-unit building, an OMI can only be done once on a property – for its entire life, across all units and all owners. Disclosing that an OMI occurred can actually knock about $100,000 off the sale price of a property, since it is perceived as a severe limitation to future owners. There’s also a requirement that she’d need to live there herself for 3 years minimum before renting or selling again, or offer it back to the previous tenant at the original rental rate. Everything I know about OMIs involves multi-unit buildings though, so maybe things are different for a single family home.

      Still, I agree, she should do it the above-board way. It’s totally unfair to try to screw her tenant out of relocation costs by taking the low, intimidating road.

      • My former Bernal landlord offered me decent money to move out after trying stupid tricks on me such as claiming that his ailing sister had to move in. (His ailing sister wasn’t ailing and she owns her own Bernal house.) But anyway, I accepted and he accepted and I guess everything went happily ever after. I got into a better apartment at a lower price, and he did the remodeling and whatnot that he wanted to do.

  2. I’m guessing this also explains why Chuck’s hasn’t re-opened despite their sign that says we’ll be back…..

    • I’d assume they’d have a hard time re-opening now. I sure as h*** wouldn’t go back in there … and it used to be my favorite convenience store on the hill.

  3. I WAS RIGHTt. In fact I may have been the only one here who suggested that this was a legitimate owner move-in. Either that or Airbnb were the only scenarios that made sense to me, and I discounted Airbnb because there is so much controversy swirling around them that it would have been a dumb move.

    So, Nadia, rather than a culprit in this situation is really a victim of her siblings’ desire to get her out of another house.

    • Uh, she’s still trying to deny her tenant relocation fees. If she’s a victim, she’s also very much a villain.

      • It is not unusual for someone to be good and bad at the same time. Mussolini was a horrific dictator but he increased the efficiency of Italian government. Steve Jobs was a powerful influence in computing but he was an asshole to work for. Ed Lee is a breath of fresh air in SF city government, but he’s impressed by shiny objects.

    • I find it bizarre that you describe what’s taken place here as a “legitimate owner move-in.” You know, as opposed to actually filing an owner-move-in-eviction notice with the city and the tenant.

  4. Rather ironic, considering that when Chuck died, there was a natural outpouring of sympathy from the entire neighborhood. Now the family is wealthy thanks to Chuck’s good investments, but they no longer care about each other, and even following their considerable windfall, the neighborhood we love is merely a tableau for their stinginess.

    • This is typical when money comes into play. I once was selling a house I owned and one of the prospects asked how long I could keep the sale open. Huh? “Well, I don’t have the money yet, but I expect to get it within the next year.” Yep, he was waiting for a family member to die.

      But then, what do you expect then we have a society based on greed? In America money is everything. Our culture does not honor elders or take care of members of the community who have fallen on hard times. No, America is only about the money. Contrast this with a place like Mexico where it’s not unusual for the family home to be passed down through 6 generations, and an extended family of 3 or 4 generations may live together.

      • Thanks David. Can you provide a data source for your claim that “[in] a place like Mexico where it’s not unusual for the family home to be passed down through 6 generations”

      • Maybe if you got to know some Mexicans you wouldn’t be asking such an inane question. But I’ll give one example of an American friend who lives 8 months in Mexico City and 4 months here. He lives in the guest cottage of a home where the family has owned it since 1840 or thereabouts. The reason he’s living there is because he married into the family, but is no longer married. Still, I guess, family is family.

      • Amory, David’s statement is pretty accurate. On both my husband and my family’s side, there are properties in Mexico that span generations. So much history and emotion tied to the family home. Within the four walls, babies have been born, grand parties thrown to celebrate milestones, elders would take their last breath surrounded by loved ones, with memorials for the deceased held in their honor. In smaller towns, the home can also be the base of the family business. Currently, one such family property is now used for vacationing relatives to lodge in, as most everyone from that branch of the family have their lives here in the states, or are of the generation born in the US. Other properties still have famIly members residing in them. Interestingly enough, I happen to have moved back into my childhood home here in Bernal Heights some years back, with my in-laws now living in my former residence in the Mission District. Not sure where I may end up in years to come, but my son has expressed interest in remaining in his grandparents home.

  5. Probably would have cost WAY less in legal fees and bad karma to just do the legal thing — OMI eviction and a $5,500 relocation payment. Stupid.

    • Except OMI has other restrictions such as having to move in within 3 months and having to live there for 36 months and other things (http://www.sfrb.org/index.aspx?page=965) As a building owner, I’d want to have as few encumbrances on my asset as possible. The more ethical route would be inform the tenant of the situation (either in person, letter or via legal representative) and offer a buyout. I don’t see this as a win-win or even a win-lose, it’s a lose-lose on both sides and at least a buyout would soften the blow a little.

  6. Why don’t some of you who continue to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, stop your Granny gossiping about a family business that is none of your business and go do something constructive!

    • Yeah, why didn’t she save herself a lot of money and move into the unit from which she bullied a nearly 25 year tenant?

    • You might also note how very ***PRIVILEGED**** you are to own property in San Francisco.

      • Fuck that. Many of us worked our asses off hard in our 20s and 30s so we could buy a home for our kids! That doesn’t make me privileged. I continue to bust my ass to keep my little haven in this fair city.

      • Oh stop yourself. I am not a property owner btw. How is it privilege when someone works their ass off and put all their savings into property? My friend’s grandmother raised 6 kids by herself while working ridiculous hours. She slowly acquired property. I guarantee that she did not spend her dollars on ToGo cups of coffee.

        They start buying in low value neighborhoods. Some times you get lucky and your hood gets hot but even hot hoods can have bust cycles. Yes, now we have the misfortune of a searing hot market and wages do not go as far as it once did but you still can’t discount it to ” privilege ” because folks are still saving and buying albeit a little farther out.

        This issue is larger than calling it privilege. It bothers me that you are discounting the efforts of those who aren’t.

      • To the folks below: Don’t kid yourself. You can work your a** off and still benefit from privilege. The difference is that other people do the same and don’t reap the benefits of those with skin privilege, class privilege, gender privilege, cis privilege etc. If you don’t think you or your grandmother benefited from any sort of privilege, congratulations, I suppose? But recognize that your kids will benefit from your current status as property owners. You’ve ascended to privilege whether you worked for it or not.

      • YetAnotherSFer – You raise some good points. I think change in rent control would require a long, slow transition.

      • “…those with skin privilege, class privilege, gender privilege, cis privilege etc.”

        I’m interested in the implication of the “etc.”.

        I get the sense that everyone has a privilege one way or another, if we look hard enough. 🙂

    • Living in SF, as a renter or landlord, is strangely complex. I feel awful for so many people, as I am aware of really unfair things happening to both! As a young adult, I lived in San Mateo county. While there was no rent control, I did have a one year lease. If there was a rent increase, and it was too high for me, I looked elsewhere. Only had to do this a few times, but was prepared to do what needed to be done when I got close to the end of the lease. Obviously, staying put is easier, but when I did choose to move, it wasn’t a horrible thing. It was what it was. For a young woman on a tight budget, I did manage to live in some very decent places. Was very fortunate, I suppose…

    • Amen! I’ve known it for years, but stories like this confirm that it’s not worth it to have longterm tenants in San Francisco.

    • When you rent out a home you are IN BUSINESS, plain and simple, and must abide by the laws that govern business. Technically, people who own real estate and rent it out should have business licenses, but SF doesn’t seem to enforce that. This is what most landlords of smaller buildings fail to see; they’re not engaged in a hobby; they’re in BUSINESS.

      • Agree with you there, David. When one rents out their home, they are running a business.

      • This analogy fails immediately. If you want to consider property rental a business, then the business owner / operator should be able to legally cease to run that business at anytime. That means stop taking money from the customer / tenant and stop providing the product / service.

        What other business can you go into that, by law, you must commit to running for life (and commit your heirs to running) except for a very, very few legal ways to shut the business down?

        Affordable and sufficient housing is a problem. SF’s current rent control laws are not a good solution. Much like rapidly escalating property taxes was a problem and Prop 13 was not a good solution.

      • Nonsense! There are many ways landlords can cease being in the rental BUSINESS. There’s TIC, there’s the process of taking the apartment off the market and using it for family members, etc. But if you have multiple units, the apartment building itself is a BUSINESS, and thus the easiest way to get out of it is to sell the BUSINESS to someone else.

        Non-professional landlords (“Oh, here’s a nice duplex; we’ll live in one and rent out the other”) are often as dumb as people with no experience who open restaurants (“Well, I like to cook, so I thought it would be easy.”) I urge anybody in the rental BUSINESS to go take some classes at City College on how to be be a landlord. I did when I was first asked to take over the management of a 6-unit building downtown. I learned a LOT about the rental BUSINESS.

      • I think it’s clear to anyone besides you my example was not intended to cover buildings that are clearly multi-unit apartment buildings.

        I’m pretty sure if you picked 100 Americans at random, showed them a photo and a blueprint of the building in question, and asked them if that’s would reasonably be classified as a single-family home, you’d get a ‘yes’ over 90% of the time. That it matter at one time an owner illegally or legally found a way to pull 2 or more rent checks out of the place is one of the many problems with SF’s crazy rent control / home ownership laws.

        It’s easy to make current owner of the building the bad guy in this story. Much more difficult to take the time to think through the bizarre regulations that forced her to have to pay a lawyer to figure out a way to get control of her property. Instead of, for example, just requiring the owner to give… say 3-6 months notice of a rent increase. Or have a city-wide policy, applying to all residential rentals, that set an amount an owner has to pay a tenant if they want their property back under their control. Current-Rent x Years-Rented x Tenant-Gets-More-If-They-Move-Out-Sooner x Number-Reps-Of-Property-Owners-And-Tenants-Rights-Activists-Agree-To-Every-Year. Might be a better calculation, but it gets the lawyers out of each and every case, which is where we are now.

        I’ve heard people debate the bigger and smaller details of rent control for 40 years. In cities across the US and Europe. The only conclusion I’ve reached is rent control has not solved the problem that most advocates hoped is would solve. We have generations of data on this. We don’t need to talk about what might happen or what should happen. We know what happens in the real world, in lots of cities, with lots of variations on rent control laws.

        We don’t get more available housing. A vast underground / black market forms. Potential rental units are never put on the market because of the difficulty in getting out of the rental business. Every few years a new “system” to game the “system” emerges. Today’s system is called AirBnB. I don’t know what the new system will be in 2-5 years, but I’m sure there will be one. And another after that.

        If you want to change SF, I suggest you start with studying Amsterdam’s rent control policies. Data seems to indicate it fails less. You’ll of course find many who call it the biggest failure of all of them.

      • I HAVE NOT VOICED AN OPINION one way or the other on the situation, so telling me that I’m pro-tenant is totally wrong. All I said is that she’s a friend of a friend. I don’t know the woman at all. I only mentioned that she’s a friend of a friend because I saw the original un-redacted letter from the lawyer before most other people did and came to the conclusion that the letter was not faked or an exaggeration.

        I’m not sure how I feel about the situation. Personally, I have no dogs in this race, so my life will go on unaffected by this situation.

  7. Tenant got multiple years of rent-controlled living and profited by renting out on Airbnb. New owner wants to live in the place she OWNS. Its too bad that the tenant cannot afford to live in the same neighborhood, but there is no right to live *here*. There are lots of people who are preemptively priced out of the neighborhood and have to move somewhere else. They don’t have a right to live here either.

    You people are being so darn nasty and moralistic about what the OWNER ought to be doing. As the owner of a non-rent controlled house, she has the right to raise the rent to whatever she wants.

  8. people who’ve never owned a building containing rental units in it – or have known people in that situation are generally unaware of all the associated costs a landlord is responsible for. . it’s like employer vs employee…renter vs owner .. parent vs child. one has a variety of responsibilities and the other has just one – pay the rent.
    i don;t know about you but i’m really sick of hearing all the comments on this site bellyaching about these issues without the slightest inkling of what it means to be a landlord.
    also I think everyone here who has something to say about familial financial issues around real estate need to back off unless they’ve had some experience with it. do we really care to hear some blowhard’s take on what the Llama family thinks? the article was very interesting because it was founded in fact and put a light on what might be going on with our neighbor – beyond that – phooey

    • Thanks for your insightful comment. Sadly, I’ll never be in the position to quadruple the interest rate on your mortgage overnight so you can appreciate some of what Neighbor Deb is going through. A pity.

    • Speaking from experience, owning a rental property is a business. You are the business owner and your tenant is your customer. Just as in any other business relationship there are laws out there to protect both parties. Yes, there are slumlords who don’t repair things and hike up your rent by 400% when they want you to do what they want AND yes there are horrible tenants who manipulate the system so they can sublet out rent controlled units and make a buck, or simply squat and not pay rent at all.

      I think it’s pretty clear here that Deb was not a trouble tenant (repairing her home since the family wouldn’t, and paying her rent consistently for years). I also think it’s pretty clear that the owners of the building are using legal loopholes to bully this tenant out of the property.

      So, with that said, what exactly is it you’re upset about? That not everyone who is commenting is a landlord? You don’t need to be a landlord to see that this entire situation (that was caused by this family’s personal problems) is about bulling someone out of their home.

  9. Wait. Hold on a second. I’m confused.

    Chuck was a young high tech engineer? Or Nadia is?

    (I thought all the baddy-baddy people forcing renters out of their homes was being done by this “new generation” of high tech engineers who were ruining Bernal Heights, right?)

    • Right. Long term residents are given a pass, even if they’re shitty to their neighbors, even if their house is decrepit, even if they never bothered to learn neighborly responsibility because their house was given to them, even though they pay insanely low property taxes, even if they are loud or have relatives that arrive in the wee hours and wake the neighborhood up, even when they sell out and rake in the dough from selling their home to move elsewhere, etc.

      Not saying any of these apply to Chuck’s family, but some might.

      Whereas techies, whose expensive properties increase city property tax revenue, who transform dumps into attractive houses, who work hard to live in a city they’ve always dreamed of living in, are disparaged as “changing the feel” of the neighborhood IN A NEGATIVE WAY.

      This is what’s known as “San Francisco Liberalism,” where a mixed blessing is viewed only from the perspective of an idealized vision of the past — the poor could buy houses in Sea Cliff, when there were dozens of inexpensive but delicious restaurants on Valencia street, Mission Street was paved in gold, and there was never any fog or strong ocean breezes.

      • Sorry. I was being sarcastic to suggest that the over-generalizations about the roles we play in the real estate market are detrimental.

        – that everyone paying a premium to buy a house here has displaced someone of more worthy status
        – that everyone buying houses here are high tech nouveau riche
        – that it was better back then

        It’s all shades of grey, of course.

      • bldxys, I too was mostly being sarcastic.

        I like to think I’m as liberal as they get, but I’m often dismayed by the willful ignorance of liberals towards personal responsibility as a significant factor in life. We all have choices to make, and I realize some of us only have bad options to choose from, but that doesn’t mean there’s no need to prepare for the future.

      • Eventually at some time I will lose my cheap rent. I understand this. Nothing in life is permanent, and few things last more than a few years. For myself, I look forward to new adventures, which can mean moving to a new neighborhood and meeting new people, having new experiences, getting a fresh perspective on things.

        I lived in Bernal for 9 years until my landlord bought me out. I moved elsewhere into a totally different environment, a place with a front lawn and a back yard and parks, and raccoons, feeling more suburban than urban. The move refreshed me and gave me impetus to change some things in my life.

        But even if I hadn’t been bought out, I still have friends I could have stayed with until I got back on my feet. That’s what you DO when you act like a survivor and not like a victim.

      • A lot of what’s considered “progressivism” here in SF makes more sense when you get past the social justice rhetoric and just analyze it as machine politics, which some of it more accurately resembles. New residents risk watering down the power of a certain preexisting progressive voting bloc; therefore, to the movement leaders, new residents are the enemy, and are best opposed and kept out at all costs.

  10. That’s a brilliant analysis, BP.

    I just hate the generalizations. I’m not even sure which generalizations I’d get lumped into, frankly. I like to think I’m liberal, but I can’t deny capitalism and market forces.

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