The dust has settled in the messy matter of 355 Bocana, the house where renter Deb Follingstad was hit with a shocking 315% rent increase by property owner and lifelong Bernal resident Nadia Lama last March. Since then, Neighbor Nadia has moved into the house, and Neighbor Deb has been stringing together temporary arrangements while she looks for a more stable place to live.
Yet the incident still stings, apparently, and last week Neighbor Deb filed a wrongful eviction lawsuit. Lamar Anderson from San Francisco Magazine broke the story:
The complaint, filed on August 18 in San Francisco Superior Court, characterizes the rent increase as an effective eviction and a violation of the city’s Rent Ordinance. According to the suit, which also names Lama’s sisters, ontime property managers Claudia and Antoinette Lama, Nadia Lama moved into the unit after Follingstad left. Instead of going through the no-fault eviciton procedure allowed under the Rent Ordinance for owner move-ins, the suit alleges, Lama attempted to go around the law by forcing Follingstad out with a drastic rent increase. In a normal no-fault eviction, Follingstad would have been entitled to a relocation payment of $9,258.67, according to the suit. Instead, she got no relocation money, and Lama even kept her $1,500 security deposit, Follingstad says.
Her attorney, Joseph Tobener, says, “I think it’s unfortunate that it’s come to this.” When Nadia Lama gave notice of the rent increase, he says, “We sent a letter saying, Let’s resolve this. This client’s willing to work with you.”
Follingstad’s story, which swept local media last spring and provoked neighborhood backlash against the Lama family, gave San Franciscans a crash course in the intricacies of tenant law. Through a loophole in the law, Follingstad’s sudden $6,755 rent hike appeared to be legal. In San Francisco, rent control covers most rentals with a certificate of occupancy predating June 1979, if they are in multiunit buildings. Follingstad lived in a two-unit building and was covered by rent control. But the lower-level unit was illegal, which made it easy to demolish—that is, remove the plumbing that made it a habitable dwelling unit—without permission from the Planning Department. When Lama pulled the toilet out of the lower-level unit, in February, it became de-facto “storage space” for Follingstad’s apartment, and voila, she was suddenly living in a single-family home, and no longer protected by rent control. (Lama had only taken over the property in January, after resolving a legal dispute with her sisters, Claudia Lama and Antoinette Lama, who had been acting as landlords ever since the original landlord, their father Chuck Lama, died in 2012.)
This is a complicated, two-sided tale, so it’s time well-spent to read the whole thing.
PHOTO: Telstar Logistics