The awful tale of the Bernal Heights resident who was forced from her home at 355 Bocana after receiving a $6500-per-month rent increase came to a conclusion yesterday, as lawyers agreed to settle a lawsuit stemming from the incident.
As you may recall, back in March 2015, Bernal renter Deborah Follingstad was hit with a shocking315% rent increase by property owner and lifelong Bernal resident Nadia Lama. At the time, Lama was receiving legal counsel from lawyer Denise A. Ledbetter.
The 315% rent increase forced Follingstad to move from 355 Bocana, and Lama moved in. Yet in August 2015, Follingstad filed a wrongful eviction lawsuit, and yesterday the matter was put to rest, shortly before the case was set to go to trial. The result: Lama will pay Follingstad a $400,000 settlement to end the lawsuit.
Reporter Dan Brekke from KQED writes:
In the August 2015 lawsuit, Follingstad and her lawyer, Joe Tobener, accused Lama of trying to get around a city ordinance that requires payments for tenants displaced in an “owner-move-in” eviction.
That litigation proceeded without gaining much attention — until now.
Tobener announced Tuesday that, with a jury trial scheduled to begin next week, Lama had settled for the staggering-sounding sum of $400,000.
Tobener said the high settlement amount reflected both what he called Lama’s “egregious” behavior in raising the rent and the risk Lama ran in allowing the case to go to trial, where a jury could award triple damages for his client’s emotional distress claims.
“It’s the highest constructive-eviction-by-rent-increase case we’ve ever had,” Tobener said, adding that such cases typically settle for amounts “in the high five figures.”
Tobener said that under the city’s owner-move-in ordinance, Lama would have been required to pay Follingstad $9,522 for forcing her to move.
Lamar Anderson from San Francisco Magazine spoke to former Bernal neighbor Deb Follingstad, and he reports she’s had a difficult odyssey:
After [Follingstad moved out], Lama moved in. Follingstad spent the next year bouncing from place to place, house-sitting and staying with friends. As an independent contractor, she had a hard time applying for apartments, because she lacked the paystubs landlords frequently ask for. The places she could rent easily were too much of a compromise. “I was looking at efficiencies with no kitchen, just a hot plate,” she says. And sometimes her story followed her: “I had landlords be like, when they found out who I was, they hated me. They’d never even met me, but I represented this class of person who got evicted. It was weird, the way they looked at me.”
Last May, a year after her displacement, Follingstad was diagnosed with breast cancer. In July she moved in with her boyfriend. She went through months of litigation while undergoing radiation treatments. “I looked like the Michelin tire man, I had so many coats on, and drinking hot tea,” she says. “I was there because I had to be, but I was basically curled up in an office chair, in these meetings that went on for, like, eight hours.” Last month, she finished her radiation treatments. Her hair is coming back, and she’s styling it to look like leopard spots.
San Francisco Magazine adds that after lawyer fees, Follingstad will receive about $280,000, which will then be taxed. Much of the remaining funds, she says, will likely be used to pay medical expenses.
PHOTO: 355 Bocana in 2015, by Telstar Logistics