A dispute over eviction proceedings moved into the court of public opinion last week, with one party publicly accusing the other of wrongfully evicting an elderly tenant, only to then be accused of taking advantage of the same elderly tenant in response. The battle over the unit, located within the same building as the W-K Market at 24th and Folsom, has been going on for over a year. However, the parties involved changed when the family that runs W-K Market bought the building from the previous owner in February.
The dispute now lies between the new owners of the building and the unit’s master tenant—Ron Wander. Wander, an artist who has lived in the rent controlled unit since the 1960’s, shares the large space with five subtenants and is fighting the eviction with the assistance of the Eviction Defense Collaborative.
According to Ali Alomari, who manages the W-K Market and is one of the new owners of the building, the trouble started last year when the previous owner attempted to evict Wander, and by extension his subtenants, for what the owner deemed to be illegal renovations to the unit.
Uptown Almanac was unable to reach Wander for comment, but we were able to speak with two of his subtenants—Nick Hage and Jon Chaney—who explained that “last year our previous landlords tried to evict us. We took them to court for illegally raising the rent and we won.” It was shortly after this that the previous owner decided to sell the building.
Alomari told Uptown Almanac that when the previous owner notified him of her intention to sell the building, he was immediately concerned about the implications the sale would have on his family’s business.
“A building at 24th and Folsom? If we didn’t buy it, we would be evicted [by whoever the new owner would be.]”
And so, his family worked with a bank and were able to finalize the purchase in February of this year. It was almost immediately thereafter that they began eviction proceedings against Wander.
Then flyers started to appear around the neighborhood, urging locals to boycott the market:
Hage explained by phone that the intention behind their flyering is to make the new owners “aware that the neighborhood doesn’t agree with these type of actions,” adding that there were “one hundred better ways to address this.” In response to a series of written questions from Uptown Almanac, Hage and Chaney clarified that while “Ron did not assist in creating the flyers or website, […] we ran all ideas through him first.”
The flyer, which claims that W-K Market is wrongfully evicting an 82-year old veteran, prompted the following response from the downstairs market:
When asked about the claim that the subtenants are “taking advantage of an elderly man and paying [Wander] only $144 in rent each month,” Hage and Chaney replied that the “unit is rent controlled and we were court ordered to split the rent evenly. We consider Ron a friend and roommate.” In conversation, Hage continued that “anyone who knows us knows that claim is untrue. Ron’s an artist, and we’re all artists and musicians. […] If he didn’t have people living here to help him fight the eviction, he’d be in serious trouble.” Wander’s only living family member is a niece in Alaska.
When asked about the intention behind the eviction proceedings, Alomari stated that “we’re not trying to get rid of him so we can re-rent the unit out for more.” Alomari went on to say that all the unpermitted work in the unit is a fire hazard—a concern that cannot easily be written off in light of the recent fire above a corner store at 24th and Treat that resulted in several deaths.
However, Hage countered that the renovations in question had been done over the course of the past forty years—long before any of the current subtenants moved in—and pose no fire risk. In contrast to Alomari’s claim, Hage stated that the work was done with the permission of the previous owner, and that aside from one concern over wiring (which Hage said was addressed by the previous landlord), there have not been any specific code violations cited by either the old owner or the new one.
According to the SF Assessor’s database for the property, the only building permit issued for the unit was in 2005 for work to “remove illegal (sic) built kitchen, bath, [and] partition.”
Hage claims that immediately after the new owners finalized the purchase of the space, they gave Wander three days to fix unspecified safety violations or face eviction.
“Three days to fix it or get out? Three days to take forty years of lofts out is just not realistic. They want to move in, fix it up, and then rent it out for more money.”
The eviction will ultimately be decided by the courts, but both the tenants and new owners hope the community will make a judgement of its own.