Landlord Seizes 100-Year-Old Woman's Possessions

Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Tim Redmond
48 Hills

Iris Canada, the 100-year-old woman who was just evicted from her Page Street home, was back in the hospital Tuesday night when a team of movers hired by the landlord showed up and started taking away her possessions.

A U-Haul truck park in front of the Page St. building was filled with furniture, including the chair she liked to sit in, when I arrived around 9pm. A crowd of tenant activists was outside and several police officers had put everything on hold.

The activists had called the cops because Canada, her niece and caregiver Iris Merriouns, and her lawyer had not been notified that the things she had accumulated over 60 years in the apartment were being removed.

Merriouns wanted to get in before the place was emptied and the contents hauled away. “I need to get her wheelchair,” she said. “She has medications and medical paperwork in there.”

Merriouns said that she’d been trying all week to get the landlord’s lawyer, Andrew Zacks, to let her in. The law says the owner of the property has to give an evicted tenant “reasonable access” to reclaim possessions within 15 days.

“We got no access,” she said, over and over again, as a sergeant and two officers tried to figure out what to do.

It was surreal. “This is the worst I’ve even seen in more than 20 years of tenant work,” Tommi Avicolli Mecca, who works with the Housing Rights Committee, told me.

Canada was evicted last week, after a long legal battle. Sheriff Vicky Hennessy sent deputies to change the locks on the doors while Canada was out at the senior center where she spends most of her days.

It’s hard to imagine why, after all the publicity and the bad press that comes from evicting a frail and vulnerable 100-year-old woman, the owner, Peter Owens, wouldn’t go out of his way to make sure that she had the ability to reclaim her possessions.

But that’s not how Zacks works.

Residents of the building, who are trying to get a permit to convert the apartments to condos, peeked out from behind curtains as Merriouns sought to convince the officers that her aunt’s stuff belonged back inside. The movers sat around waiting.

Then Zacks showed up, all full of bluster. He insisted to the cops that he had offered Merriouns access; she said that had never happened. Then he stopped interacting with her and went back to his BMW.

The police met with him, and in an impromptu conference, Zacks agreed that an officer could go into the apartment and look for the wheelchair and the paperwork. But Merriouns would not be allowed in.

Again, so odd: Why not let her go find her aunt’s medication and paperwork, with the eviction lawyer and a police officer accompanying her? What possible harm could that cause? Why not give “reasonable access” right then?

But no. Zacks refused.

I was told that Sup. London Breed had contacted the sheriff, who said there was nothing she could do. I texted Breed, who hasn’t gotten back to me.

An officer returned from the building with a wheelchair and a stack of mail. That was it. “She’s screwed,” Merriouns said.

The sergeant, who like the officers with her remained calm throughout, told Merriouns that the property would be taken to a secure storage space and that she would get access.

Zacks said the same thing. “We aren’t about to sell anything,” he said.

So now the last remnants of the life Iris Canada lived on Page Street since the 1950s is somewhere in storage, in the hands of the lawyer who tossed her out and who wouldn’t let her niece in for five minutes to look for medical records.

This is San Francisco, 2017.

Issue: 
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