Tenants of 285 Turk Street gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday. They were protesting rent increases levied against them by their new landlord, real estate mogul Neveo Mosser. They were joined by housing activists and Supervisor Jane Kim. The tenants—including single moms, seniors on fixed incomes, and undocumented immigrants—are facing immediate rent increases of five to 25 percent, which will go into effect on October 1st.
Mosser originally bought the building in 2016 and promptly informed the tenants that rents would go up by ten percent. At the end of January, he then increased rents by another 70 percent. Many of the inhabitants had lived there for decades and never seen an annual increase of more than 2.2 percent, which is the San Francisco rent control limit.
With the help of Supervisor Kim, the tenants protested the exorbitant increase as a collective, even though Mosser had informed them he would only meet on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately he rescinded the increase, but warned the tenants that he was still planning on imminently hiking their rents. This June, he followed up on his promise, informing tenants of rent hikes ranging from five to 25 percent.
Because Mosser originally agreed only to meet with tenants on an individual basis, they believe he is attempting a “divide and conquer” strategy. According to the tenants and housing activists, this explains why the rent increases range from five to 25 percent, even though he asserts it corresponds with lengths of tenancies and original rents. However, the tenants remain committed to fighting the increase as a collective.
285 Turk Street is a 41-unit building that was built in 1923. Most buildings built before 1979 are protected under San Francisco rent control regulations. The occupants of 285 Turk believed they were living in a rent controlled building, and many were told as such by previous landlords.
In reality, the building was subject to a loophole exemption called Substantial Rehabilitation, which according to the San Francisco Rent Board means “the renovation, alteration or remodeling of a building containing essentially uninhabitable residential rental units of 50 or more years of age that require substantial renovation in order to conform to contemporary standards for decent, safe and sanitary housing.” The tenants were never informed of this exemption until Mosser bought the building.
Mauro Tumbocon is a 64-year old counselor who has been living at 285 Turk Street for 11 years. He said everyone assumed the building was rent controlled, but Mosser attached a Rent Control Board advisory to the 70% rent increase notice back in January. The advisory was a Substantial Rehabilitation exemption from 1985. The previous management company had never been callous enough to enforce it.
Many of the tenants and activists believe that Mosser was fully aware of the exemption when he bought the building and was planning on forcing the current inhabitants out and flipping the units for a profit.
Mosser has a reputation of greed and negligence. He has served as the alternate landlord commissioner for the powerful San Francisco Rent Board—which enforces rent control and mediates tenant/landlord conflicts—since 1996, but has been anything but impartial. He has a long history of abusing the system.
In 2002, he was sued by the City of San Francisco. He had inherited his father’s SRO hotels and engaged in an illegal practice known as “musical rooms” where he forced hotel guests out before they had stayed for 28 days to prevent them from gaining tenant rights. On top of that, he falsely reported that all the rooms in his Mosser Financial Hotel were leased on a long-term basis. Rooms rented for fewer than 30 days are subject to a 14 percent municipal tax, while those on a monthly basis are not. In 2005, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled in his favor.
Mosser’s rent increases at 285 Turk St., while ethically dubious, are entirely legal. The affected tenants are asking him for decency. They are all low-income or working class, and even a five percent increase would be untenable.
Tumbocon works at a nonprofit that assists formerly homeless individuals to get back on their feet. His initial ten percent rent increase brought his rent from $1,000 to $1,100, and now he’s facing a 25% rent increase on October 1st. This would be half of his income. According to Tumbucon, “Because of my work, I know what it’s like to be homeless. Seeing it as a possibility for my immediate future is a very scary thought.”
The tenants are meeting with Mosser on Thursday with a simple ask: Continue the practice of the previous management company and increase our rent by the rent control standard of 2.2%. While they cannot take any legal action against him, they are imploring the public to call his management company ahead of the Thursday meeting.
Supervisor Kim spoke in tenants’ favor at the rally on Tuesday, calling Mosser’s action predatory and unacceptable, and imploring him to stop the increase.
Jesse Johnson of Hospitality House, one of the organizers of the rally, was more forceful: “This is a fight for the entire Tenderloin, not just 285 Turk. They are the domino that won’t fall. They are stopping the Tenderloin from being gentrified. To lose the Tenderloin would be to lose the heart of San Francisco. Thank you 285 Turk for standing up.”
Call Mosser Company at (415) 357-6233 and demand that they implement a fair 2.2% rent increase and keep housing affordable!