Don’t Evict the Flower Lady

by Ian James

Band members chatted as they tuned their instruments, local artists sold hand printed posters and zines, and people continued to flow into Medicine for Nightmares, the bookstore hosting Denhi Donis’ birthday fundraiser. 

Donis, better known as the Flower Lady, is fighting her second Ellis Act eviction in two years. She came to San Francisco 25 years ago from Chicago, fleeing domestic violence. She quickly became a fixture in the Mission community, working at various non-profits. Fifteen years ago, she moved into the house that she has called home ever since. Her nickname stems from years of selling and giving out flowers at protests, celebrations, and gatherings across the city. 

Photo by Glenn, IG: @mugsy.rock

Ellis Act evictions are supposedly for landlords looking to stop being landlords and take rental units off of the market. For five years after an Ellis Act eviction, landlords cannot rerent the same unit for more than the rent controlled rate. Studies have shown, however, that the vast majority of Ellis Act evictions happen within five years of the landlord purchasing the building. There are also no limitations on converting units emptied through Ellis Act evictions into ownership units, such as tenancies in common. Landlords are able to flip the cleared units for large profits. 

Donis says that she feels a responsibility to speak out on behalf of others in the city. “I feel that I need to fight, since I have the advantage of being well known. Many others do not have that. I have the privilege to reach so many people. Also, many people do not know their rights. It was four days after the start of a world pandemic that they gave me a 12 days notice. It was not only illegal, it was inhumane. I had to let the world know that people like this are out there, who would throw an elder, in chemo, out of her home like that.”

Donis’ landlords first attempt to evict her ended because of pandemic related protections. Those protections have since expired. Now she is fighting again for her place in the city. On her birthday, she was joined in that fight by supporters from all across San Francisco.