On August 23rd, a fire broke out at 1216 Fulton St., near Alamo Square. Almost immediately, locals began tweeting pictures and posting videos of the flames that were visible from the back of the property; the backyard was subsumed in a thick cloud of smoke. The SFFD was contacted about the fire at 3:17pm and arrived at the building five minutes later; the blaze was under control by 3:42pm. Luckily, no one was injured.
Recently, tipster John D. reached out to us, hoping to learn more about the family that lived there and was evicted in the wake of the fire. "It's a really sad tale," he said. Though the building was still standing, the tenant, Edelmira Luna, lost her home and had to move into a shelter.
The house at 1216 Fulton, though significantly damaged, was spared in the blaze; the fire had occurred in the back shed. But what city inspectors soon realized was that the building had never been livable in the first place. Luna, a monolingual Spanish speaker, and her two daughters had been living for years in a dilapidated building without heat, electricity, or water.
The historic house (built in 1883 by the same man who designed the William Westerfeld home and the Bayview Opera House) was declared uninhabitable, and the Department of Public Health (DPH) issued an order for the Lunas to vacate.
If a tenant is ordered to vacate because of a building’s health-code violations, the DPH requires the landlord of the building to pay relocation benefits. On September 30th, a hearing was held and the owner was ordered to relocate the tenants while fixing the problems. Relocation benefits vary, but can be hefty—according to the Rent Board, the relocation amount due for displacement over substantial rehabilitation work is $5,551 per tenant, for a maximum amount of $16,653 per unit. There's also an additional $3,701 for a household with minor children.
However, Josephine Stamp, the owner of the building, had passed away years ago, so that responsibility fell to her niece, Lisa Burleson-Peguese, who now administers Stamp’s estate.
But according to Deputy City Attorney Megan Cesare, the property at 1216 Fulton is still tied up in a probate proceeding (the process of resolving all claims with Stamp’s creditors and distributing her property). “The [relocation benefits] have been ordered, so the landlord is on the hook for them. But since the estate is in probate, I just don’t know how soon they’re going to get paid.”
Since Luna and her family left the Fulton house, they've been staying in a shelter and working with Causa Justa and their legal counsel to find a long-term housing solution. We reached out to Luna to be interviewed for this article, but she did not respond.
George Holland Sr., the attorney for the probate case, said he did not believe Burleson-Peguese was aware of the building's condition. "If she had known, she would have done something about it." Burleson-Peguese declined to comment.
Because the building at 1216 Fulton remains in violation, Burleson-Peguese must either bring the property into compliance or sell it to someone who will. Given the current housing market, it’s not difficult to guess which was the easier choice. Zillow estimates the building is worth $2.2 million and could rent for $6,500 a month, several times what the Lunas were paying. In front of the house, a sign is already up: “For sale: coming soon!”
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