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San Francisco

Infamous Lower Haight Landlord At It Again

This morning, Lower Haighter Evelyn Rios contacted us to share yet another account of rental shenanigans on the corner of Haight & Fillmore. 

You may remember the tenant income requirement controversy of May 2014, in which Robert Shelton, the landlord at 312 Fillmore, slipped a letter under tenants' doors claiming that a minimum annual income of $100,000 and credit score of 725 or higher were required to live in the building. (He retracted his letter the next day, after much media attention.) Shelton was also behind the eviction of Cuco's, which closed a year ago after a legal fight. 

Now, Rios reports the arrival of a new letter, "claiming that magically after living in the same unit for 13 years, rent control is somehow no longer in effect for my unit, and demanding an astronomical 100 percent rent increase."

She writes on Reddit that Shelton's lawyer Daniel Bornstein has invoked the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act"It’s unclear exactly what his claim is, but Costa-Hawkins is typically used when the landlord believes that the last original tenant on the lease (meaning me) has moved out, leaving subtenants behind. But that’s crazy, because I haven’t moved anywhere. Now I’m in a strange Kafka-esque situation, having to prove in an upcoming Rent Board hearing that I actually live where I live."

Rios says that now, days before the Nov. 10th Rent Board hearing, Shelton has filed a three-day notice, which is the first step in an eviction process. "The three-day eviction notice was based on not paying rent, even though we had just paid a few days before," she told us. "The notice we got doesn't acknowledge that we paid rent; the rent amount listed was double what our rent is."

Rios' account follows many complaints from tenants in the building, which we've received in the form of tips and comments over the years. "The landlord rewrites city and state rental laws about once a month with the goal of pushing out rent-controlled tenants," wrote one tenant. "This is just the latest in years' worth of weird and vaguely worded letters," wrote another, in reference to the May 2014 letters. 

"I have watched this man systematically target people with low income in the building for years," reported one tipster in August. "My neighbor's kitchen is basically rotting away and he refuses to do a thing." This tipster also recorded video of Shelton lingering in his apartment following an argument over move-out charges. "I had just moved out of the 312 Fillmore Street Apartments after three and a half years in that decaying cesspool and this happened on my last day, before turning in my keys," he told us.

Rios says that in response to Shelton's tactics, the building's tenants are forming a 312 Fillmore Apartments Tenants Association. "Some of the issues the group is discussing: monthly 'investor inspections' where the landlord enters people’s apartments, vaguely worded notices, spy cameras in the hallways, lowball buyout offers, improper rent increases, and scaffolding that stays up for months on end, and playing games with rent checks—refusing to deposit for almost 30 days." The first Tenants Association meeting will be held in the building on Sunday.

We've reached out to Shelton and his attorney to get their side of the story, and have yet to hear back. Meanwhile, another tenant weighed in on why Shelton may be motivated to evict. "[Rios'] is the top floor penthouse unit. It’s basically a standalone home on the roof with multiple bedrooms and even a fireplace. Great views too. You can probably understand why he wants that unit badly, but that doesn’t excuse the tactics."

Rios, who is transgender, says that in addition to the latest eviction, Shelton repeatedly neglected to use her legally changed name in communications which were visible to neighbors, despite her repeatedly sending him the court-ordered name change document. "As a transgender person, your current identity is who you are, and you're constantly trying to keep your past behind you ... One time the landlord outed me as trans on a date. That person is now my fiance, but at the time I wasn't ready to come out as trans."

Rios says the ongoing troubles have affected her livelihood and personal life. "I've had panic attacks about it, I have trouble sleeping, nightmares, I've had to take time away from the business project I've been working on ... it's had a huge adverse affect on my life."

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