San Francisco landlords targeted for elder abuse
Lisa Gray-Garcia, aka "Tiny," led a press conference outside the San Francisco Hall of Justice on Feb. 5 to announce that she and fellow activists were filing elder abuse charges against San Francisco landlords.
Flanked by activists and senior citizens who were facing eviction or had lost housing in San Francisco, the Poor News Network founder condemned landlords who've invoked the Ellis Act as "dangerous criminals."
Gray-Garcia said criminal charges were being filed against the landlords in accordance with California Penal Code 368, which creates a special category for crimes — such as infliction of pain, injury, or endangerment — committed against elders and dependent adults.
The theory is that carrying out an Ellis Act eviction against a senior citizen qualifies as a criminal act under that law, since an elder can suffer physical harm as a result of being turned out of his or her home.
"Seniors who live in houses that they've lived in for a really long time are being evicted," said Erin McElroy, who joined the rally. "That could mean homelessness, that could mean poverty, that could mean death, that could mean losing your access to health care."
"The real criminals are the ones who use paper, and money, and lawyers to evict us," Gray-Garcia said. "We at POOR Magazine get five to 10 calls a week from elders — 70, 80, 90 years old — at the point where they're actually going to be evicted," she added. "In the elder abuse law, if you willfully or unwillfully cause harm or inflict harm on a body of an elder, you actually can do one year jail time or pay a $6,000 fine."
The targeted landlords were taken from a list compiled by the San Francisco Anti Eviction Mapping Project, a volunteer-led group that published names, property ownership, and identifying information of 12 landlords who had repeatedly invoked the Ellis Act in San Francisco. Garcia read out their names as part of the press event.
Beyond that, however, the announcement was short on specifics. Gray-Garcia told the Bay Guardian she did not want to share the names of the affected seniors because she did not feel comfortable exposing the elderly tenants to potential backlash.
Joining the group of activists was an 82-year-old woman who used a walker and declined to share her name. She told the Bay Guardian she had lived in her Richmond District flat for more than 30 years, and had recently received a verbal warning from her landlord that if she did not move out, he would invoke the Ellis Act.
When Gray-Garcia and others filed into the San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon's office inside the Hall of Justice, however, Chief Assistant of Operations Sharon Woo discouraged them from filing the charges.
"We don't actually initiate investigations," Woo told the activists, but when attorney Anthony Prince, who had accompanied the activists, pushed back on that point, she responded, "We could, potentially."
However, she urged them to first "go to the normal channels, which is a law enforcement investigation," then scheduled a follow-up meeting at a later date to discuss the issue further. She discouraged the activists from bringing a large group to the meeting. "There's a 98-year-old woman being forced out of her home in April and she has nowhere to go," McElroy told Woo during that interaction. "And we're filing criminal charges against the people who are forcing her out."