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San Francisco rent

The median rent for an apartment in San Francisco is $3,295, according to Zillow, which is around 116% higher than the national median of $1,524.

But Byrne and the other long-term tenants in her building were paying nowhere near that amount when the building was sold. That’s because the quadplex was built and used as a multifamily property before June 13, 1979, when the city passed a rent control ordinance that is still enforced to this day.

In a 2020 email to his lenders, obtained by NBC Bay Area, Mytels described the quadplex as “almost impossibly good value” — stating that his purchase price reflected how the property was “burdened with four long-term occupants paying a total $3,800 or so in total rent per month.”

In other words, he felt the four-unit building was not living up to its cash flow potential.

Mytels told the lenders he could “possibly do one or more tenant buy-outs, for possible rent upside of $2,000 to $2,500 per unit, per month.” But when he offered the tenants “significant money to vacate” the property, they all refused to leave.

“It came as a shock to me that I would have to move from here,” said Byrne. “Where would I go? I’m so used to this place. I would like to stay here for the rest of my life.”

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Fighting eviction

With the tenants refusing to budge, Mytels attempted to terminate the tenancies under the Ellis Act, a California law designed to allow landlords to evict residential tenants if they intend to leave the rental business for at least five years.

“The state legislature created the Ellis Act to resolve an unintended consequence of local rent control laws,” Mytels’s attorney, Raymond M. Yetka, told NBC Bay Area in an email. “It is important that landlords be allowed to quit the rental market when low rental rates make it economically unfeasible to be a housing provider.”

After receiving formal eviction notices, Byrne and the other tenants had four months to vacate the property, but they were able to get a one-year extension under the Ellis Act because of their age. After that deadline, they still refused to leave — instead opting to fight the eviction notice in court.

The tenants turned to the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC), a San Francisco nonprofit that fights displacement of low-income residents, for help in fighting their eviction.

“I think you have to look at that in the context of potentially destroying the lives of four families by kicking them out just so that he can make a profit,” Steve Collier, a managing attorney at the THC, told NBC Bay Area. “I think that’s morally wrong.”

Shortly after NBC Bay area and other news outlets brought attention to Byrne’s case, Mytels chose to reverse his decision to kick out the residents.

In a statement sent to media, he explained: “When we learned of 94-year-old Helen Byrne’s long history in this building and saw her new health condition and felt her deep community there, we decided we had to commit to keeping Ms. Byrne and the other residents in their homes.”

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Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.

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