Deputies from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department evicted tenants from an arts warehouse in Bernal Heights early Wednesday afternoon, marking what might be the first court-sanctioned San Francisco arts warehouse eviction since last December's deadly Ghost Ship fire.
In March, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the occupants of 968 Peralta Avenue were living unlawfully in a commercially leased building. The eight residents, who failed to successfully appeal their eviction notice, had until Wednesday morning to load their belongings into boxes before deputies arrived to escort them out.
Landlord Ron Erickson has owned and rented out the building for 17 years. Erickson says he called for the tenants’ eviction after visiting the space last December and finding out it had been converted into an eight-bedroom apartment.
“They violated the lease,” Erickson says. “My job is property management. I live by the rules and I live by the laws.”
Erickson says he plans to gut the building and turn it back into a warehouse, though he says he might eventually turn it into housing.
Choreographer Nathan Cottam has been living in the building since October 2014. He says that the landlord has known people were living in the space for at least 15 years. Erickson denies this claim.
“The whole lot has been used for residential purposes since 2001,” Cottam says. “The landlord had been operating under ‘I don’t care what you do there, just keep me out of it.’”
Following the Ghost Ship fire, Cottam says he and his fellow tenants hoped to ensure their safety by being upfront with the personnel from city agencies who came to inspect the property. Cottom says the building underwent multiple fire department inspections and hearings, and that it was cleared of safety breaches.
KQED was able to confirm the fire department did conduct three violation inspections at the property and one hearing re-inspection between December of last year and this past February. The inspection status for all four is listed "pending."
Cottam says he and the other residents applied to get rent control on the building when they were first served their eviction notice. The city handles these types of issues on a case-by-case basis. "This is an unusual case," says San Francisco Rent Board executive director Robert Collins. Cottam had expected a response from the rent control board in the next two weeks -- a decision that may now be moot.
Tenant and artist Tony Burgess, who has lived in the space for more than a year and a half, was loading his boxed belongings onto a U-Haul truck as deputies arrived. Burgess is well aware of the dangers that can befall converted spaces, and says he lost 10 friends to the Ghost Ship fire. But the eviction caught him off guard.
“I will probably get a storage unit for my stuff," Burgess says. “I have no idea where I’ll go or where I’ll sleep tonight."
Cottam plans on moving in with a friend in the Sunset for a few nights. He says he's heartbroken about leaving the home he's worked hard to make safe, but he's trying to stay positive. "I’m gonna keep going," Cottam says. I’m gonna find a way."
Additional reporting by Claudia Escobar and Tiffany Camhi.