A spirited crowd of over 50 people rallied in front of real estate speculator Peter Iskandar's house at 639 Chestnut Street on Saturday, demanding that he stop the Ellis Act evictions of four senior seniors at 525-31 Greenwich Street. According to Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union, which organized the protest, this is Iskandar's eighth eviction for speculative purposes. His targets here are 65, 70, 70, and 80 years of age. A large delegation from the Community Tenants Association of Chinatown led chants at the rally, and speakers included Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, his predecessor and current DCCC Chair Aaron Peskin, Malcolm Yeung of Chinatown Community Development Center, longtime activist Sister Bernie Galvin, Dean Preston of Tenants Together, and Steve Collier of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, the tenants’ attorney. The evictions bolster arguments for San Francisco imposing a complete ban on condo conversions as the best strategy for stopping Ellis evictions of the city’s longtime and vulnerable residents.

North Beach has long been ground zero for Ellis Act evictions. Its predominance of six unit buildings or less and its many longterm tenants paying below-market rents makes the neighborhood ripe for the type of serial speculator evictions now being conducted by Peter Iskandar.

Dean Preston wrote a Beyond Chron article in 2004 about the wave of Ellis Act evictions sweeping North Beach , as Gary Rossi and W.B. Coyle preceded Iskandar in displacing tenants in one building after another. Those speculators hid behind corporate names such as North Beach Partners LLC, Above Water LLC, WBGT LLC and Cydonia Investments LLC.

In May 2010, Collier won a victory for eight Chinese-American tenants defending an Ellis Act eviction at 152 Jasper Place. One of the tenants, Wing Hoo Leung, was the Vice-President of the Community Tenants Association, and the organization also mobilized for that struggle.

Iskandar is currently evicting all tenants from the six-unit building at 525 Greenwich. Longterm senior tenants occupy four of the units. Iskandar has been buying up apartment buildings in North Beach and then evicting the tenants and selling the units as TICs—for huge profits.

Sandi Bishop, a tenant at the Greenwich St. building said: “I can't find a place to live because I don't have money and I am low income and there’s a wait of up to 4 years for senior housing. I can't leave my apartment—where do I go?”

Ms. Bishop has been fighting cancer during the past year. A fellow senior tenant is facing eviction from his home of over forty years.

And Iskandar does not just rely on the Ellis Act. The tenants at 1460 Montgomery are also facing a potential eviction as he seeks to renovate that building. There will be a picket on their behalf at 1460 Montgomery on Tuesday, April 19 at 6 PM.

Banning Condo Conversions Only Answer

Chronicle columnist Chuck Nevius wrote a very sympathetic story about the evictions on the morning of the protest, but reached the wrong conclusion.

He thinks pressure to evict tenants like those at 525 Greenwich would be reduced if the city increased its limit on condo conversions and allowed TIC owners to bypass the condo lottery. Nevius finds a connection between Ellis evictions and middle-class buyers' alleged difficulty in acquiring San Francisco real estate.

But San Francisco currently maintains a vast supply of newly built condos and TIC’s affordable for middle-class buyers. The steep price declines for such San Francisco units since 2008 has created an almost unprecedented buyers market.

Peter Iskandar's agenda has no connection to this. He is not evicting elderly tenants to meet a huge pent up demand for middle-class buyers unable to secure homes due to an artificially restricted condo market; rather, he and other real estate speculators will always have an opportunity to profit by buying up small buildings sold for lower prices due to the presence of longterm tenants paying below-market rents.

The difference between speculators like Iskandar and the vast majority of real estate investors is his willingness to profit from human misery by evicting these longterm elderly tenants for profit. There are many ways to make money in San Francisco real estate without such practices, which is why Iskandar and his ilk are scorned by the broader real estate industry.

The only politically viable way to stop Iskandar and other speculators in their tracks is is for San Francisco to ban condo conversions altogether. This would ensure that potential buyers of Iskandar’s units would know they can never be condominiums. Ever.

Anyone familiar with the nightmare that has become the TIC resale market knows that no buyer in their right mind would acquire such a unit.

So a permanent ban on condo conversion would stop speculator evictions in a heartbeat.

If such a ban passed soon enough, it could potentially help the tenants’ facing eviction at 525 Greenwich. While their Ellis eviction notices have expired and Iskandar is now taking them to court, the litigation will continue as they fight to stay in their homes.

Randy Shaw is the Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, one of whose attorneys, Steve Collier, represents the tenants at 525 Greenwich. The Tenderloin Housing Clinic publishes Beyond Chron.