Gary Rossi and his partners are changing the face of North Beach. He and his fellow speculators buy rent-controlled buildings, invoke the Ellis Act to evict all tenants, and then sell the units as tenancies-in-common (TICs) to the highest bidder.

His latest adventure is evicting all 15 people who live at 424-434 Francisco Street. But this time, he messed with the wrong building.

Most of the tenants at 424-434 Francisco are low-income, and many are disabled. Minor children also live in the building. Several of the tenants have lived in the building for over 15 years. Neighbors are outraged by the eviction and are calling upon San Francisco's elected officials to intervene.

Rossi's crew purchased this building in October 2003. They purchased the building under a variety of corporate names, all claiming to hold title as tenants-in-common. The resulting TICs appear to violate a state law called the Subdivided Lands Act. That Act requires approval from the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) before subdividing a building into more than four tenancies in common, a requirement Rossi opted not to follow. As a result, there are legal questions as to the validity of the TICs Rossi created at 424-434 Francisco Street.

The men behind the mass eviction scheme are Gary Rossi and W.B. Coyle. These speculators hide behind corporate names such as North Beach Partners LLC, Above Water LLC, WBGT LLC and Cydonia Investments LLC. The names change with the different properties, presumably in the hopes that no one will catch onto the extent of their operation.

This single investment group has evicted scores of long-term tenants in North Beach and nearby neighborhoods. Rossi, Coyle and their fellow investors have invoked the Ellis Act to evict all tenants from the buildings located at 1815 Stockton, 1427 Grant, 768 Green, 333 Greenwich and 424 Francisco. These buildings contained dozens of rent-controlled housing units, now lost forever thanks to Rossi, Coyle and the people who buy TICs from them.

These properties likely represent only the tip of the iceberg, as this investment group's other corporate affiliations have yet to be investigated.

Speculators will continue to clearcut San Francisco's rental housing stock until the Ellis Act is amended to prevent speculative use. A simple requirement that one must own for several years before invoking the Act would slow down the present abuse by speculators.

Rossi, Coyle and their investors see nothing but dollar signs. San Franciscans see their neighbors, friends and colleagues packing up and moving to Fresno.

This is how a city changes.

Dean Preston is an attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. He represents many of the tenants at 424-434 Francisco Street. His four part series on Ellis Act evictions was featured in these pages in April 2004.