How often is it that an American is robbed of thousands or millions of dollars without so much as a peep? It’s been two years since Kim Kardashian West was robbed in Paris, and people are still talking about it. Even more recent viral news includes the New Jersey couple that misappropriated the money they raised through GoFundMe, which garnered around $450,000 in support to help rehabilitate a generous homeless man. After the couple was exposed as having depleted the funds for personal use, GoFundMe has promised to provide the money owed to the homeless veteran.
But there has been another taking, right here in San Francisco, that no one is writing about or trying to fix.
A local landlord was unable to make routine repairs to his building due to financial hardship caused by already low rent rates (his source of income) and the tenants’ failure to pay on-time or at all. These repairs – paint, railings, electrical issues – were estimated to cost about $25,000 in total to fix. This would have been a textbook-perfect time to invoke a California State Law that allows the City to hire a contractor on the landlord’s behalf and lien the building until the cost of repairs is repaid – it’s a sensible solution for both the tenants and the landlord, as the maintenances get completed and the landlord keeps his livelihood.
Instead, the City of San Francisco decided to file a case against this landlord, Joel Elliott, which resulted in massive fees totaling $2 million – for each day that he was unable to complete these routine repairs, the City charged him $1,000.
If Mr. Elliott did not have the $25,000 to repair his own building, he certainly did not have $2,000,000 to pay the City for its crusade against him. Yet the only press this incident has received has been salacious fodder to villainize Mr. Elliott, numbing residents to the cruelty at hand. San Francisco news outlets have focused on the small amount of drugs found in Mr. Elliott’s property, though the “drug-den” accusation was dismissed in court and he was never charged with a drug-related crime. Even still, the media slandered Mr. Elliott relentlessly for months.
What they failed to mention were the other aspects of Mr. Elliott’s story: His raucous and unreliable tenants. His loneliness and need to fend for himself as the only member of his family on the West Coast. His heartbreaking witness of his partner passing away in that same property – his home.
Why did the City, whose charge is to support the public good, feel the need to demonize this man when there was a simple and humane recourse? What happened to prosecutorial ethics, especially on the part of our public officials?
In the end, because Mr. Elliott could not afford the City’s crushing penalties, his property was taken from him, and with it went his livelihood and his home. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident, particularly in the case of older landlords, like 70-year-old Anna Shaw who lost her building in the Mission three years ago – yet no one has investigated the improprieties she experienced, either.
For a city that is boasting about recently acquiring $1.8 million to rehabilitate 99 persons experiencing homelessness, San Francisco should be conscious of how many formerly housed citizens they are turning onto the streets. But the City is not interested in atoning for their sins, so it becomes the responsibility of its citizens to insist that the City return the funds taken from this poor man and that the local legislature make the necessary changes so that this cruelty cannot continue. It has happened to Anna Shaw. It has happened to Joel Elliott. Who will be next?