SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- In what is believed to be a first-of-its kind San Francisco eviction case, a kindergarten teacher was served with an eviction notice for using appliances in what her new landlords termed an illegal in-law apartment.
The renter is being pitted against the new owners of a 116-year-old building the city's Mission District. In an unusual legal strategy, the owners claim the teacher's apartment in their building is a public nuisance and isn't safe.
Back in March, Michelle Malliett found an eviction notice taped to the front door of her apartment. It gave Malliett and her teenage daughter three days to vacate their two-bedroom, $1,700 a month in-law unit.
Malliett says at first she panicked.
"I thought, 'Where am I going to go in San Francisco with my daughter and my dog?'" Malliett told KPIX 5.
The new owners of the $1.3 million dollar property wouldn't talk to KPIX 5, but their lawyer Jonathan Bornstein contends the unit, where Malliett has lived in since 2007, is a fire hazard.
Bornstein argued the unit's wiring isn't up to code and it doesn't have the proper permits.
"This house isn't made for multiple units," Bornstein said. "Every time the fuses blow, there's a small little fire in these wires."
However, Malliett told KPIX 5 she has never had a problem during her nine years as a tenant. She says the apartment is safe.
Malliett's lawyer says it's all just an excuse to get rid of a tenant paying below-market rent.
"What the landlord's saying is this tenant of nine years is creating a nuisance by using appliances," Joe Tobener told KPIX5. He says the case against Malliett could set a dangerous precedent if it succeeds.
"It's really going to open up evictions for tenants in in-law units," said Tobener.
It's estimated there are between 30,000 to 50,000 units in San Francisco that are not up to code.
Two years ago, San Francisco created a special program intended to help landlords legalize illegal units by giving them a break on some fees. First, apartments have to be brought up to code, a process that cost tens of thousands of dollars or more.
So far, only 40 units have been converted, according to Lily Madjus of the city's building department. Another 360 have started the application process.
Meanwhile, Malliett's new landlord is blaming her old landlord who built the illegal unit in the first place.
"The former owner left her behind, and that's where the real bad person is, as well as Mayor Lee's office for not providing affordable housing and a living wage for the school teachers," said Bornstein.
He argues the new owners have no interest in bringing the apartment up to code.
"They don't want to be landlords," he said.
And in unusual twist, The San Francisco Apartment Association, a group that represents landlords, is siding with Malliett. SFAA spokesman Charley Goss told KPIX 5 the group does not support or condone the way the eviction is being handled.
But Goss also said city laws put building owners with illegal units in a "difficult and untenable" situation.
For now, Malliett is in limbo, getting ready to leave, but hoping to stay. Her case is likely to go to trial next month. It is a case she says she can't afford to lose.
"I don't know where I'm going to go. I have no idea," said Malliett.
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