[Hpn] She's no spy, and she may be thrown into the cold

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 28 Dec 2000 14:01:51 -0700


Thursday, Dec 28, 2000

She's no spy, and she may be thrown into the cold
By Christopher Merrill
Of the Examiner
Unless there's a miracle on 16th Street in the coming weeks, Lidia Marota
and her four children are likely to be homeless in a city where housing and
shelter beds are equally scarce.

Earlier this month, Marota was fired as the cleaning person for the Mission
District apartment where she lives with her children, 12-year-old-twins, an
11-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. The apartment was part of her stipend
for cleaning the building.

"We're trying desperately to find her a shelter bed," said Mariana Viturro,
who works with both the Coalition on Homelessness and its subsidiary,
Housing Not Borders, a nonprofit agency formed to protect the rights of the
immigrant community. Marota and her husband moved to the U.S. from Nicaragua
16 years ago. Two and a half years ago she and her husband moved here from
Oakland when he was hired as the building's cleaning person. But the couple
split up in April and she took over her husband's duties.

Around the same time, according to Viturro, the building's occupants began
forming a tenant's union to force the landlord, Robert Imhoff of Landmark
Reality, to address repeated requests for repairs and maintenance of the
property at 2911 16th St.

Several tenants went so far as to contact the Rent Stabilization Board,
seeking rent reductions for failure to maintain the property and meet basic
demands, according to board deputy director Delene Wolfe. Those claims were
never adjudicated by the board, however, Wolfe said. Several were settled in
confidential agreements with Imhoff and others were dropped. Residents now
say several of the problems have been addressed.

Property records at the city Assessor's Office show that Imhoff owns several
million dollars worth of real estate in San Francisco, including 26
different properties, most of which are apartment buildings, duplexes and
flats. According to records at the Rent Board, 27 complaints have been filed
against Imhoff for various reasons since 1998. Wolfe noted that not all
complaints have merit and that the number of complaints should be considered
in the context of the number of buildings and units owned.

Marota claims she was fired two months ago for ultimately refusing to spy on
fellow tenants. According to her, the spy order came from Imhoff through his
rental agent Rebecca Hernandez.

"I told her all I do here is the cleaning," she said. "I don't want to get
involved with that."

Shortly thereafter, she said, she was given 30 days notice to vacate the
premises and told that her services were no longer required.

Hernandez denied that she asked Marota to do anything furtive, a claim that
was supported by Imhoff, who said that Marota was not fired as a retaliatory

"That's an absurd story," he said. "There's nothing for her to find out. The
local organization (of tenants) notifies everyone of everything they do."

Imhoff said Marota was fired because of job performance.

"She was terminated two months ago because she was doing a very poor job,"
he said, adding, "Her contract requires her to surrender the apartment."

Fellow tenants and activists have come to her defense recently, signing a
petition that accuses Hernandez of harassing tenants and supports Marota,
saying she does her job well.

"He's got a lot of money," said Silvia Alvizar, one of 35 families who
joined the tenant organization, "so he thinks the law doesn't apply to him."

Tenants have also asked that Imhoff grant Marota a six-month grace period so
she can find suitable housing for her family. That request was refused,
although Imhoff said that he has not yet taken legal proceedings to evict

Because Marota is not considered a tenant in this situation, she is not
protected by rental laws that substantially limit an owner's rights to
evict, said Supervisor-elect and tenant rights activist Chris Daly, who has
been involved with the case.

"It appears the eviction is within the letter of the law," Daly said. "It
would be legal, but it would cost him more to do that (go through the legal
process for an eviction) than to cut a deal with this family that doesn't
have anywhere to go."

Given the notoriously tight rental market and exorbitant rental prices,
prospects look dim for finding a new apartment, said Viturro. And there is
currently a 150-family waiting list for area shelters and a 2000-person
waiting list for public housing, the latter wait usually taking several

Imhoff said the situation was a routine matter of releasing an ineffective
employee and that she would not be on the street soon anyway.

"It will take some time to remove her," he said. "By the time the sheriff
removes her she certainly will have gotten three months free rent."

Examiner reporter Michael Stoll contributed to this article.

E-mail Christopher Merrill at cmerrill@sfexaminer.com


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