A family living at the former Iranian consulate in one of the richest neighborhoods in San Francisco is being evicted.
The U.S. State Department, which is the custodian for the $15 million home in the city's Presidio Heights neighborhood, has filed an eviction lawsuit, and the tenants' attorney says the family is outraged. They've been living at the home for 35 years, and they always pay their rent on time. And if they move out, no one will move in.
"I see absolutely no reason the government would do something like this," said neighbor Charlie Ferguson, who has lived next door to Alexandra and Bruce Owen for years. In fact, the Owens lived there before he moved in.
"My understanding is that they have an international obligation to maintain that property in good condition, and the policy is that they charge rent, and the Owens have been paying rent for God knows how long," Ferguson said.
The building is owned by the Iranian government and in the 1970s was the scene of hunger strikes, violent protests and a bombing that shattered car and home windows.
The lawsuit claims the family is trespassing and living there unlawfully. However, the lease includes a provision that subjects the house to all San Francisco rent control ordinances.
The Owens are now fighting the lawsuit based on California’s Ellis Act, which allows landlords to get rid of tenants if a rental property is being taken off the market.
"They said it’s a no-fault eviction," the Owens' attorney said. "It allows for the government to go out of business. Would you rather have a place empty with no tenants? It’s their home for over 35 years."
Realtors say the Presidio Heights mansions are priced on average at about $1,500 a square foot, which puts a 7,000-square-foot home at $10.5 million.
Ferguson says the Owen family needs to stay.
"If you use the Ellis Act to put someone out of your house, you can’t put anyone else in the house; you can’t rent it to anybody else," he said.