With their eviction deadline nearly two weeks away, residents of the President Hotel Apartments made a last-ditch plea on Monday night to the City Council to help them obtain an extension, a request that city officials indicated they are unlikely to entertain.
The residents received a notice a month ago from the building's new owner, Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners, informing them that they have to vacate their units by Jan. 31. The Dec. 13 notice followed a decision by the City Council not to immediately approve two zoning revisions that would have enabled AJ Capital to move ahead with its plan to convert the historic 75-unit apartment building into a hotel.
An investigation by the Weekly found that the tenants had reached an agreement with AJ Capital that would have allowed them to stay in their apartments until June had the council approved by Dec. 17 two zoning revisions: an elimination of the downtown cap on non-residential development and the deletion of a "grandfathered facilities" clause that bars historic properties facing renovation from being converted to different uses. The council plans to consider both changes in the coming months.
Meanwhile, residents are calling for city officials to reach out to AJ Capital and encourage the Chicago-based real estate company to let the tenants stay for another few months. Dennis Backlund, a former historic preservation planner for the city and a longtime tenant, was among those who made the request, noting that the AJ Capital isn't anywhere close to getting the city's approval for the conversion.
"The June eviction date would not interfere with the AJ Capital's project and would bring $1,000 a month in tenant rent payments for extended tenancy," Backlund said.
Michelle Kraus, a tenant, said that about 25 residents still remain in the building at 488 University Ave. Even if the extension is until April, it would really help some residents find a new place to live.
"I'm hoping that you will start talking to AJ, you will urge them to have a leniency and that we can continue on with the dialogue of what to do and how to move forward," Kraus said.
Karen Kao, a Santa Clara County food inspector and physical therapist, pointed out that she and all the other tenants are living in the building under a month-to-month agreement. This, she said, is in violation of a city requirement of one-year leases. She joined her neighbors in requesting the council's assistance in prolonging their stay.
"I hope you will confirm for yourself that this failure to uphold the law is unambiguous and inherited by AJ Capital as the new owner," Kao said. "Like the rest of us here tonight, I can truly ill afford the consequences of the eviction."
Residents and their supporters had also met with new City Manager Ed Shikada last week to request more assistance from the city. To date, the city's focus has been on ensuring that residents facing eviction will receive relocation assistance. Last September, the council passed an ordinance that enabled tenants to receive from AJ Capital between $7,000 and $17,000 in relocation assistance, depending on the size of the units.
When asked about the city's position, Shikada told the Weekly in an email that he believes the city has done what it can and that the issue is now "between the landlord and residents." The city, he said, has chosen not to implore the landlord not to proceed with ending tenancies because it has a "responsibility to respect property owners' rights and ultimately make regulatory decisions based on applications submitted, without being predisposed to an outcome outside our authority."
"If the City were to weigh in on tenancy, that could be misinterpreted as setting some expectations for future actions," Shikada wrote.
The city also isn't rushing to start enforcing the one-year lease requirement. City Attorney Molly Stump noted that the ordinance provides for enforcement "in an eviction proceeding in court."
"I'm not aware that the City has ever attempted to take an enforcement role, and doing so here would require careful evaluation of legal issues," Stump told the Weekly in an email.
Iqbal Serang, an architect who has been living at President Hotel for 30 years, lamented the city's positions on evictions. Serang said the city's response to his and his neighbors' requests makes him feel like they hadn't gotten through to the city.
"We don't hear anything from anyone on the President Hotel and that's sad, because it's really affecting some real-life people," Serang told the council.