Former tenants sue after SRO housing made into group apartments

Like other tenants that a fire displaced from a single-room-occupancy hotel on Folsom Street, Patricia Kirkbride, under the San Francisco rent-control ordinance was entitled to an offer to move back into her unit within 30 days of the repairs, at the same rent rate.

Boarded up and draped in scaffolding until recently, the single- and double-occupancy-room Park Hotel at 1040 Folsom St. appeared uninhabited.

Kirkbride said she had no idea the building repairs were complete until one of the new building lessees, Danny Haber, 26, knocked on the door of her new home at another single-room-occupancy hotel a few weeks ago and offered her $500 in cash if she waived her right to return and all claims against him — basically a buyout. She didn’t take the money.

“Of course not. Ridiculous,” Kirkbride said. “I read it and didn’t understand it, and that’s why I called Mr. Collier.”

Steve Collier, an attorney with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, on Wednesday filed a wrongful eviction lawsuit on behalf of Kirkbride and five other former tenants at 1040 Folsom St. against building owner Nasir Patel and Haber, alleging they refused to re-rent the units to the displaced occupants after the May 5, 2011, fire.

When Kirkbride visited the two-room unit that she leased for $634 per month on the top floor of the three-story building, she said she found a wall had been erected, dividing the two rooms into separate units. Furthermore, new tenants were already residing there.

“It’s physically impossible to reoccupy,” said Kirkbride, 63, who lived there with her partner.

The suit alleges that Patel, who owns various single-room-occupancy hotels and other properties in The City, leased 1040 Folsom St. to The Negev LLC, a “tech co-op” shared housing company headed by Haber.

Rooms at The Negev on Folsom Street have been advertised on Craigslist. One post titled, “$1500 Awesome Co-Op Folsom Street — young professionals” started with the description: “We are like minded group of people, all of us are in our 20’s, we are active, into sports, and looking to constantly learn something new (everything from programming to new meditation methods).” The listing said the roommates included an engineer at Google, an associate program manager at Google, a front-end Web developer at Edmodo, among others.

Another Craigslist post titled “$1250 Negev Folsom!” had the description: “Family dinners on Sundays, parties every 3 weeks, yoga on Fridays, and weekly talks from well known people mostly in the technology world. Consists of both guys and girls.”

The scene inside the building on Wednesday fit the ad descriptions.

The large kitchen area had several large counters for tenants to fix meals. Most of the lower floor has been crammed with 17 two- to three-seat leather couches, some angled toward a television hooked up to gaming systems or stacked with board games. In the back, past a hallway lined with bicycles, were laundry machines.

The main staircase led to two floors of units. The first floor had the rooms labeled in masking tape from one to 27, some which had bunk beds. Plywood covered some parts of the hallway and the floor of an incomplete bathroom. The staircase to the top floor was similarly unfinished, with exposed wood. A communal bathroom on that top floor had eight sinks and the rooms there were also labeled one to 27.

Martin Wallner, 28, a Negev Folsom resident since last month, who previously worked in tech but now does government lobbying, said he wouldn’t call it a fraternity house, but that it does include the “good things” about college life.

“You meet new people, everybody is interesting and you don’t live on your own, so it definitely has some of the benefits of college but also some of the benefits of being an adult. I mean, there’s no supervisor,” Wallner said.

“People are overall very responsible,” he added, including when it comes to alcohol consumption.

The Negev Folsom is just the latest Negev property to lease single-room-occupancy units to a younger demographic in The City.

More than a year ago, Haber and his partner in the venture, Alon Gutman, 27, first leased out The Negev at 200 12th St., which they say has four tenants, and then opened The Negev at 219 Sixth St., a former mission that housed and fed the homeless prior to its conversion to a co-op.

Though Gutman worked for Google a couple years ago, Haber said they “don’t have anything to do with tech.” Gutman said the idea for The Negev came out of their own challenges of finding housing in San Francisco.

“We couldn’t really find a place to live,” Gutman said. “For many people, it’s very hard for them to find a place to live.”

Haber, who launched a similar operation in Israel, said he named the housing cooperatives The Negev after the desert in Israel.

But the lawsuit brings questions The Negev’s legality.

Collier pointed out that apart from failing to allegedly re-rent units to displaced tenants, the landlord in 2008 obtained a $100,000 interest-free loan from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development to renovate the hotel and agreed to keep 10 units affordable to people making 40 percent of the area median income for 15 years.

The office on Oct. 28 issued a notice of default on the loan due to Patel and Haber’s alleged failure to rent the units at the agreed-upon rate.

Haber said he is ready to do “anything” to resolve the issues and move on with his housing operation.

“The Tenderloin Housing Clinic is pretty powerful in this town,” he said. “I don’t want any more pressure from Steve because he’s a scary guy.”