SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco property owner has won an appeal against tenants who refused to leave an apartment unit.
On April 4, the California First District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling made by the San Francisco City and County Superior Court. The ruling allowed defendants Nancy Launiu, her adult son, Donn, and Donn's wife Olga to remain in the apartment unit that property owner Danger Panda LLC gave the family notice to vacate from.
The family argued that they were obligated to stay because the owners did not compensate Donn and Olga's 10-year-old son, who also lived in the unit. However, the court of appeals found that the minor is not a tenant, and therefore, is not lawfully required to be compensated.
In April 2015, Danger Panda filed a wrongful detainer complaint against Launiu and her family. The family resided in the unit under a 1971 contract and refused to leave.
On March 26, 2014, the property owners had sent the family a notice of termination of tenancy, which revealed that the company was converting the building from rental property to owner-occupied units called tenancies in common and needed all tenants to leave. But the defendants did not vacate.
Launiu informed the property owners that she was entitled to a one-year extension of the withdrawal of her unit because of her senior citizen status. Danger Panda recognized the extension, but one year later, the family was still living in the unit.
"The defendants are the last remaining tenants in one unit of a six-unit building," Andrew Zacks, the plaintiff's attorney, told the Northern California Record. "The other tenants have all vacated their units as required by California law."
On May 20, 2015, the family filed a motion to quash service of the summons and wrongful detainer complaint. This was on the basis that Danger Panda allegedly failed to comply with the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, which stipulates that a property owner must provide monetary relocation assistance to its tenants when seeking to withdraw from the rental market.
Danger Panda had issued each defendant a check for $2,632.55 in accordance with the ordinance and sent Launiu an additional check for $1,755.03 due to her senior citizen status. But the family's motion to quash was based on not receiving monetary assistance for the 10-year-old resident.
The trial court granted the defendants' motion to quash on June 1, 2015. Danger Panda appealed in an intermediate superior court, but the ruling was in the family's favor.
Danger Panda has won their final appeal, and the appeals court has made it clear that the minor is not considered a tenant and not obligated to receive relocation payment under the ordinance.
"The most convincing reason that the court of appeal ruled in my client's favor," Zacks said, "was that the definition of who a tenant is under the local San Francisco regulation very clearly does not include a child who is not able to enter into a contract under the law, is not able to take on the responsibilities of a tenant and who does not have any obligation to pay rent to the owner of the property."
The court also ruled that proceedings in vacating the family from the unit can move forward.
"Ultimately, these tenants are going to end up owing a lot of money to my clients," Zacks said. "They've now been living in this apartment for several years as a result of this litigation, and they haven't been paying anything. My clients are going to be entitled to collect damages, which will probably end up being in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."