Elderly Tenant in Calif. Evicted by Prof. & Wife

When Lili J. Silvera said she wanted to move back to California to help care for her elderly mother, her husband, Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences Isaac F. Silvera, agreed that after 36 years of marriage, it was time for him to follow her for a change.

When they tried to move back into an apartment in the home she and her sister have owned for decades in North Beach, Calif., they faced one major problem-the elderly tenant who rented one of the apartments from them for 31 years refused to leave.

The tenant, Alvin Leong, who is 74, claimed that it was illegal for the Silveras to evict him.

According to San Francisco rent laws, owners are allowed to evict their tenants and move into the vacant apartments as long as the owners plan to live there permanently for at least a year.

However, because Silvera is teaching a seminar at Harvard this fall, Leong and his family claimed that the Silveras did not intend to live in the apartments for a full year and the because of this, the eviction was invalid.

The Silveras served Leong with an eviction notice on Jan. 14, giving him 30 days to move out.

Leong's family, assisted by their lawyer, Gen Fujioka, a staff attorney for the Asian Law Cancus, filed suit in civil court to challenge the eviction.

"[Alvin] is really helpless. Since his income is limited, he doesn't really have too many options," said Leong's daughter.

The result was a hung jury, and the judge advised Leong to settle his claim.

The Silveras reluctantly agreed to pay Leong $5,000 and to give him free rent until November, when he is scheduled to leave the apartment.

"We didn't want to settle because we had a legal right to be there," Mrs. Silvera said.

The Silveras said the eviction is ethical.

"The law is quite clear in what it states in that as owner, we can occupy our property," Professor Silvera said.

The Silveras decided to move into the two apartments for several reasons, the professor's wife said.

Professor Silvera, who recently received an appointment to the University of California, is co-writing a book about Albert Einstein with UC Professor Dan Rocher, and plans to spend a large amount of time there, she said.

By moving into the apartments, the Silveras would be living adjacent to their son and within close proximity to Mrs. Silvera's elderly mother.

"She's been an invalid for five years," Mrs. Silvera said. "I am her oldest daughter so she depends very much one me," she said.

But Fujioka said the eviction is illegal.

"It's apparent that [the Silveras] don't need this as their primary home," he said. "It's basically like a vacation home."

Additionally, Fujioka claimed that Mrs. Silvera's testimony to the court was "inherently untruthful."

"She said she didn't know where her husband was going to be living. She didn't know if her husband would be at work at Harvard," Fujioka said.

"That's not true. My husband is on sabbatical this year-he spent the first nine months of the year in San Francisco," Mrs. Silvera said.

Transcripts from the trial obtained by the Crimson show that, when Fujioka asked Mrs. Silvera about her husband's schedule, she testified that "I was of the understanding he may be at Harvard. I don't what know his schedule is."

Mrs. Silvera said that at the time of the trial, her husband's schedule had not been officially set.

Although Professor Silvera teaches a seminar this semester, "he can leave at any time," Mrs. Silvera said.

Since Professor Silvera planned to remain at Harvard for the fall term after the eviction was to be in effect, the Silveras violated the rent law, Fujioka contends.

"It's a difficult thing to prove that someone would intentionally break the law in the future," Fujioka said.

After months in court, the Silveras' legal bills add up to more than $20,000, Mrs. Silvera said.

Mrs. Silvera also denies that age was a factor in their decision to evict Leong.

"The people living upstairs are just as old as [Leong] is and they pay just as much as he does," she said.

All but one of the Silveras' apartments rent for around $500 a month, she said.

Mrs. Silvera said she doesn't harbor

ill feelings toward Leong.

"Like all tenants, he doesn't want to move," she said. "You can't blame him. [North Beach] is an ideal place to live."

Protesting Evictions

While the case of the Silveras and Leong has been settled and is along the way to an amicable solution, evictions have become a particular problem in the San Francisco area.

The Asian Law Caucus and three other advocacy organizations sponsored a press conference and rally on Oct. 20 to highlight what they see as a glut of owner move-in evictions which primarily affect elderly residents.

A study released by Americore-VISTA shows that, while senior citizens comprise 15 percent of those renting, they are nearly 30 percent of those evicted.

"The seniors who move will not be able to live in the city right now," said Kate H. Gordon, senior program director for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.

That's because the evictions also increase the rigidity of the housing market, the tenant advocates said.

The Housing Rights Committee and other organizations are actively lobbying San Francisco city supervisors for permanent change.

"The entire time, what we've been doing is not saying stop owner move-in eviction; we've been saying they need to be regulated," Gordon said.

A major problem now is "there's no requirements for relocation benefits for the tenants,"Gordon said.

Two San Francisco supervisors have proposed moratoriums on senior evictions.

But political machinations in San Francisco have stalled those proposals, Gordon said.

Meanwhile, Alvin Leong has still not found a new place to live.

"It's too bad that this has to happen to people who are elderly," his daughter said. "They are the people who are least capable of defending themselves.