Mission District Landlord Still Kicking Out Small Businesses During Eviction Moratorium
Mayor Breed declared a moratorium on commercial evictions shortly after shelter-in-place went into effect, a bold move to help shut-down small businesses survive when unable to pay rent on April 1. Well, April 1 came and went and most businesses still have a glimmer of hope for survival to someday reopen at their current address — except at Activspace, a giant commercial workspace complex at 18th and Treat Streets, where at least a dozen small businesses like massage therapists, aestheticians, and chiropractors were told to promptly GTFO for not paying April 1 rent. This violates the mayor’s very clear proclamation that “if a tenant misses a payment due to COVID-19, the moratorium against recovering possession due to nonpayment shall apply.”
BrokeAssStuart.com has obtained some pretty heartless emails that the Seattle-based commercial landlord Activspace sent to the small businesses who could not pay rent April 1.
“There has been misinformation that a suspension of some court eviction activities means commercial tenants are not obligated to pay rent. This is not true,” Activspace said in an email sent this past Saturday, April 11 at 11:50 a.m. “No government action relieves individuals or businesses of their contract obligations – including rent payment. We continue to be bound by the terms of our Contractual Agreements.”
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“As you know the Lease is month to month,” the email says. “The quickest way to improve your finances is vacate the space in good condition so that you can receive a deposit refund and end your rental obligations.”
(Again, we point to the mayor’s eviction moratorium orders that specifically addresses that month-to-month renters cannot be evicted. “The Mayor declared the moratorium to apply to all attempts to recover possession of a unit due to non-payment including situations where a tenant occupies a unit on a month-to-month periodic tenancy,” the order says.)
Just 30 minutes later on Saturday, Activspace sent these same businesses another email offering a reduction in the April rent they’d just missed — but only if they swallowed a poison pill. “We are able to offer a partial rent relief option for you,” that email says. “You will receive a reduction in your April rent if you provide your notice to vacate asap and complete the move-out process by April 30th. This reduction will be in the amount of ½ of the rent due for April.”
We reached out to Activspace, and their co-founder and chair Jude Siddall said at 12:51 p.m. Monday, “We are not and rarely ever ask our customers to leave.” It’s unclear whether this brief statement represents a reversal of past policy.
To add insult to injury, though, Activspace has an ad on Craigslist right now offering a “first month free” deal on the very units that businesses are being kicked out of for their inability to pay that same single month’s rent. The extremely tone-deaf ad, seen above, declares, “FREE!!!,” “FREE MONTH!!, COME ON IN!!,” and “2020 is your time to shine!” and makes a free month available to new tenants, but that same free month is not offered to their current longtime tenants.
“Activspace is completely breaking the law,” says Northeast Mission Business Association (NEMBA) board member and In-Symmetry spa owner Candace Combs. “How they think they’re going to get away with this is beyond me. Activspace thinks they’re above the law, and they’ve thought this way the entire time they’ve been in San Francisco.”
Combs is referring to an incident last year covered thoroughly by Mission Local where Activspace had knowingly rented to businesses who could not operate legally under that district’s zoning. The Board of Supervisors stepped in and brokered an amnesty deal, but some Mission Creek merchants remain suspicious of Activspace’s conduct. “They have been given deal after deal after deal, and they just continue to be kind of terrible landlords,” Combs tells BrokeAssStuart.com
Activspace co-founder Jude Siddall said in a March 27 email to tenants that “As a small business ourselves we understand the situation many of you are in.” That ”small business” claim is kind of a stretch considering Activspace operates hundreds of units here, and also in Berkeley, Portland, and Seattle.
“They have millions of dollars, they don’t need to do this to these poor people,” Combs tells us. ”They know no one can work right now. We’re mandated to stay home because of a virus. And Activspace is going to take this opportunity to evict everyone?”
“These people are really good long-term tenants,” she adds. “These aren’t people who just willy-nilly pay their rent, these are people who are small business owners and entrepreneurs who work all the time, this is their livelihood. They can’t work right now.”
We spoke to one of those tenants, who remained anonymous for fear of retribution. “It is morally repugnant that Activspace, LLC is bullying and trying to displace small businesses. They are trying to take advantage of a pandemic off the backs of their tenants,” the person says. “I am asking for decency, asking to defer my rent so that when the shelter in place order lifts I have an office to come back to, to have a way to pay my unpaid rent, and have a way to participate in the San Francisco economy, as well as make a living and not become homeless.”
We’re told that Supervisor Hillary Ronen is working to find a solution for businesses being told to leave. “Supervisor Ronen has been amazing throughout this entire thing,” Combs says. “She’s on our side, she’s been fantastic.”
We’ll update this article with any responses or announcements from Sup. Ronen’s office. But for now, a whole lot of Mission District small businesses could be looking at what seems like evictions that violate the eviction moratorium.