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U.S. government sues to evict Pac Heights couple from former Iranian consulate

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The pair had been paying $5,523 per month in rent before getting notice to vacate

Image via Google Maps

A couple living in the former Iranian consulate in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood since 1984 are being evicted by the government via the Ellis Act.

In 1980, the U.S. State Department threw the Iranian government out of the 8,718-square-foot mansion at 3400 Washington, who had been in the home since 1969, and put the home on the rental market. Alexandra and Bruce Owen moved into the mansion in 1984.

According to State Department lawyers, the couple have lived there ever since. But now the federal government wants to boot them, saying that it’s pulling the house off the rental market via the Ellis Act.

Per the lawsuit filed by the state department last week, the Owens, who paying $5,523.19 per month in rent, are refusing to move.

“Defendants continue to occupy without lawful authority in trespass and unlawful detainer,” federal lawyers David L. Anderson and Robert M. Wall state in their complaint.

Allegedly, the property has fallen into such disrepair that the federal landlords have decided it’s not worth continuing the rental. ”The cost of expected maintenance and repair at the 3400 Washington Street property is estimated at $5 million dollars, significantly in excess of available rental receipts,” according to a 2018 inspection.

Under the Ellis Act, landlords may evict without fault on the part of renters if they intend to take the home off the rental market. The Owens received their eviction papers in June 2018. But as the date approached, the defendants “did not intend to vacate the property by that date.”

The tenants have not yet filed a response to the suit. A lawyer representing the couple told NBC Bay Area that it’s an injustice to remove tenants after more than 30 years simply to leave the property vacant.

According to the San Francisco Assessor’s Office, the Washington Street property dates to 1927, features three stories and 17 rooms, and sits on a 7,800-square-foot parcel.

CBS SF notes that the the home was also “the site of the largest bomb blast in San Francisco history, when Iranian dissidents set off explosives on the side of the house” in 1971. No one was hurt.

The former government of Iran bought the home as a diplomatic residence in 1969 before being booted after diplomatic relations fell off with the United States. The Owens’ first lease (the pair ran out the course of two rental agreements and have been renting month to month since 1997) specified, “In the event that diplomatic relations are reestablished with the government of Iran, the tenant will vacate the premises within one year.”

Ellis Act evictions were the fourth most common cause of eviction in San Francisco in 2018, with 154 attempts citywide (out of a total of 1,592 eviction notices served).

The rent board does not enumerate how many evictions occur each year in Pac Heights specifically. An eviction database compiled by a Stanford student in 2016 found 242 evictions in the neighborhood between 2011 and 2015. By comparison, the Mission had 908, the Tenderloin 497, and SoMa 539 during the same period.