On Wednesday, August 20th, at 12 pm, tenants currently being evicted from four units at 3150-3154 26th Street gathered outside of their apartment building, demanding that their eviction be rescinded immediately. Tenants, community organizers, and elected officials spoke, and then marched around the block before returning to 26th and Lucky to hand their demand letter to their property manager German Maldonado and landlord Thomas J. Aquilina. This past year, Maldonado collected and stole four months of rent from them, never giving any of it to Aquilina. Knowing that this was the case, Aquilina proceeded to start the eviction process against over 20 tenants. As of now, Maldonado is the only “tenant” permitted to remain according to another one of Aquilina’s property managers, and everyone else, including children and non-English speaking residents, will be forced out onto the streets by September 2nd.
Tenants never received a formal eviction notice from Aquilina or Maldonado, and were instead told that they were being evicted by a different property manager, Douglas Erazo. Erazo manages two other units that Aquilina owns at 3156 and 3160 26th Street. In addition to managing two units, Erazo does work on all six units. Erazo told tenants that they have to be out by 5pm on September 2nd. Aquilina’s lawyer, Brenda Cruz Keith, has confirmed this via phone to one tenant, but not in writing. “We’re still in the dark because we’ve yet to get legal documentation. We’ve never been served. People tell us that we have to get out but we don’t yet know why,” says one tenant who wishes to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation. Tom Anderson from unit 3152 says, “This is our home, and there is no reason why we should have to leave.” Right now, the conditions in all units being evicted are horrendous. The water has been shut off in one unit. There are rats and roaches in other. The fire alarm is broken in yet another. At least three children live in the units being evicted: a 4-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 15-year old. They and their parents have nowhere else to go. Some tenants have already left out of fear, including a man who had been in 3152 for twelve years. German Maldonado began acting as property manager roughly 15 years ago. Managing this property is his sole occupation.
Originally from Argentina, Ruben German Maldonado is infamous in the units for having called ICE on an undocumented Argentinian tenant in the past. Maldonado has also been seen throwing a tenant’s belongings out of the window, and has harassed and stolen possessions from other tenants. He has rented out fire escapes to people in the past, creating a fire safety hazard for people who might need to use them in an emergency. Another tenant, who also wishes to remain unnamed out of fear of retaliation, explained of Maldonado: “He used the relationships that we had with him and abused the trust that he cultivated in us. He used that against us. That’s how he ran around this whole thing being so secretive. He told us that this problem would go away. I feel foolish that I trusted him.” Maldonado has made roughly $40,000 off of the tenants over the last four months. Last year, tenants were paying roughly $600 a piece, but the rent has been raised to $800 over the last year. The units go for $2050 each, put people were paying Maldonado on average $3500 each. It has been calculated by tenants that Maldonado was getting $4500 a month in profit from the four units. Thomas Aquilina owns at least eight properties, including six units at 3150-3160 26 Street. 3150-3160 26 Street is owned by the Aquilina Family 2001 Revocable Trust, located at 1856 17th Avenue. The building 3150-3160 26th Street was built in 1900. Maldonado manages four units, and Erazo manages the other two.
Aquilina is mysterious to tenants on 26th Street. Tom Anderson describes: “He is the shady character who shows up and tells Erazo what he wants done. Other than that, we have no other contact with him. We just go through Maldonado.” The settlement agreement with Aquilina allows Maldonado to remain at 3158 26th Street, but the tenants in the other units that he manages must vacate. It seems that there is some collusion at work between Aquilina and Maldonado. It turns out that Aquilina’s lawyer Brenda Cruz Keith is notorious for representing dubious landlords. In another ongoing case in San Francisco, she has falsified documentation in legal briefs and altered the date of eviction notices in an attempt to trick tenants into missing the deadline for responding, thus creating a situation where they could potentially have been forced to forfeit their apartment. Tenants desire legal action against both Aquilina and Maldonado, who are collectively responsible for their impending displacement and loss of tens of thousands of dollars. They have yet to find a lawyer to take their case. Tenants question, why is the person (other than the landlord) responsible for their eviction the only one allowed to stay? Tenants see this eviction directly correlated to the hyper-gentrification of the Mission. Tom Anderson, who remembers the evictions engendered by the Dot Com boom of the 1990s, says of the current crisis plaguing the city: “This is one hundred times worse than then.”
While much attention has been placed on no-fault evictions responsible for the massive dispossession of San Franciscan tenants, Eviction Free San Francisco has witnessed an increasing number of cases like this one – cases that go unregistered as formal evictions and in which landlords maintain impunity by hiding behind shady property managers and walls of obfuscation. Erin McElroy of Eviction Free San Francisco contextualizes: “While speculators increasingly hide behind LLCs to enact ‘no-fault’ evictions and buy-outs, we’re seeing an increasing number of landlords hide behind slyly concocted ‘fault’ evictions, in which the tenant has done nothing wrong, but a loophole is used to lead to their displacement. And, as we know, being evicted from your home in San Francisco these days means being evicted from San Francisco altogether.” This action begins a phone campaign against both Aquilina and Maldonado. Maldonado can be reached at 415-850-4778 and @elescribador, and Aquilina can be reached at 415-665-4714. Tenants will also be hand delivering a letter to Maldonado’s address at 3158 26th Street, demanding that Maldonado give their money back and that Aquilina rescind their eviction.