Part one of a three-part series
When my father’s dementia became too much for Kickie to deal with, we decided it was time to move him to San Francisco. He met Kickie shortly after my mother passed away, and for 17 years they lived together at her San Jose home. The house where I grew up, located in Sunnyvale, sat vacant most of that time — my dad rented it out a few times to Silicon Valley engineers, but they threw a few too many parties so he slammed the door on be-ing a landlord.
I owned a Victorian flat on Shrader Street in the Haight-Ashbury, which I had rented with roommates
after college. One of my roommates and I bought the building from our landlord in the mid-’90s when he was going through a nasty divorce and selling his investment properties. Rent control wasn’t as strict then, so my roommate did a quick and uneventful owner move-in eviction on the six people in the upper unit, and I stayed in the lower flat.
The Haight was a dangerous place when I moved there, but it gentrified some during the first dotcom boom and my $225,000 TIC was now worth $1.1 million. My dad’s house in Sunnyvale, which he and my mother bought in the late ’60s for $10,000, was worth nearly $1 million, thanks to the birth of the Silicon Valley. Though the Haight had cleaned up, it still wasn’t a safe neighborhood, especially for a 76-year-old man with dementia and a penchant for wandering off. My flat also had many stairs. We made the difficult decision to sell it and my father’s house, and in 2007 we purchased a condo in a two-unit Edwardian in the Buena Vista neighborhood, right across from the park. My father moved into the garden level master suite, and Jazzy and I took one of the upstairs bedrooms.
The couple in the upper unit, both psychologists, had purchased the entire building 40 years ago, but with a blended family of five kids all needing to go to college, they couldn’t afford the payments. That was during the ’80s, when interest rates were outrageous, so they sold the lower flat for a song. Over the years it changed hands six or seven times. When I bought it, the seller’s real estate agent disclosed that the people upstairs were “difficult” and the sellers hadn’t spoken to them in a year. While that concerned me, the place was perfect for my father, so I ignored the disclosure — which would come back to haunt me.
Sadly, my father passed away just over a year later, but Kickie and I remained close, and she would come up every Thanksgiving and Christmas and stay a few weeks. The first Thanksgiving, we heard the mail slot creak open. Jazzy raced to the door, barking, and returned with a soggy letter in her mouth. It was from the neighbors. “Time to paint the house,” the letter read. “We are going to use the same painter we always use and we’ll give you the bill for your half.” Kickie was stunned. “They’re giving this to you on Thanksgiving? Are they crazy?” She paused, stirring the stuffing. “Well, it figures. They’re both psychologists. Of course they’re nuts.”
I called my real estate agent, who informed me that I had 50 percent voting rights, and they couldn’t make unilateral decisions. I texted the neighbors and informed them that we needed to meet and vote after the holidays. Three days later, the mail slot creaked, Jazzy barked, and again, she brought a soggy letter. “The painters will be here Monday,” it read. “Here is your half of the bill.” Not wanting to ruin Kickie’s visit, I let it go. “Can we at least look at some different colors?” I texted. “No,” the husband wrote back. “We’re keeping it the same colors it’s always been.”
I began to realize this couple thought they still owned the entire building. I was the same age as a couple of their daughters, and they talked to me as if I were a child. “The roof needs patching,” the soggy letter said the day before Christmas Eve. “We have a guy we always use. Do you want to be there for the estimate?” I texted back that I did, and on a rainy night I trudged upstairs. “This is all water damage,” the contractor said, pointing to their walls and ceiling. “Someone didn’t do a good job putting in these windows.” When I asked my condo partners if they had used licensed installers, they became angry. “That’s a ridiculous question!” scoffed the wife. I took that to mean “no.”
Both husband and wife were now agitated. “Check your condo rules and regulations,” the husband shouted. “It clearly says in the CC&Rs that the roof is common.” I realized they had written those CC&Rs when they originally sold the bottom unit, and upon closer inspection it became obvious they made sure those CC&Rs benefited them first and foremost.