Breaking News
More () »

Once-homeless tenants facing evection in Bankers Hill as landlord increases rent

Dozens of once-homeless tenants at the Occidental Hotel face eviction if they don't honor the rent increase.

SAN DIEGO — Dozens of tenants in Bankers Hill are facing homelessness again at the Occidental Hotel, where the new landlord raised their rent.

The tenants say they are devastated and are rallying against the rent increase with the help of Tenants United and People Assisting The Homeless (PATH).

For many, their rent is now more than $1,000. Many are elderly, disabled, on fixed incomes, and homeless and before they moved to the hotel they couldn't afford the 10 percent or more increase in rent.

“I was scared. Scared. I'm not going to live in my car again,” said a current tenant, Julie Munson.

Nearly two years ago, Steve Langal couldn't afford rent. He went from living on the streets to an Alpha Project tent. With Father Joe’s help, he rented a room at the Occidental Hotel on the 400 block of Elm Street.

“I'm living on social security and barely paying the rent now,” said Langal.

His new home is at the Occidental Hotel in a Single Room Occupancy unit known as an SRO for low-income residents.

Many are furnished 250-square-foot rooms with either a private bathroom or a shared restroom.  

“I'm not asking for the Taj Mahal, and I know I'm not getting it here. But still, I like having my place,” said Langal.

Tenants United, an advocacy group for affordable and safe housing, is legally representing the dozens of Occidental Hotel tenants and fighting what they consider unlawful notices and bullying.

“There's a series of issues. The notices themselves are invalid for multiple reasons,” said Rafael Bautista, of Tenants United. “Receiving this notice is almost like a death blow because tenants have nowhere to go.”

Tenants also say they are being bullied by management, and amenities such as cable were taken away. They believe the rooms are being converted into Airbnbs.

Records show the Occidental Hotel was sold in June to Surf Cowboy LLC

CBS 8 tried going inside the hotel to speak to a representative, but the door was locked. CBS 8 e-mailed and called the office but has not heard back.

Tenants said management gave them a business card with Rachael Callahan, esq. from San Diego Evictions.CBS 8 called and email the attorney but have not been returned.

There’s a bigger problem with the lack of SROs in San Diego. SROs are critical in the transition from homelessness, yet they are disappearing in San Diego.

PATH found this year there were 462 units in buildings that have been sold, for sale, or lost in San Diego; that's more than 400 people vulnerable to living on the streets.

“The reality is when you take these units off the market, they are not being replaced; there is no level of affordability that is equal to what already existed,” said Kalei Levy, Housing Supervisor at PATH.

CBS 8 reached out to Mayor Todd Gloria’s office, but they deferred us to Council President Sean Elo-Rivera. He said this issue hit close to home.

“During my first year in San Diego, my first semester of law school, I had been living in my car for several weeks. And the Occidental is the SRO I stayed in to get myself through finals,” said Elo-Rivera.

We asked the Council President about the issue, and he says while it won't help Occidental tenants, he is working to protect and add SROs in any Civic Core redevelopment.

“Part of what I asked for is an assessment of the inclusion of SROs in that redevelopment; we need more of these. Again, this is a critical rung on the housing ladder,” said Elo-Rivera.

Mr. Langal says despite being disabled, he won't stop climbing that ladder.

“If you can survive living on the streets, you can survive just about anything. I don't know if I can say I can survive this bullcrap. But I'm just going to say, I'm going to give it my best shot,” said Langal.

CBS 8 reached out to the San Diego Housing Commission, which was working with the city council on an ordinance to better protect SROs, but it faced critics for not including rent control. It stalled in 2021. 

The Commission said, “the proposed SRO ordinance amendments remain under consideration, subject to presentation to the Land Use and Housing Committee and, if approved, to the City Council. A date has not been set for presentation to the committee.”

The Commission also said the Occidental SRO property is a market-rate property that is subject to state Assembly Bill 1482, enacted in 2019, which limits rent increases to five percent annually plus the percentage change in the cost of living for the region in which the property is located, or 10 percent, whichever is lower.

WATCH RELATED: Golden Hall shelter in Downtown San Diego temporarily closed due to roof leak

Before You Leave, Check This Out