Even as inspectors were hitting him with fines and a long list of code violations for unsanitary and potentially dangerous conditions inside the San Francisco apartment building he owns, Maryo Mogannam was chairing a city commission dedicated to setting public cleanliness standards.
Mogannam was removed from the Sanitation and Streets Commission last week, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office confirmed, just days after an inquiry from NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit about the state of his Page Street apartment building.
“It is important for Mayor Breed that commissioners act and serve the City in a way that is consistent with the work of the commission to which they were appointed,” the Mayor’s Office said in a statement.
Most of the violations, including a persistent rodent infestation, leaks, mold, and missing insulation, date back to before Mayor London Breed appointed Mogannam to the commission last year, according to city inspection records. There’s also an unresolved violation from the Department of Building Inspection for failing to perform mandated earthquake retrofitting on the building, a spokesperson confirmed.
“He is chair of Sanitation and Streets, and I’m living with a rodent infestation,” said Emma Brown, who’s lived in Mogannam’s building for 29 years.
Conditions started deteriorating about three years ago, Brown said, when Mogannam undertook a renovation project in the building and began demolishing other units. Brown said the construction work opened up holes in her apartment that allow both water and rodents to get inside.
Brown and her son Liam are the last remaining tenants in the seven-unit building, they say, after refusing a buyout offer in 2021 that would have required them to leave their rent-controlled apartment.
“I think he wants to fix the whole building up and rent [the units] out for a lot more money,” said Brown, who works as a childcare provider and has a side business selling vintage toys on eBay.
With the help of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which provides legal assistance to low-income tenants in the city, Brown filed a still-pending lawsuit against her landlord last year, alleging negligence and harassment, among other issues.
“Issues in this house were so bad that I couldn’t let [the tenants] walk away without offering some assistance,” said Tenderloin Housing Clinic staff attorney Stephanie Smallwood.
Smallwood’s initial involvement, though, came before the lawsuit, when Mogannam served Emma and Liam a notice early last year saying they had 60 days to leave the apartment because he intended to move into their unit.
“I thought that there’s no way [Mogannam] is going to move into that unit,” Smallwood said, noting its current state.
Taking a buyout or moving out of their rent-controlled unit would mean moving out of San Francisco, Brown said. Like many working-class residents in the city, paying market rate rent is simply out of the question for her and her son.
“If I was good enough to pay rent in this apartment for 29 years, then I don’t see why suddenly I’m not good enough anymore to be living here,” Brown said.
But Emma and Liam never moved out, and more than a year later, Mogannam has not pursued an owner move-in eviction through the court system.
An attorney for Mogannam declined an interview request on behalf of her client but said in an email he “denies the tenants’ allegations” and “looks forward to the opportunity to address the allegations through the judicial process.”
In March of 2022, following a complaint from Brown, city building inspectors issued Mogannam a notice documenting more than a dozen code violations for issues including the rodent infestation, a leaky ceiling, missing insulation, and unsanitary conditions from mold and mouse droppings.
Brown said it’s all taking a major toll.
“I’m not doing very well,” Brown said. “I take medication to sleep because I know [the rodents] are running around in my bedroom, so I can’t sleep. I suffer from anxiety. It makes me really upset when I talk about it.”
The city gave the landlord 30 days to fix the problems or face fines. But during multiple inspections since, including one just last month, city inspectors found most of the issues haven’t been fixed.
“You can see mouse droppings [in the stove],” said Liam while giving NBC Bay Area a tour of the apartment. “Which means they’re all in our kitchenware.”
They say city inspectors have asked them not to clean up the droppings in parts of the apartment so they can be documented during reinspection.
The rodent problem has become so bad that Emma and Liam recently set up a motion activated “mouse cam” to catch them on video, and the Department of Public Health has also gotten.
“After 20 minutes of us either getting in the shower, going to sleep, or leaving the house, the mice come out whether it’s day or night,” Brown said. “And they are everywhere.”
In July, health inspectors photographed hundreds of mouse droppings in the apartment and issued Mogannam a violation notice of their own. The Department of Public Health demanded he hire a pest control company and sanitize the apartment, but so far, the city said that still hasn’t happened.
Brown said she’s had to toss out contaminated toys and craft materials she uses for her eBay business.
“I can’t babysit over here anymore,” Brown said. “I can’t run my friends round. I can’t cook. I can’t do any of my craft projects.”
In total, the violations have resulted in more than $7,000 in fines that the city confirms have yet to be paid.
A Department of Public Health spokesperson said the case could be referred to the City Attorney’s office for civil enforcement if the potential hazards aren’t soon remedied.
“I feel like he’s trying to break me, to be quite honest,” Brown said. “Just trying to make my standard of living so bad that I will just give up and leave.”
Source: NBC Bay Area