Marilyn Metcalf was given an eviction notice on June 12, and now her 90 days to find a new place to live are almost up. The 76-year-old and her chihuahua, Elvis, will have to find somewhere else to live because the converted garage she has called home is illegal under San Mateo County zoning codes. “I’m too old to be thrown out in the street,” said Metcalf, who has lived in her Princeton home for more than three years.
Metcalf’s landlord, Dr. Susan Fullemann, heard that many people were living in the neighborhood when she rented out the unit to Metcalf, who is a friend. Despite the fact that most of Princeton is not zoned for residential housing, some people are living in converted garages, motorhomes, vans, boats or other structures in the mixed-use area.
“I was told that the neighborhood was full of people living there,” Fullemann said. “People had lived there up to that point. I hoped it wasn’t a big issue.”
Metcalf pays a couple hundred of dollars a month in rent, and the rest is subsidized. She also said she wasn’t aware the property wasn’t zoned residential when she first moved in.
While the county doesn’t receive complaints often, it does have a process for addressing illegal or substandard housing like this.
Metcalf said the county was notified about her living situation after she made a 911 call for her adult son, who was having seizures.
She said San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at her home and subsequently reported that she was in an illegal housing unit.
San Mateo County Sheriff’s Capt. Saul Lopez said he was unable to comment on the specifics of this case. He said if deputies see a county ordinance violation they will contact the county Code Compliance Section.
The county contacted Fullemann about the violation in April and told her Metcalf could no longer reside there.
“I wish she didn’t have to leave, but I don’t have a choice,” Fullemann said.
“The situation is extremely unfortunate,” said Planning and Building Director Steve Monowitz. “This is a difficult situation where the county, of course, doesn’t want to see anyone put out of a place where they’re residing.” He said the county collaborates with many agencies when it comes to investigating housing violations.
“We have a task force of different agencies that are involved in the Princeton area,” Monowitz said. “We share information. It’s not unusual that we might get information from the Sheriff or from the fire department that we would investigate.”
Evictions are a two-stage process. When a tenant receives a notice from a landlord, it is not considered a formal court document but rather a demand letter.
After that it can escalate to where the landlord gets an unlawful detainer complaint, which is a form of legal action.
A few years ago, the county passed a red tag ordinance that requires property owners to provide relocation assistance in instances such as Metcalf’s, which helps offset the moving costs for the tenant.
“It’s a very narrow policy that, in very specific circumstances, people getting evicted will get money, but it in no way compensates for the life wreckage that happens (in a) move,” said Shirley Gibson, directing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County.
Metcalf said neither the county nor Fullemann has offered resources or financial support.
Fullemann said on Thursday that she left a voicemail for Metcalf, but wasn’t aware she was required to provide relocation assistance.
Gibson explained that the county has the discretion to alleviate the hardships of the tenant by advancing the money in cases where the landlord is not cooperating.
“I’m actually working with my staff to make sure in this case the property owner is aware of his or her responsibilities for helping the tenants finding an alternative place to live,” Monowitz said.
Metcalf is working with Legal Aid on her own to see if she can get an extension. Her son has a home in Oregon that they hope to move there in November.
She doesn’t want to leave Princeton. Metcalf said she’s made friends with people who take the same bus and the elderly man who lives in a van nearby.
She enjoys taking Elvis on walks, and people like to pet him, she said.
“You’ve let a lot of people stay here,” Metcalf said. “You can’t just single out one person. You can’t just single me out.”