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‘Dangerous’ situation at San Francisco residential hotel prompts lawsuit

A corner building with rows of windows and ground-floor shops, pedestrians on the sidewalk, and cars parked along the street.
A Google Street View image of the original Cadillac Hotel location at Eddy Street in San Francisco. | Source: Google Street View

A city-funded housing facility for low-income and formerly homeless adults is being sued over a persistently broken elevator that left residents confined to their rooms for weeks on end, according to a complaint submitted to San Francisco Superior Court on Thursday.

Mark Parsons, a disabled 15-year tenant at the Cadillac Hotel in the Tenderloin, is suing Reality House West and Caritas Management, which jointly operate the single-room-occupancy hotel, alleging that the “dangerous” elevator and other unsafe conditions at the site discriminate against disabled tenants. 

The Cadillac, which is supposed to support formerly homeless people, has been plagued by health and safety issues including pest infestations and fire hazards, according to the complaint. In one case, the complaint said, a tenant died and property managers neglected to clean the person’s room for months, leaving rat infestations, jugs of urine and trash to fester. 

The lawsuit also claims Parsons and other Cadillac Hotel residents have been confined to their rooms due to a broken and filthy elevator that has gone out of service for weeks at a time, resulting in regular elevator rescues by the San Francisco Fire Department. The Standard reported last year that the Cadillac’s elevator was being held together by a zip tie.

Parsons’ lawyers, Angela Alioto and Bruce Weisenberg, claim that building ownership and management discriminated against him when they allowed the building’s elevator to deteriorate and refused to make reasonable accommodations by fixing it. 

The lawsuit also alleges that management retaliated against Parsons for speaking up about the out-of-service elevator. Parsons has posted numerous videos on X, formerly Twitter, of the conditions at the Cadillac Hotel and repeated rescues.

Parsons claims that he has been trapped in the Cadillac Hotel elevator four times. As he was getting into it last month, an assistant manager yelled at him to not break the elevator with his wheelchair, according to the complaint.

The complaint said that when Parsons wrote an email last year about residents becoming stuck between floors, Caritas responded not with repairs, but by pulling the recertification of Parsons’ low-income status and going through his bank statements.

Due to the faulty elevator, Parsons has been forced to walk up and down the stairs—143 steps in all, round trip—even though he uses a wheelchair.

“I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s too risky. I’m going to fall. I’m risking my safety every time I go out because I’m not stable,” Parsons is quoted as saying in the complaint.

Otis Elevator Company, which performed repairs on the Cadillac Hotel elevator, was also named in the lawsuit. Neither Otis Elevator Company nor Caritas responded to requests for comment. 

Millions in Funding for Elevator Repairs

To pay for emergency repairs to public housing, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development made $20 million available for elevator repairs and other improvements at supportive housing sites in February 2023.

Spokesperson Anne Stanley said in an email that the housing office has received over $40 million in requests for repairs to affordable housing units, totaling 15 applications for 20 buildings containing 919 units.

The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing plans to make additional funds available, according to a spokesperson.

That department’s funds will focus on amenities that make facilities functional and livable for residents.

“HSH will be issuing [a request for proposal] for the $10 million elevator repair funding soon—probably in February,” Deborah Bouck, a department spokesperson, wrote in an email. 

The homelessness department is waiting for sign-off from the Office of Public Finance, at which point it can make the funding public, Bouck added. The department is making another $10 million available in repair funds for supportive housing sites. 

Supervisor Dean Preston, who represents the Tenderloin neighborhood, sent a letter in October to Kathy Looper, executive director of Reality House West, asking what steps had been taken to address elevator service. Preston's office never heard back, according to Kyle Smeallie, Preston's aide.

"Mark is very good at advocating for [repairing the elevator], but we know there are a lot of folks who are suffering in silence," Smeallie said. "We at the city should be getting money out the door to help."

When reached by phone, Looper said she didn't know about the lawsuit and was unaware of the public funds for elevator repairs.

"I don't have any comment, since I don't know anything about it," Looper said.

Josh Ram can be reached at jram@sfstandard.com