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Real estate made this prominent San Francisco family rich. Now, it’s tearing them apart

The Mosser siblings are fighting over control of their father's business

The image features silhouettes of a man and a woman pulling a saw across a red house, against a backdrop of various currency notes.
Heirs to the Mosser family fortune are trying to eject one of their own. | Source: AI illustration by Clark Miller for The Standard

Real estate made this prominent San Francisco family rich. Now, it’s tearing them apart

The Mosser siblings are fighting over control of their father's business

In uber-wealthy circles, there’s often talk of the “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” phenomenon. 

It refers to the cycle of a family that initially rolls up its sleeves to amass a great fortune, only to have the second or third generation squander it because of mismanagement or lavish spending—leaving them back where they started.

Today, the heirs of the Mosser family, one of San Francisco’s most active and controversial residential landlords, are fighting to keep their fortune alive amid an unprecedented real estate downturn that has left no corners of the industry unscathed. 

But as in any family business, the direction of the firm is inextricably tied to their relationships with each other. 

At the head of the table is Neveo Mosser, who was adopted into the family at a young age and whom the late Charles William Mosser—the clan’s patriarch—appointed as his successor as CEO more than two decades ago.

A man in a dark suit with a blue dress shirt and patterned tie is smiling, holding a wine glass, with a floral arrangement and a well-lit, modern background.
Neveo Mosser has led the Mosser Companies since 2000 after his late father stepped back from the business to retire in the Philippines. | Source: Courtesy

In accordance with their father’s will, his sisters Deborah Mosser and the now-deceased Kathleen Massouda each have a stake in the business, which at its height, paid them a monthly six-figure sum.  

But as multiple lenders, vendors and business partners started coming after the Mosser Companies’ assets last year, Deborah, her children and nephew—some of whom still work at the firm—suddenly turned on Neveo. In March, they asked the courts to remove him from the family trust, claiming that his decisions as its longtime leader have led it into financial ruin. 

Up until this year, the siblings have enjoyed a relatively close and loving relationship, a source familiar with the family said. But as battle lines are being drawn, the family’s dirty laundry is being dragged out into public view via lawsuits and court filings. 

The buildup 

Before it started to buckle, the Mosser empire once contained more than $1.5 billion in assets, which reportedly accounted for 5,000 tenants across 3,000 units mostly concentrated in San Francisco. A quarter of Mosser’s buildings are also located in Oakland and Los Angeles. 

This saga was started over 70 years ago by Charles William Mosser, a World War II veteran turned law school dropout who found his calling in real estate. The family’s patriarch was remembered for being a voracious dealmaker, who went on to own and manage more than 35 apartment buildings and four hotels in the city by the time of his death in 2007. 

Along the way he had five children, five marriages and five divorces. His two other children, Yvonne Mosser and Charles Andrew Mosser, were disinherited from the trust for unspecified reasons, according to a copy of the document provided to the superior court. 

When the Mosser patriarch passed, he left Neveo Mosser to navigate a tumultuous period in real estate with the Great Financial Crisis looming. The Lembi family, for example, which was once the largest residential landlord in San Francisco, would eventually get nearly wiped out during the recession as a result of holding onto too much debt that came due at once.

The Mossers were able to weather the storm. As the city slowly picked itself up again in the early 2010s, so did the Mosser Companies, which Neveo Mosser planned to transform from a local family-run business into a larger enterprise fueled by outside investors. 

A blue sign attached to a building reads "Mosser Companies" with their web address, phone number, and "Lease Now." The perspective shows ornate structural details and part of a sign saying "Apartment."
Mosser Companies, a major San Francisco landlord has defaulted on a significant portion of its portfolio, triggering a succession battle for control of the business. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard
The image shows a street with a tall grey building, a red brick building beside it, and an auto body shop. People and parked cars are on the street below.
People stand on the sidewalk in front of 750 O’Farrell Street, one of the low- to middle-income buildings owned by Mosser Companies in the Tenderloin. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Through a new investment company called Mosser Capital—which he ran with Deborah’s son-in-law Jim Farris as CEO—the pair would solicit sovereign wealth funds, hedge funds and global insurance companies, among other capital partners, to finance a real estate buying spree, according to court documents. 

Mosser Capital would award property management contracts to the Mosser Companies Inc.—thus growing the family’s pie. 

The 2010s were a boom time for the family and business. Demand for housing in San Francisco surged as the tech industry thrived, driving up rents. And the company’s portfolio swelled as a result. 

According to reports, Mosser Capital acquired as many as 20 new apartment buildings as recently as 2022, when it spent over $150 million to acquire more units in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.  

Like many other companies in the industry, each new purchase was fueled by a greater amount of short-term debt, often taken at a variable interest rate. 

The math made sense when the federal interest rate was low and occupancy rates were high. As long as properties were generating cash flow, a borrower could afford to pay its lenders, or convince them to refinance and borrow more. 

Even though the two companies still have active investments together, it is not clear how the lawsuit will affect the partnership moving forward.

Farris did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but did send The Standard a separate note emphasizing that the two companies are “distinctly different entities with different ownership” and that any inquiries related to the investment company should be forwarded to him specifically. 

The breakdown

The Mossers weren’t in the fancy high-rise business. They mostly owned low-slung apartment buildings in and around the Tenderloin that were a combination of rent-controlled and market-rate homes. Operating and maintaining those types of buildings is difficult even during the best of times, since most are now several decades old

The pandemic dealt multiple blows to the business model. First, building occupancies dropped as a result of the initial mass migration out of the city. Subsequently, even though federal and local government renter protections kept many at-risk residents housed, the Mossers’ primary revenue stream took a hit as a chunk of residents stopped paying rent. 

To make matters worse, just as the city was beginning to open itself up once again in the summer of 2022, the Federal Reserve sharply raised its interest rates in an effort to bring down inflation, immediately making variable loans, like those held by the Mossers’, skyrocket in cost. 

They weren’t the only ones affected. Veritas Investments—which took over as the city’s largest landlord after it snapped up big chunks of the crumbling Lembi empire at a discount —also began walking away from rent-controlled apartment buildings it owned.

Last year, the firm defaulted on a portfolio of over $1 billion in mortgages. “Current market conditions have affected everyone,” a Veritas spokesperson previously told the Standard. 

A woman with headphones jogs past a crosswalk on a sunny day, with a beige multi-story building, trees, and a few pedestrians in the background.
Another Mosser Companies property located at 2360 Van Ness Avenue in Russian Hill has slipped into default. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard
A dark gray, four-story building with teal trim and numerous windows stands on a street corner. A person walks on the sidewalk, and a white van is parked nearby.
Apartment buildings like 840 Van Ness Avenue in Civic Center, are being foreclosed upon because its principal owner, Mosser Companies, has fallen behind on loan payments. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

In the complaint filed against her brother, Deborah Mosser said she only learned of the company’s distress through news reports rather than Neveo Mosser himself, a claim he categorically denied in court. 

Arguing that these defaults would destroy their father’s trust and its beneficiaries, Deborah, through her attorneys, demanded Neveo provide a formal accounting of how the firm’s business had been conducted for the past 17 years.

As the accounting department at the Mosser Companies was gathering its receipts, Deborah then pressed the nuclear button without warning, the defense claimed. She asked the courts to suspend Neveo Mosser from the business while she, her children and nephew worked to expel him from the trust. 

“Neveo is causing irreparable harm to the trust and its subtrusts every day,” the lawsuit reads. “Through a combination of mismanagement, commingling, and over-leveraging of Trust properties for his own personal benefit and the benefit of non-Trust assets and entities.”

The fight for control 

Deborah and her children Melissa Vree Farris, Bryce Vree and Jared Vree, along with her nephew Derek Massouda, the son of her now deceased sister, all signed onto the complaint against Neveo Mosser. 

When reached for comment, Jessica Babrick, an attorney at Weinstock Manion, representing the plaintiffs on the case, said her clients declined to directly comment on the matter.

“To be clear, it is Neveo’s severe breaches of his fiduciary duties that are at issue in this litigation, not the San Francisco real estate market,” Babrick wrote in an email.

This image is a LinkedIn profile for Deborah Mosser, a part owner at Mosser Companies in San Francisco, showing her profile picture, connections, and contact options.
Deborah Mosser’s LinkedIn profile; she and her sons are still listed as part or co-owners of the Mosser Companies online. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

In their complaint to the court, the extended Mosser family accuse Neveo Mosser of not being forthright about how he operated as head of the family business—going so far as to accuse him of siphoning profits when they should have been reinvested back into the trust.

In multiple rebuttals to his sister’s claims, Neveo Mosser said he was the only heir capable of managing the family’s business and was responsible for its growth. He warned that a potential takeover by Deborah “threatens to throw the $1B portfolio into chaos” since Neveo is the personal guarantor on loans and principal sponsor of portfolio properties.

More than anything, Neveo Mosser’s defense argued that it wasn’t mismanagement that tanked the business, but rather the domino effects of the pandemic, including the sudden collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic Bank.

In subsequent court proceedings, Neveo Mosser added that he not only kept his sisters informed of key business decisions, but also continued to pay them their allowances in accordance with their father’s wishes “even when net income [was] insufficient to require distributions.” 

In May, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ross Moody denied Deborah Mosser’s request to suspend her brother from acting on behalf of the trust. But the power struggle is far from over. 

Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves 

Even though Mosser Capital’s website still shows CEO Jim Farris and Neveo Mosser side by side on the leadership team (with the latter explicitly listed as CEO of Mosser Living) the relationship between the two has been awkward since the lawsuit, according to sources who have spoken with both men recently. 

The image shows the corner of a multi-story building with many windows. The exterior wall has graffiti featuring a stylized fist and some illegible text. Trees partly frame the view.
Graffiti is seen on the side of 575 O’Farrell Street, a Mosser Companies-owned apartment building in the Tenderloin. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Earlier this month, employees from both companies vacated their shared office at 220 Montgomery St. in the Financial District—coincidentally owned by the Swig Company, which also shares a distressed apartment portfolio with the Mossers. 

In his note to the Standard, Farris provided a copy of the lease agreement with Swig in an effort to show that Mosser Companies, and not Mosser Capital, was the master tenant. He said a previous report by the San Francisco Chronicle—which was corrected and does not mention him—implicating the latter in a rent dispute had caused “unwarranted and potentially irreparable damage to myself and Mosser Capital.” 

According to their Linkedin profiles, Deborah’s sons, Byrce and Jared Vree, continue to work at Mosser Companies Inc. while the dispute with their uncle is playing out. 

When reached for comment, Andrew Silverman, chief operations officer of Mosser Companies Inc. said in a written statement: “The [Mosser] family dispute has no impact on our operational or fiduciary responsibilities.” 

He added that Mosser Capital is not the company’s only source for its property management services and that Mosser Companies still has 85 other properties it is actively managing every day.

In court, the Neveo and Deborah Mosser will continue presenting evidence until either a settlement is reached or the court is compelled to weigh in via a trial. Mediation is also not out of the question, legal experts say. 

As for the loans that have slipped into default, Neveo Mosser had this to say in a sit down with real estate publication The Real Deal last month: “Ultimately, it’s up to the bank or the lender,” Mosser said. 

“So far for us, the portfolio has not been sold and we still continue to operate it,” he continued. “We’re active and trying to go ahead and purchase that with another investor.”

In the final years of his life—which ended with him living on an island in the southern Philippines—Charles Mosser set up his trust in a way he thought would protect his family from the “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” curse—an idea he obsessed over until the very end.

For two decades, when the times were good, his plan seemed to be working. 

He just couldn’t foresee what they’d eventually do to each other long after he’d gone.