Bonita Cohn moved into her three-bedroom Nob Hill flat in 1982, and it remained her residence for the next 40 years, through marriage, divorce and her long career as a local artist specializing in clay pots and stoneware.
Over her time living in the apartment at 1538 Jones St., 76-year-old Cohn estimates that she had more than 70 boarders and housemates who lived in the space over the years.
But last October, she said she was forced to leave her longtime home because of a problem tenant named Loyd Hernandez, who drove her and other roommates out through what they described as a sustained pattern of intimidation and harassment, all while refusing to pay rent for more than a year.
“I never had a problem before meeting Loyd,” she said from her sister’s home in Long Island, where she lives today. “He was supposed to be temporary, but just he never left.”
In expensive San Francisco, there is no shortage of shared living situations and roommate disputes. But Cohn and others say the situation at 1538 Jones St. was beyond the pale.
Although an extreme case, the ongoing saga highlights the challenges that tenants and landlords sometimes face in removing problematic tenants through the city’s slow-moving legal proceedings.
Hernandez continues to live in the apartment alone without paying rent: All other roommates have moved out amid a string of legal disputes, derogatory comments and regular calls to the police for minor issues. In one instance, after Cohn woke up in the early morning screaming from a nightmare, Hernandez called the police on her for disturbing the peace.
The harassment led to the departure of Cohn’s home health aide, followed by her own decision to leave the apartment and the city that she called home for four decades.
Cohn said Hernandez offered to pay her $225 weekly starting in February 2021 to stay in the apartment on a temporary basis and sublet a room previously occupied by her caregiver and housemate Everic Dupuy, who was traveling out of the country.
Hernandez was supposed to leave at the end of April when Dupuy returned to the apartment, but he refused. Left with no other option, Dupuy stayed in the living room where he said he and Hernandez regularly got in altercations and arguments.
“When I came back from my travels, I was working for [Cohn] as her caregiver, I was helping her and I saw that he was taking financial advantage of her,” Dupuy said.
Dupuy said he still experiences “some PTSD” from the living situation, which included a combination of threats, arguments and harassment from Hernandez. Dupuy, who lived in the apartment between 2016 and 2021, said Hernandez would often make it difficult for him to help Cohn, following the two around the house, getting in between them and interrupting their work together.
“He would hold his camera up in our faces and record everything. A lot of what he was doing was projection: He would make up all these accusations of things he did, but say they were about us,” Dupuy said. “His goal was to ultimately drive us out, and it worked.”
Dupuy moved out but continued to work with Cohn. The situation with Hernandez, however, became so toxic that he eventually no longer served as her caregiver.
Dupuy said he heard Hernandez make derogatory remarks about women and antisemitic remarks about Cohn, who is Jewish.
Hernandez largely stopped paying rent after two and a half months. Cohn said he began citing San Francisco’s tenant protections and issues around the apartment’s habitability as a rationale, putting the impetus on Cohn to try and remove him from the premises.
Then there were the repeated instances of harassment. Cohn, who has mobility issues and walks with the help of a walker, said Hernandez started putting her shower chair out of reach, throwing her items on the floor, and mocking and imitating her disability.
At the time when Cohn moved out in October, Hernandez’s total unpaid rent had reached $15,925.
Cohn turned to the legal system to try and rid herself of Hernandez. She received a temporary restraining order against Hernandez that forced him to move out for around three months, but he was eventually allowed to come back after a judge’s ruling.
A second restraining order that was filed on the grounds of elder abuse, as well as a small claims suit to get back payment of rent, were dismissed when Cohn failed to pursue the cases further. She had already departed to live with her sister in Long Island.
In an interview, Hernandez mostly refused to engage with questions on his behavior, saying that he didn’t want to “dox” the individuals or be subject to “defamation claims.” Instead of the perpetrator, he said he was the victim of harassing behavior from his former housemates.
“There’s certain things I don’t want to speak out about now because I don’t want to revisit them,” he said. “I can sit here and tell you exactly what they did but that would be doxxing them. I don’t know why they are sitting there and just lying to you.”
Hernandez claimed to have photographic and video evidence of this bad behavior, but said that he lost a USB drive containing electronic copies. He claims he was subject to reduction of housing services because of harassment.
When asked multiple times about whether he had stopped paying rent, Hernandez dodged the question, instead saying that he had a lucrative seasonal job collecting signatures that he was unable to do because of the legal issues surrounding his living situation.
“It’s been harassment, harassment and court case and court case, and I haven’t really sat there and gathered signatures and made money,” Hernandez said. “I have a friend that smokes fentanyl and made about $40,000 petitioning. I don’t smoke fentanyl—I’ll put it that way.”
Nelson Hyde Chick, a neighbor who has lived in a nearby unit owned by the same landlord since 1986, described Hernandez as a "housemate from hell" who he believes is taking advantage of renter protection laws.
“I understand if there’s someone who lives somewhere for a decade and loses their job and can’t work, but this isn’t that. This is someone taking advantage of why the rental laws exist,” Chick said. “I’ve lived here a long time, and the landlord is a great guy. He’s not the type of person who’s trying to milk every freaking penny from you.”
Hernandez recently called the police on Chick after he let in a person who was attempting to serve him with a legal notice from the landlord Leonard Lew.
Hernandez, who continues to live in the flat by himself, has refused to leave, and the landlord has started eviction proceedings against him. Lew is attempting to make renovations on the apartment now that Cohn, his longtime tenant, has departed. Hernandez claimed it was a bid to evict him.
“They’re mad because the landlord thinks I’m freeloading. They want to do capital improvements in the building and change the fair-market rent,” Hernandez said. He said he believed that Cohn moved out because she was getting old and have difficulty moving around.
Clare Cohn Brown, Bonita Cohn’s sister, said she was sure that her sister would have lived in the apartment for longer if she hadn’t faced the situation with Hernandez.
“He was tormenting her and the other people that lived there,” Brown said.
Brown said when she stayed at the apartment to help her sister move out, she also experienced what she described as menacing behavior from Hernandez, including staring at her while she was eating and recording her. Brown also said she heard racial comments he made against another roommate who was an Asian woman.
A video provided by Brown shows the two arguing when Hernandez threatened to sue Cohn for theft of services.
“I said, ‘What are you trying to get from her? She has no income to speak of.’” Brown said. “Why are you doing this? You’re getting off on trying to hurt an elderly person.”
Lew, the building’s landlord, is now shouldering the brunt of the burden.
Hernandez, who initially agreed to move out in November to allow for renovation work before being allowed to move back as the master tenant, reneged on the agreement. Hernandez attempted to file his own restraining order against Lew, but the action was dismissed by a judge this month.
Lew, who grew up in the apartment complex and took over ownership from his parents, has been managing the property for some 60 years. Recently, when he was visiting the property with a contractor to fix a broken garage door, he said Hernandez came out and aggressively started filming him and the worker.
Hernandez asked for $38,000 in exchange for moving out. Lew countered with $25,000, an offer that Hernandez rejected.
The two parties negotiated to terms were favorable to Hernandez, including a period of continuing to live in the apartment rent-free prior to renovations and the opportunity to move back as a master tenant for $5,000 in rent and a security deposit once the improvements were made. After the agreement was struck, however, Hernandez refused to sign it.
“I’m 88. Let’s see if I make it to my birthday in April,” Lew said. “I’ve been doing this for 60 years, and I’ve never met anyone as bad as him.”
During a phone interview, Hernandez vacillated between accusations of harassment and defamation and vague threats.
“What if I was a malignant sociopath like they said about me?” Hernandez said. “Does it not worry you that I could be that person?”
He initially offered to provide documentation and videos that would corroborate his side of the story, but later declined to show them. In a text message, he said he would refuse to settle the case despite multiple witnesses to his behavior, calling it a "shakedown lawsuit."
Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected]