San Francisco renter Deborah Silverman has found herself in a kind of mousetrap. Silverman says she was driven out of her apartment of more than 10 years because of a mouse infestation caused by the unit below her, and she alleges that her landlord, Bart Murphy – who is also a Rent Board Commissioner – failed to address the problem after numerous complaints.
Silverman has filed suit against Murphy, charging that he purposefully let the infestation in her apartment run rampant in order to force her out. She’s seeking more than $125,000 in damages, according to her attorney Eric Lifschitz. That would cover the $700 difference between what she was paying for rent and what it was raised to (multiplied by the years she lived there) and property damages from the infestation, as well as emotional and punitive damages. Murphy is the president of a property management company that runs more than 500 buildings.
Silverman’s lawsuit caught the attention of Tenants Together, a statewide organization that advocates for renter’s rights. Dean Preston, founder and executive director that organization, sees the dispute between Murphy and Silverman as part of a broader trend in San Francisco.
“We see a lot of landlords that don’t make repairs in order to drive tenants out,” Preston told the Guardian. He said Murphy should resign if he is in fact forced to fork over the thousands of dollars for Silverman’s settlement.
“If these allegations are found to be true, Murphy should resign,” Preston said. “Bart Murphy has no business serving on a commission in this city, especially a commission that passes judgment on tenant claims against landlords.”
Murphy could not be reached to comment on the matter, but we will update this post if we hear from him.
Delene Wolf, executive director of the San Francisco Rent Board, told us the case does not warrant the possibility of Murphy resigning as a commissioner on the Rent Board. “He is a landlord and is entitled to have disputes with his tenant,” Wolf said. “He has not been found guilty of any crimes. Nobody is being found guilty of anything, this is a civil litigation.”
But Lifschitz echoed Preston’s stance, saying Murphy should either resign or be forced off of the Rent Board if the trial does not go in his favor. “The best case scenario is that my client is vindicated and is able to find a new home in San Francisco,” Lifschitz said. “The worst outcome is if the jury determines that what Murphy did was reasonable. Every time we learn something new about this case we’re shocked that this happened.”
According to Lifschitz, Murphy has since rented out the abandoned units for a higher price. The next court hearing on the case is scheduled for tomorrow (Thu/25), and the trial is set to begin once a courtroom becomes available.