Landlord convicted of soliciting arson buys SF apartment complex

City and nonprofit scramble to thwart the deal, which works out to $150K per unit

Ex-Con Landlord Buys 18-Unit Apartment Complex in SF

From left: Supervisor Dean Preston and ex-con landlord Richard Earl Singer along with 800-812 Divisadero Street (Getty, Google Maps, San Francisco Board of Supervisors)

A landlord convicted of arson-for-hire is buying an affordable apartment building in San Francisco’s Mission District — unless a local nonprofit can raise enough cash to kill the deal.

Richard Earl Singer and his SF Hotel 447 firm have bought the 18-unit complex containing the nearly 50-year-old Eddie’s Cafe at 800-812 Divisadero Street, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, citing Supervisor Dean Preston and an unidentified broker behind the sale.

Singer is under contract to buy the three-story building for $2.7 million, or less than $150,000 per unit when including the ground-floor cafe.  

The seller of the complex, which houses mostly low-income Eritrean immigrant tenants a block from Alamo Square Park, was undisclosed. The building last sold in December for $3.9 million, according to Trulia and other real estate sites. It’s not clear why Singer got such a good deal.

In 2011, Singer was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and ordered to pay a $60,000 fine for conspiring to have someone torch his Hotel Menlo in Downtown Oakland. 

Singer pleaded guilty after he tried to pay an informant $65,000, saying he wanted the seven-story hotel “completely totaled to maximize the insurance payout,” according to federal agents. 

At the time of the offense, in January 2011, a restaurant and a nail salon operated out of the first floor. Singer cut a check for $1,500 for the materials necessary to commit the arson, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The former resident of Tiburon was released from prison in 2013.

The landlord with a felony solicitation record now owns the Hotel Des Arts at 447 Bush Street and a 15-unit apartment building at 317 Hyde Street. 

As for his purchase on Divisadero Street, city officials and a local nonprofit are scrambling to block the deal.

Under the city’s Community Opportunity to Purchase Act passed in 2019, nonprofits have the right to make a first offer on listed multifamily properties.

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Early this year, the 123-year-old complex at 800 Divisadero hit the market for $2.9 million. 

The Fillmore district-based New Community Leadership Foundation made an offer to buy the building, backed by a city Small Sites Program that helps nonprofits buy properties where tenants are at risk of displacement, according to the Chronicle.

The offer by the foundation was rejected, and Singer pounced at $2.7 million.

“The city expressed interest and we gave them a shot at it but they couldn’t come up with the money,” the unidentified broker told the newspaper, adding that the buyer asked for a credit, triggering a new five-day period for the foundation to match the lower price. 

That period expires at midnight Wednesday. 

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Majeid Crawford, a member of the foundation, said that the Mayor’s Office of Housing & Community Development is “working really hard” to support the nonprofit in its bid for the building.

Preston challenged a belief that the city’s Small Sites Program is short on cash to help New Community Leadership close the deal.

“The city could send a clear message that this (property) is a priority for future revenue,” Preston told the Chronicle. “There are multiple ways they can do it, with cash now, or with a commitment that it is the priority for acquisition through future bonds or a bridge loan.”

— Dana Bartholomew