SF Neighborhood Residents Aren’t Happy This Couple Bought Their Street

Tina Lam and Michael Cheng have secretly been the proud owners of the sidewalks, roads and other previously public areas of Presidio Terrace for two years now.



The rich residents of an exclusive San Francisco neighborhood are furious at a first-generation immigrant couple who bought their entire street at an auction — and who now want ways to make money out of it.

Tina Lam and Michael Cheng have secretly been the proud owners of the sidewalks, roads, manicured islands and other previously public areas of Presidio Terrace for two years now. The couple snatched up the chance to own the streets of the prestigious neighborhood — which consists of 35 mansions costing an average of $5.1 million and was once home to Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, among other notable people — for just $90,100 at city-run auction.

The couple was able to buy the property at such a small price because the neighborhood home association failed to pay a $14 annual property tax bill for three decades. This is something that the owners of all 181 private streets in San Francisco are obliged to do so.

Scott Emblidge, the attorney for the Presidio Homeowners Association, said the group had missed paying its bill because its notices were being mailed to a Kearny Street address to an accountant who hasn’t worked for the neighborhood since the 1980s.

Then, two years ago, the city’s tax office put the property up for auction to recoup the $994 in unpaid taxes, interests and penalties. Cheng and Lam, who were hunting for affordable real estate opportunities in the city, put their winning bid down without even seeing the property.

For the past two years, the residents of Presidio Terrace were unaware that the streets on which they parked their cars and walked no longer belonged to them. Meanwhile, Cheng and Lam have been looking at ways to profit from their real estate bid. The couple is now considering charging rent for the 120 parking spaces on the street.

And if the Presidio Terrace residents are not interested in paying up, the couple would offer the space to some of the residents who live outside the gates, where parking space is at a premium.

The homeowners didn’t learn of this until March 30, when they were contacted by a title search company working on behalf of Cheng and Lam. The company wanted to know if any of the residents would be interested enough in buying the property back from the couple.

Not surprisingly, the residents of Presidio Terrace are not happy with this new development — and why would they be since it appears their formerly exclusive neighborhood won’t be so exclusive once people from other neighborhoods start parking their cars in front of their houses.

Last month, the homeowners petitioned the Board of Supervisors for a hearing to rescind the tax sales, which has been scheduled for October. Moreover, they have also filed a lawsuit against the couple in an attempt to block Cheng and Lam from selling the property to anyone else while the city appeal is pending as it would further complicate matters.

The residents also claim the city had an obligation to notify them of the pending auction in 2015. However, Amanda Fried, a spokeswoman for Treasurer-Tax Collector Jose Cisneros’ office, said the move was completely legal and now nothing can be done about the purchase.

What’s even ironic about the couple’s purchase is that until 1948, homes in Presidio Terrace could only be purchased by white people.

It appears the residents of Presidio Terrace will need to learn how to keep their mailing addresses up-to-date and pay their taxes on time.

As for the lucky couple who bagged the priceless streets, well played!

Banner/Thumbnail: Reuters, Robert Galbraith

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