For 66 years, Marie Hatch has occupied the same two-bedroom home in the city of Burlingame, a high-priced San Francisco suburb.
The retired bakery worker thought she would live out her days in her ornately furnished cottage, where’s she’s amassed a lifetime’s worth of memories.
But earlier this month, the 97-year-old, who is battling cancer, received an eviction notice, her friends say.
Her landlord gave Hatch 60 days to vacate the home or be thrown out by sheriff’s deputies.
Neither Hatch nor 85-year-old Georgia Rothrock, her roommate of more than three decades, has any relatives to stay with. Surrounded by the most expensive real estate market in the country, both women fear they’ll wind up homeless, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In Hatch’s weakened state, friends and relatives say, her impending eviction is not just an order to vacate the property — it’s a death sentence.
“They’re trying to take away everything from me here,” Hatch told the Chronicle. “Gee whiz, I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to leave.”
“I have a lot of tears, a lot of happiness, a lot of memories in this house,” she added. “It is my home. Where can I go?”
In San Mateo County — where the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit is a whopping $3,222 — there’s no easy answer.
Lisa Krieger, a neighbor who has known Hatch since Krieger was a child, suggested that she consider moving into an assisted living facility. But Hatch offered a strident response.
“She says she’d rather go across the street to the train tracks,” Krieger told The Washington Post. “Meaning, she’ll let a train hit her.”
“She’s fiesty and she’s strong,” Kriger added. “She’s already survived cancer once.”
But after nearly a century of life devoted to labor-intensive jobs and raising children, Hatch has begun to slow. That wasn’t supposed to be a problem.
Her original landlord, a friend named Vivian Kruse, told Hatch she could stay in the home until her death, according to Fox affiliate KTVU. After Kruse died, the verbal guarantee was passed down to her daughter and then to her granddaughter.
When Kruse’s grandaughter, Pamela Kantz, 55, was murdered in 2006, her husband inherited the property and declared the verbal guarantee dead, according to the Chronicle.
David Kantz told the Chronicle that he and his wife were in the process of getting divorced at the time of her death. Kantz told the paper he feels awful about evicting his 97-year-old tenant, but that it’s his duty to sell the property for his two sons.
“We have come to this unexpected confluence of events, and I am responsible to do the best I can for the beneficiaries — my sons,” he said. “I just kind of inherited this property and the assumptions that weren’t really written down, and now I have to unwind it.”
Kantz doesn’t deny that a verbal agreement between his wife’s family and Hatch existed, but he maintains “there’s no contract” and nothing in his wife’s will directs him to keep the home, he told the Chronicle.
The cottage is currently listed on the real estate website Zillow for $1.2 million, the Chronicle reported.
“I didn’t want to say, ‘We’re going to just throw you out,’ but I thought I would give her plenty of notice,” Kantz told the paper. “There is no one part of this whole thing I don’t feel bad about. I feel bad for the elderly lady, I feel bad for my sons, I feel bad for me.”
Each month, Hatch and her roommate, Roghrock split the $900 rent, which takes a big chunk out of their Social Security checks, according to the Chronicle.
Krieger told The Post that she’s determined to help her friend, though she’s not sure how exactly to do it.
She’s started a GoFundMe page that has raised nearly $30,000 since it was launched on Monday. Reached by phone, she said Hatch was overwhelmed by interview requests and lawyers and wasn’t in a position to speak.
“We only want Marie to be able to stay at home for longer than two months, as she is ill with cancer and in no shape to move,” the crowdfunding campaign’s description reads. “Nor can she afford to move. But if the eviction proceeds, Marie will need money for obvious reasons.”
Krieger said the landlord is underestimating the consequences of his decision to oust Hatch.
“She’s going to lose the will to live,” she told The Post. “It’s a death sentence.”
As news of Hatch’s predicament spread this week, several lawyers offered their services, Krieger said.
The Chronicle reported that Joe Cotchett — “a high-profile civil attorney who represented victims in the Bernard Madoff scandal” — has taken on Hatch’s case pro bono.
He told the newspaper that he believes that Hatch’s landlord must honor the multi-generational verbal agreement made by his wife’s family.
“That woman will not leave her house,” Cotchett said.
One of Cotchett’s partners, Nancy Fineman, who has been in touch with Hatch, told the Chronicle that she believes the crisis can be resolved under wrongful eviction law.
“We will get the oral contract enforced,” Fineman said. “People think they can’t enforce an oral agreement, but they’re wrong.
“When you see this house and you meet Marie — you can see there is a lot of love in that house,” she added. “Fulfilling the promise of being able to live there for life is not charity, it’s the honorable thing to do.”