Wealthy San Francisco neighborhood fails to pay taxes, loses private street

Rich SF residents get a shock: Someone bought their street

They are now the property of Michael Cheng and Tina Lam, a real estate investor and an engineer living in San Jose, who paid just over $90,000 for Presidio Terrace.

A pair of property speculators called Tina Lam and Michael Cheng bought the property sight-unseen for $90,100. The oval shaped street has housed many famous people, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and the late mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto.

The homeowners claimed they only failed to pay the tax because the annual bill was being sent to an old address, the Sacramento Bee reported.

But one savvy couple bought an entire street - which features property up to the value of a few million rand - for just more than R1,1 million rand.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Presidio Terrace Association, the neighborhood's current residents didn't find out about the sale of their private road until this May - more than two years after it happened.

The street racked up a whopping $994 in unpaid back-taxes, fines and interest, forcing the city's tax office to put up the street for auction. Cheng and Lam quickly moved on the land in April of that year.

The resident millionaires at Presidio Terrace discovered that they no longer owned the street just a few months ago, back in May.

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Cheng and Lam "would like to exploit a bureaucratic oversight to their advantage", the statement says. The couple is now considering charging a rent for the 120 parking spaces on the street.

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. If the board of supervisors fails to rescind the sale - a vote is tentatively scheduled for October - the association will turn to the courts, said Emblidge. They also sued the couple and the city, in an attempt to stop the couple from selling the road while the city appeal is still being reviewed.

The couple now owns the roads, sidewalks, and other areas of an impeccable cul-de-sac known as Presidio Terrace - all of which facets were once public.

"Ninety-nine percent of property owners in San Francisco know what they need to do, and they pay their taxes on time - and they keep their mailing address up to date", Amanda Fried told The Chronicle on behalf of the Treasurer-Tax Collector's office.

But Lam, an engineer in Silicon Valley who was born in Hong Kong, said she wanted to buy the property because she's "a first-generation immigrant, and the first time I came to San Francisco I fell in love with the city".

The couple now owns and controls not only the street itself, but also the sidewalks and all the common areas, which include the lawn between the sidewalk and street, all the little "garden islands,"and palm trees".

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