San Francisco
In this photo, the view of San Francisco's famed Painted Ladies Victorian houses on February 18, 2014 in San Francisco, California. Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Well, if you can’t afford to buy a house in a pricey neighborhood, you should buy the whole street. A $14-a-year tax property bill not paid for three decades, resulting in a wealthy neighborhood owing the city $994 in back taxes, has allowed Tina Lam and Michael Cheng to make a mind boggling investment. The couple paid $90,000 for Presidio Terrace, a San Francisco street in an upscale part of town, where houses frequently sell in the $35 million range.

The deal includes the long block street and sidewalks, well-coiffed garden islands and palm trees. The posh enclave contains a total of 35 mansions, a gated and guarded community at the end of Washington Street, just off Arguello Boulevard and down the hill from the Presidio - a park that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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The tax is something all owners of the city's 181 private streets are obliged to pay.

However, the homeowners on Presidio Terrace are crying foul. They’ve sued the couple and the city and are fighting the claims, hoping to overturn the sale.

“I was shocked to learn this could happen, and am deeply troubled that anyone would choose to take advantage of the situation and buy our street and sidewalks,” said a homeowner.

According to residents, the street's tax bill was mistakenly mailed to the wrong address, one belonging to a former accountant who the Home Owners Association stopped using in the 1980s.

The city’s tax office put the property up for sale in an online auction, two years ago seeking to recover $994 in unpaid back taxes, penalties, and interest. Cheng and Lam, looking for real estate opportunities in the city, pounced on the offer.

“I’m a first-generation immigrant, and the first time I came to San Francisco I fell in love with the city. I really just wanted to own something in San Francisco because of my affinity for the city,” said Lam, an engineer in Silicon Valley, who was born in Hong Kong and came to the U.S. for college.

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Lam and Cheng, Director at Archers Capital — a commercial real estate and business broker in the San Francisco Bay Area — bought the street in 2015. But no one told the residents that until May 2017.

Speaking to the Mercury News, Cheng said that he and Lam, who live in San Jose’s Berryessa neighborhood, would like to build their own house on the San Francisco property if there is space, and zoning allows it. “When we saw it was zoned single-family, we started thinking about that — if it can be worked out. We’re still trying to figure out what the land-use opportunities are,” Cheng said.

Interestingly, the same street once housed U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her financier husband, Richard Blum; House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi; and the late Mayor Joseph Alioto.