Tenants rights get boost from SF Supes

CITY HALL — Tenants got some love from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The Board unanimously passed an ordinance against harassment from landlords, along with a resolution asking lawmakers in Sacramento to change the Ellis Act.

Co-sponsoring both was Supervisor David Campos. He seemed pleased with the rest of the Board’s support, though he suggested that there was still more to be done to address The City’s growing eviction issue.

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The anti-harassment ordinance amends an administrative code to allow tenants who feel they are being harassed and pressured into leaving their apartments (to make room for higher-paying tenants) to get a hearing before the SF Rent Stabilization Board. It becomes effective in 30 days.

Campos called the ordinance “part” of the solution:

“There is still a lot to do but this is a step in the right direction, helping tenants deal with harassment situations, which have increased dramatically in the last few months.”

When the landlord harassment ordinance was first introduced to the Board on December 17, Campos made his case for why he thinks tenants need relief from landlords leaning heavily on them to move:

“We have heard about tenants being locked out of their apartment. We’ve heard about how there was loud construction work that is done in some of these properties for the purpose of harassing the tenant and making it clear that they are not welcome there.”

Campos noted that the only recourse for harassed tenants now under the law is to file a suit in civil court, but this has limitations like available time and money for attorneys:

“For most tenants the ability to file something in San Francisco Superior Court is really not an option that’s available to them. Litigation is so costly and so expensive that it’s really prohibitive.”

If a tenant goes to the Rent Stabilization Board, he explained, they would schedule a hearing before an administrative law judge, where the tenant and landlord could both give their respective sides of the argument.

The judge would them summarize the evidence for the rent board, who would then have the option of forwarding the case to the City Attorney’s office for civil litigation or the DA to initiate criminal proceedings.

Supervisor Eric Mar said overheated housing markets attract many “bad actors” who are doing whatever it takes, sometimes illegally, to force tenants out, including resorting to intimidation and harassment:

“I think this process creates a fair and impartial way that tenants can be heard but also for landlords to have a way to express themselves as well.”

Supervisor Norman Yee worried about the possibility of tenants using rent board proceedings to harass landlords. Campos responded:

“Does it mean that it’s possible that someone is going to bring a frivolous claim? That’s always a possibility. That’s a possibility in superior court as well. … If the concern is not legitimate then the administrative law judge will be able to let the rent board know that.” 

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The Board resolution passed Tuesday asks legislators in Sacramento to amend the Ellis Act by giving more control of the process used to apply this law to local governments.

The Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords seeking to exit the business a legal way. But in San Francisco, it is often used by market speculators to evict long-time tenants and get around rent control.

Board President David Chiu, a co-sponsor of the resolution, along with Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Malia Cohen said The City was in the midst of  an affordability crisis:

“We’ve seen skyrocketing evictions. … We all know that this is something we need to address now and we have to do better at it as a city and a state. … What we’ve seen in recent years is too many real estate speculators who are purchasing properties, evicting residents and flipping those properties for profit.”

Lotta Garrity, 73, told the Board that she was being evicted from her San Francisco apartment but she was far from alone:

“In my block, eight families received Ellis Act (evictions) on the 29th, in two buildings. … Eight families have been impacted by the same landlord.”

Garrity added:

“We do have to have a moratorium because there is no place to go. It would be different if there was, uh, say a kind of a substandard place you weren’t really keen on but you could go there, right? No, it doesn’t exist.”

A chart on CurbedSF shows Ellis Act evictions tend to rise when economic conditions boom.

In 1999 at the height of the original dot.com boom, there were 503 Ellis Act evictions. After falling until 2002, Ellis Act evictions peaked again at 373 in 2005, and stayed high until plummeting along with the economy from 2009 to 2011.

San Francisco have been on the rise since then, with 165 Ellis Act evictions in 2013.