San Francisco targets fake owner move-in evictions

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved compromise legislation seeking to curb fraudulent owner move-in evictions after a lengthy debate about enforcement methods.

The legislation approved Tuesday, introduced by Supervisor Mark Farrell, requires owners who seek to evict tenants so that they or a family member can move in to swear under oath that they will follow eviction law and file paperwork proving that they are living in the unit on an ongoing basis as required by law.

Owners who fail to file the required paperwork will now face penalties ranging from $250 for a first offense to $1,000 for three or more offenses.

Farrell said Tuesday:

“I am 100 percent confident we have a bill in front of us that will strongly deter bad actors in San Francisco.”

Under state law, property owners can evict tenants if they plan to live in a residence themselves or to have a family member live there, but must keep the unit off the rental market for at least three years.

If they return it to the rental market, the original tenant has the right to re-rent it at the same rent plus any allowable increase or seek legal action against the landlord.

In practice, however, there is little enforcement of this requirement and reports of fraud, with landlords returning the property to the market for much higher rents, are widespread. Tenants rarely have the resources to pursue legal action.

Farrell’s bill was one of two competing pieces of legislation regarding owner move-in evictions introduced earlier this year, following news reports suggesting widespread fraud in owner move-in evictions.

A second bill introduced by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim, which had the backing of tenant groups, was killed Monday in the board’s Land Use Committee, which Farrell chairs. However, many of that legislation’s provisions were incorporated into the final bill, including one making a failure to comply with the relevant laws a misdemeanor.

Most critically, the final legislation included a private right of action allowing tenants rights nonprofit organizations to file lawsuits against owners who fraudulently evict tenants.

Farrell initially opposed the provision in committee, saying it would encourage “frivolous lawsuits,” but it was reintroduced today as an amendment by Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and approved by the full board.

However, the board rejected a proposed amendment by Kim that would have invalidated a tenant’s waiver of their rights to sue in buyout agreements if the landlord failed to register the buyout with the rent board, as required by law.

A study released by the San Francisco Tenants Union and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Monday showed that in 48 percent of the cases where tenants consulted with the tenants union on owner move-in evictions, the owners had failed to register the eviction with the rent board as required.

The study found that the largest number of owner move-in evictions occurred in the city’s District 8, which includes neighborhoods such as the Castro District, Glen Park and Noe Valley, the data showed. Of the tenants affected, 39 percent had lived in their homes 10 years or more.