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Tenant Rights in San Francisco Threatened by Ellis Act

by Daniel Taibleson, published

A report by the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analysis found that controversial "Ellis Act" evictions in San Francisco increased 170 percent between March 2010 and the end of February 2013. Meanwhile, local housing prices rose 22 percent during the same period.

According to California state law under section 7060-7060.7, the Ellis Act allows landlords the unconditional right to evict tenants. However, under the same law, landlords are required to evict everyone from the building and cannot single out any tenants.

Why Owners Use the Ellis Act

The Ellis Act was originally enacted in 1986 as a way for landlords to go out of business and move into their properties or sell to another landlord. However, today's Ellis Act-related evictions are generally used to change the use of the building, often to convert units with rent-stabilized tenants to private condominiums.

The San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analysis report also found that 64 percent of evictions were in the same 7 neighborhoods in which home prices also increased, including Haight Ashbury and North Beach -- among others.

Requirements of Landlords

Landlords are required to give tenants 120 days' notice. Tenants with disabilities generally receive a year's notice before eviction. Once this step is complete, landlords must file a Notice of Intent to Withdraw Units from the Rental Market with the Rent Board. However, the tenants’ eviction notice can't expire before the building units are withdrawn.

This means if the landlord provided notice and then 20 days later filed an official intent, the tenants would have a total of 140 days before eviction.

Landlords must give tenants notice they filed the intent within 15 days of doing so and inform them of their reoccupancy or relocation rights. Building owners enacting the Ellis Act are also generally required to pay tenants $5,105.20 per tenant to a maximum of $15,315.56 and an additional $3,403.45 for senior and disabled tenants.

Why Ellis Act Evictions Are on the Rise

Mayor Ed Lee's recent speech toted the city as a gravitational force in Silicon Valley. He also praised its tech-sector job creation among 1,800 tech companies and 42,000 employees.

Many locals point to the influx of high-paid tech employees for the city's lack of affordable rents and demand for housing. Many rent-stabilized tenants are suddenly finding themselves evicted and paying market value rents. Others are leaving the city altogether due to high rates.

The report by the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analysis also found that upwards of 43 percent of rental households paid over 30 percent of their income for rent in 2011. That number increased to 40 percent in affluent neighborhoods like North Beach. This makes it difficult for families and those making a moderate income to afford market value rentals.

Protests Against the Ellis Act

At the end of October, tenant rights advocates at San Francisco City Hall demanded increased protections against a proclaimed eviction epidemic. They presented an action plan to officials with recommendations on how to reduce evictions and ask for stronger rent control protections. They used examples of the elderly and disabled being evicted with nowhere to go.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project recently unveiled an animated map showing a time lapse of Ellis Act evictions in an effort to show how the act undermines San Francisco rent control laws. The project was created with collaboration from the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Landlords Offer Buyouts to Avoid Ellis Act Hurdles

Some landlords are offering buyouts to entice renters to move out of the building instead of an Ellis Act evictions. Buyouts are usually double the required relocation fees, but can be used to avoid reoccupancy rules.

Under the Ellis Act, the tenant must be offered back the rent-controlled price for 5 years after the eviction. Afterward, the rental can only be rented at the market rate for a following 5 years. Organizations like the American Apartment Owners Association can also help landlords find experienced attorneys and property management specialists to work on Ellis Act related issues and evictions.

Editor's Note: This article was written by Susan Finch.

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