Campos Unveils Ellis Act Fix

by David-Elijah Nahmod
Sunday Feb 9, 2014

Concerned with landlords who invoke a state law to legally evict tenants, one San Francisco supervisor this week proposed a local fix to the problem.

Gay Supervisor David Campos this week introduced legislation that would require landlords who use the Ellis Act to pay more money to affected tenants.

Under the proposal, landlords who evict using the Ellis Act will be required to pay the difference between the tenant's rental rate prior to eviction and what would have been the market rate for that unit for two years.

A news release from Campos's office said that the proposal would ensure that relocation payments adequately represent true market costs and allow displaced tenants who would face dramatically higher rent costs the opportunity to stay in San Francisco.

Passed by the state Legislature in 1985, the Ellis Act allows landlords who wish to "get out of the rental business" to evict tenants without warning. Although the tenant is paid to leave, many lower income people, particularly the disabled, seniors, and people of color, are forced to leave the city due to the current market's high rents.

In recent years out of town real estate developers have purchased multiple buildings and evicted the tenants. Campos's district includes the Mission, a traditionally working class Latino community. Now considered trendy, the Mission has been particularly hard hit by the wave of evictions as young tech industry professionals move into the neighborhood.

The Castro neighborhood has also been hard hit.

Campos held a news conference Monday, February 3 that included tenants facing eviction.

"This will help tenants buy time to stay in the city," Campos said of his proposal.

He also hoped that the increased cost to landlords would help to dissuade Ellis Act evictions. Currently, each evicted tenant can collect approximately $5,261, with an additional $3,508 paid to the elderly and disabled.

Campos's proposal would keep these amounts as a minimum, but in most cases, it would make relocation reflect market increases.

During the press conference, Campos and housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca questioned the legalities of some recent evictions, and whether landlords who buy multiple buildings specifically to evict all the tenants were ever in the rental business at all.

Several tenants facing eviction spoke at the news conference.

"I've lived in the Haight for 33 years, 23 years in my current unit," said Joshua Stein. "We got a notice right before Christmas, either accept a buyout or face Ellis Act. The landlord wants us to move in 60 days, but with the housing market what it is, that's impossible. We'll have to leave because of the rental market."

Theresa Flandrich has been in her North Beach unit for 30 years. She spoke of raising her son there, and of neighbors caring for each other when some became sick or elderly.

"I want to stay in my community where I have loved people and they have loved me," she said. "It's being destroyed. Twenty-one people on one street got Ellis Act evictions in one year. Eight Italian families left out of fear. Too many neighbors took buyouts for less than the Ellis Act payments. The relocation fees would help."

Mission resident Roseanne Guitron-Diaz spoke of being forced to leave the building she shares with her cousin and brother.

"I grew up in the Mission," she said. "It's my community. It's been my home. For $5,000 each it's impossible to move in three months."

Guitron-Diaz said they don't even look at listings in the Mission, in part because of the current cost, and also because each unit has an average of 40-50 people applying. "I thought we could look after each other in our old age," she said. "Now I fear ending up on the street, and that's getting real close. The Mission isn't a 'scene' for me, it's a place I've lived."

Campos said that the evictions have led to neighborhood changes.

"We are losing the character of these communities," he said. "We are losing who we are."

The proposed legislation was introduced at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, February 4. Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar co-sponsored the measure. It will be sent to committee for a hearing and then return to the board for a vote.

Some board members seemed receptive to the idea.

"I'm definitely open to it," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who is running against Campos for the open 17th District Assembly seat. "We are all extremely concerned about the impact of Ellis Act eviction. The only way to bring an end to these speculative evictions is to reform the state Ellis Act, which I'm committed to doing. In the meantime, we need to consider all options to stem the loss of rent controlled housing."

Campos staffer Hillary Ronen told the Bay Area Reporter that the proposed ordinance was vetted by the city attorney's office.

"We believe there is a strong chance it will be upheld if it's challenged in the courts," she said.

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