Pols Take Note of Increased Evictions
Evictions in San Francisco have been drawing increased attention in recent months, with special focus on stories involving a longtime Castro resident living with AIDS and LGBT residents of a Mid-Market building who’ve all been faced with the possibility of having to find new homes in a competitive rental market. Elected officials both locally and at the state level are taking on the issue.
Tuesday, November 5, gay Supervisor David Campos announced he would ask City Attorney Dennis Herrera to draft legislation doubling the amount of relocation assistance landlords must pay tenants when they evict them under the Ellis Act. Another supervisor said she had made progress in protecting several tenants in her district.
Campos called for a hearing Thursday, November 14 to address the report he commissioned on tenant displacement in the city. The report, released Tuesday by the budget and legislative analyst, shows what Campos’s office called "a dramatic upswing in the number of evictions," including an increase of 170 percent in Ellis Act evictions reported to the city’s rent board between 2010 and 2013.
"There is a housing crisis in San Francisco," stated Campos, who’s running against Board President David Chui for the 17th Assembly District seat set to be vacated by gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who’s being termed out.
The report connects the increase in Ellis Act evictions to an increase in the market value of San Francisco’s residential properties. Average home prices have gone from $735,828 in 2009 to $897,338 this year, a 21.9 percent increase, while the median rental rate in June 2013 for all types of apartments has risen to $3,414, according to the report.
"If you are evicted today in San Francisco, given the outrageous rental costs and purchase prices of homes, you will most likely be forced to leave the city," said Campos, who indicated he’d be introducing more legislation soon. "The diversity and vibrancy of our city is disappearing by the day. We must act to ensure that more than just the ultra rich can live here."
The Ellis Act is a 1986 state law that allows landlords to evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business. The landlord must remove all units from the rental market. Such tenants are paid relocation expenses to move. The amount they receive can vary depending on how many individuals occupy a unit, the tenants’ ages, or disability/HIV status. The amounts can range from $5,000-$15,000 per tenant, with an additional $3,403 paid to tenants who are senior/disabled, according to information from the Tenants Union website. For most tenants, the money doesn’t go far in San Francisco’s sizzling rental market.
Under the law, Jeremy Mykaels, 63 and a long-term AIDS survivor, had faced eviction from the Noe Street home he’s lived in for 17 years.
But in October, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay threw out the eviction, citing the fact that Mykaels’s landlord stated his rent incorrectly in the eviction notice.
His landlords reserve the right to re-start the eviction process. Mykaels said around the time of the judge’s decision that he was relieved, but "the stress and worry never goes away and still weighs on my health. Until this situation is resolved one way or another, I doubt it ever will."
As with Mykaels, the fate of tenants at 1049 Market Street, not far from City Hall, has also garnered several stories in the media recently. For years it’s been home to several LGBTs and others who reside in live-work lofts.
Department of Building Inspection data show that, in 2007, a complaint was filed because the owner was "renting out office spaces as residential in a commercial building."
An inspector at the time noted, "Investigation revealed all spaces are live-work units (approximately 60-plus). Permit research showed only six conversions were permitted."
In September, residents received an email from the building’s management that said, "Over the past several months, the current ownership group" of the building "has spent extraordinary time and money with the hopes" to remedy the situation. A tenant shared the email with the Bay Area Reporter.
The message said that "due to a long-standing Notice of Violation we have been forced by Code Enforcement to get a building permit to change the current unit configuration entirely." The email also said, "Per these city orders, the building must be entirely vacated." But in an email to the B.A.R., William Strawn, a spokesman for the Department of Building Inspection, said those statements "are not correct."
Neither the building nor planning department’s "require evictions; that is a building owner’s decision," said Strawn.
Officials have had "several discussions with the owners over the past 18 months and advised them that the city could offer a pathway" to legalize the residential units that have been lived in for more than the past five years and update sprinkler, heating, and similar systems "and thus provide a safe building," he said.
"To date, the owners have not yet responded to this offer," said Strawn, but "we continue to be hopeful that such an initiative by the owners will be forthcoming."
According to one tenant, current owner John Gall has owned the building for about two years, well after the 2007 complaint was filed. Gall didn’t respond to an interview request.
Management said in its email that it would start evictions from the fifth floor and work down, potentially giving tenants on lower floors several months to find new homes. The email also said, "Move-out monies" per the city’s ordinance "will also be provided."
Since the September email, many tenants have received eviction notices. Tenants have been meeting with Supervisor Jane Kim, whose District 6 includes the building, and others to try to remedy the situation.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, Kim said, "I am encouraged by my recent conversation with John Gall. He is committed to exploring a no eviction pathway with his investors to preserve the affordable units at 1049 Market Street."
Victor Arreola, who lives in a Mid-Market building where tenants face eviction, may move to Seattle.(Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
But in an interview in late October, Victor Arreola indicated that he’s done fighting and was packing up after 14 years in his unit, where his rent was set to be $817 as of November 1. Rent control rules have kept the price low.
"I decided that rather than battle" being evicted, "my health was more important," said Arreola, a gay 58-year-old who works at Macy’s as a make-up artist but has recently been out on medical leave after a gym-related injury. He said he planned to leave at the end of November. He said the 60-day eviction notice he received cited demolition as the reason, and he has been offered about $5,200 in relocation funds. After living on his own for so long, he’d have to move into a place with roommates, he said.