San Francisco seeks changes to state law on ‘no-fault’ evictions

SAN FRANCISCO — The push to slow tenant displacements in a red-hot real estate market took on new urgency here last week, as Mayor Ed Lee announced that he has teamed with state legislators to push for changes to the California law powering the evictions.

On Thursday, hundreds packed an afternoon Board of Supervisors hearing as longtime residents told of being pressed to move out of rent-controlled units by speculators who had bought their buildings — in many cases with the intent to flip them for sale to higher-income buyers.

Lee’s announcement takes aim at the Ellis Act. Enacted by the Legislature in 1986, it allows for “no fault” evictions in instances in which owners take their rental properties off the market.

Such evictions have shot up here 170% over the last three years, according to a recent report by the San Francisco budget and legislative analyst, and an unknown number of tenants have been paid off by property owners to leave under threat of Ellis Act eviction if they do not.


The backdrop: a 22% increase in sales prices over the same period and median monthly rents of nearly $3,400 — trends that have contributed to a landscape where nearly half of San Francisco residents spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

Concerns over the increasingly unaffordable nature of a city long proud of its economic diversity have made headlines in recent weeks: A proposed luxury condo development on the waterfront was killed by voters at the polls after a campaign that portrayed the multimillion-dollar market-rate units as emblematic of a San Francisco takeover by the super-rich.

Meanwhile, Twitter Inc.'s initial public offering — which created 2,000 paper millionaires — intensified anxieties that the technology boom is radically transforming the city’s character. (Prices of more than just housing have soared: One eatery’s $4 toast has become an emblem of the debate.)

Most previous efforts to repeal or amend the Ellis Act have failed in Sacramento, and mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said it would be “an uphill battle.” But the mayor has teamed with state Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Phil Ting, both San Francisco Democrats, along with two city supervisors to press for amendments that would allow municipalities experiencing housing crises more flexibility to regulate such evictions.


“While we have some of the best tenant protections in the country, there are a small number of speculators out there who are turning a quick profit at the expense of longtime tenants,” Lee said in a statement. “A carve-out for San Francisco is good policy and will help us support middle income and working families here.”

Lee has convened a group of experts to hone the proposed amendments, among the eviction defense attorneys, Falvey said. He is also pressing for construction of thousands of new units — market rate as well as subsidized.

Although Lee has largely been viewed by tenant advocates as key to the tech boom that has accelerated displacements, they welcomed his news Thursday.

“Let’s get the work done,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. “We’ve got to stop the evictions.”


The afternoon hearing was called by Supervisor David Campos to discuss the recent report on eviction rates and housing costs and hear from the public.

Campos has joined Lee’s effort and is pressing separately for state legislation that would allow San Francisco to place a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions. He said he would also be introducing a number of local ordinances that would compel owners to report tenant buyout offers to the rent board and double compensation granted to those who are evicted under the Ellis Act.

“For every displacement number, there’s a human being behind that number,” Campos said, and as the afternoon wore on, a growing line of them stood to tell their tales.

Among them was Jeremy Mykaels, a 63-year-old self-identified “gay disabled senior” living with AIDS. He attributed his relative good health to the strength of his San Francisco doctors. He has lived in his Castro district home for 18 years. But he is now fighting an Ellis Act eviction and will have to leave the city if he loses, he said.


“I’m here,” he said, “to support all measures to reduce no-fault evictions by speculators.”