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Friday, June 18, 2021

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UncategorizedEveryone in town (except a few landlords) is supporting...

Everyone in town (except a few landlords) is supporting Leno’s Ellis Act bill

More than half of the evictions in San Francisco is the past year have involved landlords who owned the building for less than six months.

As Tenants Together director Dean Preston put it, “If you don’t want to be a residential landlord, then don’t buy rental property.”

Lee made some of his strongest comments on evictions and tenant rights, echoing what many of us have been saying all along: “Everybody who lives here ought to be able to stay.” That means, of course, that until new housing is completed, many of the newly arrived tech workers who make high salaries will have to live somewhere else; there’s no room for them in the Mission or North Beach unless someone who lives here now is displaced.

Not, apparently, a problem for Conway, who said that “the vast majority of the tech community wants to stand with you to stop longtime tenants from getting evicted.”

There was nobody from Google there; preventing evictions and displacement could force a chance in that company’s bus routes, since new workers wouldn’t be living in neighborhoods that now have virtually zero vacancy rates.


Perhaps 50 people showed up for a counter-demonstration, holding signs demanding that the Ellis Act be left intact. Organized by the Small Property Owners of San Francisco, the gathering was quite odd: Josephine Zhao, one of the organizers, told me that she didn’t think any of the landlords in the group had used the Ellis Act, and most of them have owned their property for more than five years anyway – and thus wouldn’t be impacted by the Leno bill.

I spoke with Noni Richen, president of the Small Property Owners, and she told me she’s owned her building since 1974. She acknowledged that the Leno bill would have no impact on her, or on many of her organization’s members. So why the opposition?

“We have to push back,” she said. “It’s just one law after another.”

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At one point she jumped into the press conference to denounce everyone there. “Why should we have to subsidize people paying 1970s rent,” she asked. “It’s your fault, all of you elected officials.”

I suggested to Richen that her opposition to any reform, even one that would have no impact on here, was about the same as the Second Amendment gun nuts who oppose the most reasonable regulations and “push back” on any gun bills. She didn’t like the analogy, but it’s not entirely inaccurate.

(Richen also told me that she reads 48hills and that I’m “crazy.” We try.)

Leno’s bill isn’t the only Ellis reform on the state and local agenda. Assemblymember Tom Ammiano has a bill that would allow San Francisco to impose a moratorium on Ellis evictions until the city catches up with its affordable housing responsibilities. Cecilia Tran, a field representative for Ammiano, read a statement citing Ammiano’s strong support for the Leno bill.

When Leno asked for questions, I raised the Ammiano bill – which was an unfair question for the senator, who clearly can’t speak for the rest of the coalition. So I cornered Conway afterward and asked if he would support it, and he said he hadn’t heard of it and couldn’t say. He had the same response when I asked about the Campos bill, which would increase relocation payments; hadn’t seen it, he said.

The mayor was a bit more responsive, and was clearly aware of both other measures. “At this time, we don’t know yet,” about supporting the Ammiano bill, he said. As for the Campos measure, “we are looking at it.”

Assemblymember Phil Ting told me that he opposes the Ellis Act and fully supports both the Leno and the Ammiano measures.

That’s good. He didn’t say no.

Leno’s bill would go a long way toward slowing evictions. Longtime landlords could still evict tenants and then sell to speculators, but “they don’t,” Leno noted. It’s much harder to tell someone you’ve known and rented to for years that he or she is out on the street – which is why many speculators don’t even meet or have contact with their tenants.

If you combined that will the Campos and Ammiano legislation, we might actually be able to preserve affordable rental housing in this city.

And it’s possible. As Leno told me, “In Sacramento, tenants bills were always seen as the left fringe, but now this issue is decidedly in the mainstream.”

Marke B.
Marke Bieschke is the publisher and arts and culture editor of 48 Hills. He co-owns the Stud bar in SoMa. Reach him at marke (at) 48hills.org, follow @supermarke on Twitter.
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  1. Small property owners will be/are the one affected the most by Leno/Ammiano’s legislations after the sleuth of bills introduced or passed since December. In the past 5 months, 8 bills proposed or passed into law hit investors and small properties owners alike in broad strokes, now that even Small property owners will need to evoke Ellis Act to get back their properties. Mayor Ed Lee issued an executive order in December, that prevents/deters any remove of illegal units. If a single family owner lives on the top floor and rented out the illegal unit on the bottom floor, or if both floors are rented out separately and either way have turned the single family home into a de-facto 2-unit, then under this executive order, the owner would have limited options to get back his/her unit(s). Very often, owners of single family homes would risk the downside of renting out the illegal units in order to help with the mortgage, is because their families are small, or kids are young, or they are mobile enough to climb the stairs, knowing some day down the road when they need the units back (because of grown children, or expansion of home office space, or the in-laws really move in town, or if they become old and disabled and needed to live on the ground floor), then they could, by invoking “removal of illegal unit”. However, with the removal ban, the owners no longer have this option.

    You may ask, they could still do an OMI or RMI, right? But if any renters downstairs is a protective tenant, and the owner is not, then OMI/RMI won’t work, must use Ellis Act. However, the owners now can’t afford to do Ellis Acting under Campos’ law that was introduced in Feburary. The relocation fee of $50K/unit in average, plus the 7month to 1+ year legal proceeding fees, would be inaccessible to small property owners.

    These 8 pieces of laws/bills introduced in rapid succession were connected one with the other. And at the end, even small property owners and single family home owners are being pushed out of the rental businesses. It will be devastating to SF rental market if the moms & pops are out of business or simply decide it is not worth the risk.

    That’s why, I think, the small property owners came in droves to protest, because they understand the consequences of the laws/bills ahead of the majority population. But they are not very good at explaining to the mass, or maybe the media is not good at listening to their perspective.

    My 2 cents.

  2. The problem is that there is no fairness in the debate. Tenants just want to pay ridiculously low rents, and have no chance of being evicted.

    Rent increase are below the rate of inflation, while increases in property taxes are now running about the same as inflation; and maintenance and insurance increase every year. At some point no matter how good a tenant is in the traditional manner (paying on time, keeping the place in good nick) they become bad tenants because they are paying insufficient rent.

    If we as San Franciscans want rent to be subsidized, why do we only look to landlord to pay that subsidy? We don’t ask Safeway to provide cheap food–we tax everyone. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg and the affluent tech bus rider kick in to pay for rent control? Why do any people with high incomes even get rent control?

    The debate is completely one-sided; especially when you note that there are practically no Ellis Act evictions in the city–on an annual basis, rounded to the nearest 1/10th of 1-percent there are no Ellis evictions in San Francisco (as a percentage of units in the city). You have to go the the level of 1/100th of 1-percent before the number registers. There is about 1 chance in 4,000 of being Ellised. If there were no more Ellis evictions it would hardly change the housing problem in San Francisco at all. Politicians are lining up to deal with this and it is a complete red-herring. Preventing 100-Ellis eviction isn’t addressing the problem at all.

  3. So is there anything in it that bans Airbnb from doing business? If not then there is no point to it. Then again, if there was not the “Nimbyism” of past, then none of this would even be an issue…

  4. I think both bills have merit, however, the politicians in Sacramento, all seem to have the real estate interests in their pockets to some degree. I wonder how the pols would resist the push back from the R/E lobbyists. I would like to be more optimistic about the success of these bills.
    I haven’t heard any comments from Brown on this issue, it would be interesting to hear his opinion.

  5. Thank you for mentioning the Ellis Act reform protestors in this piece. It’s stunning to me that the best talking point that anti-reform protestors (most of whom it seems would not be affected by these reforms) have is that: “It’s just one law after another.” That is a feeble argument at best and it seems like they probably didn’t fully comprehend the talking points their anti big gubment counselors coached them on. Thanks again!

  6. None of this would put ANY of the financial burden of below market rate housing on the developers, which is where it belongs. They are the people who can afford it. Mayor Lee and his cadre are perfectly happy to take the opportunity to shore up their tenant support without actually taking the meaningful steps needed.
    They would need to act against the interest of their biggest financial backers, the developers and big corporate owners of post 1979 apartments, who are exempt from both rent control and eviction protection.
    Rather than being satisfied with the bogus building below market offsite or promising to pay into an ineffective fund, developers should be compelled to build lower cost housing on site or in the neighborhood where their high profit units are. It is within the power of the Supes and the Mayor to do this, but they will not volunteer. The voters — all of us — need to work together to make them do it.
    Tim — what do you think?

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