By Tim Redmond

APRIL 24, 2014 — While San Francisco’s legislators, Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno, are working on bills to reform the Ellis Act and protect tenants, a Palmdale Democrat has introduced a measure that could create serious problems for renters, particularly in cities like San Francisco.

Other than BeyondChron, which got on it today, there’s been little press coverage of AB 1513. That’s because, on the surface, it’s a bill that is aimed at squatters who may move into empty houses and then fight off eviction attempts.

Now: Leave aside the idea that, in some places, squatting has been a legitimate (if not entirely legal) way to turn long-vacant property into habitable space for low-income people. There have been squatters in San Francisco over the years who have moved into dilapidated residential and commercial properties that were eyesores in the neighborhood, cleaned them up, and turned them into decent housing.

Steve Fox, the author of the bill, represents an area where apparently squatters are making it harder for people to sell vacant homes. Okay, and the courthouse is a long way away, and damn – there has to be a faster way to get rid of someone than filing an unlawful detainer (eviction) action.

But here’s the problem: Landlord laws that are passed to address one problem end up getting abused and create far more problems down the road. (See: The Ellis Act.) And this one falls right into that category.

See, it would allow a landlord to do a summary eviction of anyone who isn’t on the lease in a building. And in cities like San Francisco, there are lots of flats shared by roommates, and sometimes the person who originally leased the place has long since moved out. I’ve lived in places like that. But as long as the landlord accepts rent payments from the existing tenants, they’re protected by rent control and by just-cause eviction laws.

Under AB 1513, all a landlord would have to do is file an affidavit and say the residents of a unit aren’t lawful renters. That’s all it would take to get the sheriff to do an evictions. No due process, no chance for the tenants to go to court and make their case.

Tenant activists call it “at-will eviction,” and a website devoted to fighting the bill lays out the problem:

One of our major concerns with AB 1513 is that aside from producing a deed, claims made on the Declarations that would trigger immediate removal of residents are entirely “honor system” based for property owners, with no provisions for residents’ due process under law. AB 1513 is intended as primarily an anti-subletter and anti-squatter bill. (While the Declaration of Ownership is geared specifically at squatters, under the Unauthorized Occupant Declaration any residents not specifically named on a lease are potentially subject to AB 1513’s harsh provisions).

Can’t you see how speculators who are desperate to get rid of long-term tenants would take advantage of this?

The bill was set for a hearing in the Judiciary Committee April 22, but pulled at the last minute by the author, who may have decided he didn’t yet have the votes. It tenants keep the pressure on, this may go no further.