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UncategorizedSup. Cohen takes campaign money from Ellis Act evictors...

Sup. Cohen takes campaign money from Ellis Act evictors — UPDATED


Sup. Malia Cohen has more than $3,000 in campaign money from people involved in Ellis Act evictions
Sup. Malia Cohen has more than $3,000 in campaign money from people involved in Ellis Act evictions

By Tim Redmond

AUGUST 25, 2014 — Some of the biggest and most loyal campaign donors to Sup. Malia Cohen have been involved in Ellis Act evictions, an analysis of the campaign donations shows.

Cohen’s re-election campaign has received the maximum $500 from Barbara Kaufman, Ron Kaufman, Mel Murphy, and Neveo Mosser, all of whom appear on the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s list of Ellis evictors, records on file with the Ethics Commission show.

Cohen also received $100 for her 2012 election to the Democratic County Central Committee from Denise Ledbetter, a lawyer who has been involved in at least eight Ellis evictions, according to the Mapping Project.

There’s no law against taking money from landlords who evict tenants under the Ellis Act, and lawyers have every right to represent the clients of their choice.

But in a city under this level of pressure, where thousands of rent-paying tenants are forced out through no fault of their own to make way for landlords to flip the buildings or sell them as tenancies in common, Ellis evictors are not politically popular people.

And while the $3,000 or so that she’s received from the Ellis Bad Guys is only a fraction of the money she’s raised, it sends a signal that the landlords who are getting rich off the misery of others think Cohen is doing a fine job as supervisor.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has a pledge that the activists ask people seeking a place to live to sign, certifying that they won’t move into a place where there’s been an Ellis eviction; 283 people have signed so far.

But since the demand for housing in the city is almost limitless, landlords have no problem filling or selling their buildings after they’ve tossed longterm tenants onto the streets.

So there’s an argument to be made that people running for office – particularly from working-class districts like the one Cohen represents – shouldn’t take money from the people who are destroying the social fabric of the city.

Cohen is running in what appears to be the only seriously contested race for supervisor this fall. (I don’t want to get into yet another fight with Michael Petrelis, but I don’t think his campaign in D8 has incumbent Scott Weiner all that worried.) Her opponent, Tony Kelly, hasn’t taken any money from developers or Ellis evictors.

“In the past few years, the Ellis Act has become the most abused tool for landlords to evict tenants,” Kelly told me. “I think the fact that I’ve refused to take money from the evictors is a reason I just got the sole endorsement of the San Francisco Tenants Union.”

I called Cohen and sent texts and emails but haven’t heard back from her.

UPDATE: Nichole Derse, who works on Cohen’s campaign, called me to say that the campaign tries very hard and puts a lot of work into screening donors, and that Cohen has no intention of taking or keeping money from Ellis Act evictors. She asked me how I knew these folks had used the Ellis Act, and I said I got my information from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project.

I agree that when you raise a lot of money, it’s hard not to let as few questionable folks slip through. And there isn’t a serious candidate for office in San Francisco has hasn’t taken money from people who have done things that candidate disagrees with. And while it’s not possible to raise large sums of money in SF without taking real-estate donations, people who use the Ellis Act are about as bad as anyone can be in this city today.

It’s also hard to believe that anyone screening donations wouldn’t have red-flagged Mel Murphy, the Kaufmans, and Leadbetter for a closer look.




Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Yes, all good points. I would only add that our focus as a city and as activists and voters should be to support construction of more below market rate units. With all the market rate condominiums being built, many of them luxury units, we should be pulling in lots of money to construct below rate units. And yet this sector lags, not getting built by the developers or the city. I think voters would be a lot more interested in building new units for all, than in castigating a few landlords who legally evict but pay tenants under the Ellis Act.

  2. The problem arises when your lease forbids pets and then you decide you will just get them anyway and hope your landlord doesn’t notice.

    Catch them and take them to the animal shelter.

  3. “Seriously?
    Hardly a crisis until it happens to you or someone you love!”

    I’d be happy to get bought out. Landlord would write me a check for $25k and I’d ask how quickly he’d like his apartment back. If someone is righteously self-entitled, they would probably think that they “deserve” more money.

  4. What’s wrong with taking in feral cats? They are helping homeless animals and perhaps, preventing them from multiplying and causing a greater nuisance and damage.

  5. Yes, it seems that the tenant lobbyists are focusing on one of the least important trends that affect tenants, in terms of actual numbers. This is very strange.

    I can only assume that it is some kind of emotional reaction to the fact that an entire building is vacated rather than just one unit as in the other types of evictions. And/or that they see a more clear link between Ellis and conversion to owner-occupation than other types of eviction, excluding OMI.

    But it still makes little sense in terms of actual numbers of tenants affected. They could save far more tenants from eviction by simply educating tenants on the importance of paying their rent in full and on time, and not getting kicked out for stupid lease violations like excessive noise, taking in feral cats or selling pot from their stoop (all of which I have experienced and acted upon as a landlord).


    I guess the advocates prefer the focus to be on another class of people as that lends itself so naturally to the propagation of class warfare and instilling seemingly irresistable feelings of envy. Politics by appeal to emotion is easier than really helping your community through hard work, education and funding.

  6. They use 16 years worth of evictions to get to the ‘thousands’ level. If you look at the Anti Eviction map, which looks horrible with red eviction dots all over the city, you’ll notice that it covers the period 1997-2013.

    But it enables people like Tim to say ‘thousands’. All he has to do is leave off the part ‘over the last decade and a half’.

  7. Actual numbers from the SF Rent Board (216 UNITS: NOT BUILDINGS) were Ellised between 3/1/13-2/28/14. Of those 216 units, the majority were vacated (via the Ellis) so an owner could move in. In a City with ~172,000 rent controlled apartments that comes out to .001256%. Hardly a crisis.

  8. How do you derive the figure that “thousands” of tenants are being evicted through Ellis?

    There are only about a hundred or so Ellis evictions in a typical year. That is a trivial figure compared with the much more common evictions for non-payment of rent, late payment of rent, and lease violations.

    Why do you focus on something that is such a small percentage of tenant turnover? Especially when Ellis is the law of the state and clearly has broad support everywhere in the state?

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