Tenants protest Farrell’s move to block effective anti-eviction bill

Only one of two competing bills on owner move-in evictions gets a hearing. It's by far the less effective one

Tenant advocates will rally at noon on the steps of City Hall Monday/12 to denounce a move by Sup. Mark Farrell to fast-track his bill on owner move-in evictions while refusing to schedule a hearing for a stronger competing bill by Sups. Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim.

Farrell, who chairs the Land Use and Transportation Committee, put his measure on the agenda for Monday and it’s also scheduled to come before the full board Tuesday.

Sup. Mark Farrell won't allow a competing eviction bill to move forward
Sup. Mark Farrell won’t allow a competing eviction bill to move forward

The Peskin-Kim legislation has been pending before that committee for weeks, but Farrell controls the agenda and has not put it on the calendar. That means his less-effective bill, which has the support of the Apartment Association, may be the only one the supes get to vote on.

Both bills address the surging problem of fraudulent OMIs. In just the past two years, according to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, 830 units have been cleared by landlords claiming that they or a relative want to move in, but an extensive NBC news investigation found that many of those are fraudulent—and the city does no real enforcement.

Farrell’s bill would require a landlord to sign a document under penalty of perjury stating that they or a relative will reside in the unit for at least 36 months, and provide annual certification that they still reside there. It would extend the statute of limitations for an unlawful eviction action from one year to three years.

All just fine, as far as it goes.

But Peskin and Kim go further. Their bill would require that a landlord who does an OMI and decides to move out within five years offer the unit to the previous tenant, at the previous rent. If a new tenant moves in, that tenant could not be charged more than the previous rent. It would subject a landlord who evicts a tenant then re-rents the place at a higher rent to criminal charges.

It would allow a tenant who has been charged excess rent to sue for treble damages.

And, perhaps most important to tenant advocates, the Kim-Peskin bill would allow nonprofit organizations with an interest in housing issues independent standing to sue landlords over fraudulent OMIs. That’s critical since the city has done nothing to enforce existing law.

The Kim-Peskin bill was crafted with input from the Tenants Union, the Rent Board, eviction-defense lawyers, and the Anti-Displacement Coalition member organizations, according to a tenant group press release:

“We were initially hopeful when Supervisor Farrell decided to champion this issue, and tried to work with him,” said Deepa Varma, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “But this dialogue didn’t happen. He did not even calendar the legislation that advocates helped to develop. It makes us wonder if he is more concerned with politics than stopping evictions.”

 In a letter to the Mayor and Supervisors, tenant advocates state: “While (Farrell’s) looks good on paper, it fails to include any of our recommendations in the language we need to make them effective.”


We are hopeful that the Peskin/Kim legislation will move forward, that supervisors won’t be fooled into supporting a weaker proposal than we need,” states Cynthia Fong, Richmond District Community Organizer/Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. “None of the provisions the advocates suggested cause a burden for those landlords — who legitimately intend to move into a unit, but they will make it much more difficult for those landlords who wish to evade the law.”  She added, “Any legislation that does not include these recommendations will not stop these evictions, as well-intentioned as it may be.”

Peskin sounded a bit surprised when I talked to him. “Given the major dysfunction in Washington DC, the supervisors have mostly been getting along pretty well,” he said. “The progressives and the more downtown factions have been working together. This seems to be an exception.”

Farrell, he said, had publicly agreed to hear both versions, but has now backed off. “The good news is that the Farrell bill is a step in the right direction,” he said. “But the Kim-Peskin bill is a much bigger step.

“We have a bill that has the support of the Apartment Association and one written with the input of the tenant groups who have been dealing with this on the front lines for years.”

I tried to contact Farrell for comment, but have not heard back from him.

There are, of course, political considerations here. Farrell is widely reported to be interested in running for mayor, and clearly wants a piece of “pro-tenant” legislation to use in that campaign. (So why didn’t he work with the tenant groups? Why didn’t he do what Sups. London Breed and Ahsha Safai did with inclusionary housing, and work out a deal with Peskin and Kim that everyone can support?)

All of Farrell’s cosponsors are from the more moderate side of the political debate, including Breed, Malia Cohen, and Jeff Sheehy.

Sheehy faces a challenge for re-election from Rafael Mandelman, who told me he strongly supports the Kim-Peskin version.

“It’s pretty clear that there’s a crisis of evictions throughout the city in District 8 and elsewhere,” he said. “If we are really serious about stemming the illegal evictions, it’s important to be working with the organizations that are dealing with these evictions daily. The stronger enforcement provisions in the tenant-supported measures are important.”

And where is the mayor in all of this? Does he really want to stop illegal OMIs – in which case he would support the Kim-Peskin bill?

I suspect that Peskin and Kim will seek to amend their provisions into the bill at the full board – and we will see where the supes fall on a critical tenant issue.