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Saturday, January 23, 2021
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News + Politics Housing The Agenda: The eviction tsunami begins

The Agenda: The eviction tsunami begins

Local courts will start to hear cases Monday; tenant groups plan protest.


The eviction tsunami that everyone in the tenant community warned about is starting to happen.

Although the state is not allowing people to be evicted for nonpayment of rent due to COVID, there are plenty of other grounds that landlords are using to get rid of tenants.

Courts could soon force tenants onto the streets.

And starting Monday/21, those cases will be coming before the Superior Court.

Some of the cases are from the pre-COVID period, and have been continued (delayed) over the past six months, mostly because the courts haven’t been able to figure out how to do jury trials. Some of them are cases that the court wasn’t able to hear because of state rules, which have now expired.

But the courts are open for eviction cases now, and Tom Drohan, a lawyer with Legal Assistance for the Elderly, told me he has seven cases on the docket for the first day.

Of course, they won’t all be heard. And if they are, actual trials will be some time off.

But the process is set to begin again.

There are some real issues here, not just with the concept that people will be thrown out into the streets during a pandemic bit with how the courts will handle jury trials.

The criminal courts have already started trials – but the courtrooms at the Hall of Justice, where those trials are held, are fairly big. Most of the rooms in the civil court, at Civic Center, are smaller.

So how do you fit a judge, 12 jurors, several alternates, a court reporter, a bailiff, at least two lawyers, a plaintiff and a defendant, plus witnesses, into those rooms – which have no windows — and maintain social distancing and adequate ventilation? Particularly when some of the defendants are older, or have medical conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus.

One lawyer told me: “You can’t.”

But Ken Garcia, a spokesperson for the court, told me there’s nothing to worry about:

We used the time during the pandemic to measure all of our court spaces – courtrooms, public areas, offices, even the restrooms and elevators (only two occupants at a time).

At the Civic Center Courthouse, we do indeed have courtrooms that can accommodate everyone needed for a trial and still meet social distancing requirements.”

Going to be hard to get everyone in on time with only two per elevator. Going to be even harder to deal with the morning and afternoon breaks, when around 20 people will have 15 minutes to use one bathroom on each floor.

Beyond the logistics, you have to wonder: Why is this a good idea?

Sup. Dean Preston has introduced legislation that would ban all no-fault evictions until next year. That would slow the tsumami.

But there are still landlords that want to evict tenants, and are using things like “breach of lease” and “nuisance” rules. These can be as minor as hanging out laundry or bringing a bicycle into the hall.

So far, San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto hasn’t been carrying out evictions. But a company called Andina Property has sued the sheriff, seeking a writ of mandate that would force him to evict people even during the pandemic. The company is represented by the notorious landlord lawyer Daniel Borenstein.

Tenants groups will hold a car caravan outside the Civic Center courthouse Monday/21 starting at 7:30 am and a rally at 8:30. More info. Here.

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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