If you’re living in a vehicle, and paying rent to the operator of a parking lot, are you a tenant?
Do the city’s laws protecting renters from eviction during the pandemic apply to you?
What if the parking lot is owned by the state of California?
That’s about to be tested. The California Highway Patrol has informed the city and local advocates that residents of a Caltrans-owned parking lot on Merlin Street are going to be evicted next week.
These folks have not necessarily been parking illegally. For as long as five years, some of them have paid monthly rent for a parking space in the lot, according to a press release from the Coalition on Homelessness. And since the lot is mostly empty now, they aren’t blocking anyone’s access to anything or causing any problems at all.
But the private operator of the lot, who rented out the spaces, couldn’t afford to keep the lot during the pandemic, so Caltrans took it over.
And now the tenants have to go.
From the Coalition press release:
“I can’t afford a [house]… but I have a place,” said Greg Smith, 67, long term resident at the Merlin St encampment. “I’ve always had mobile homes before. I’ve rented here for about five years until they declared bankruptcy and gave the place up.”
Smith said that “I’d rather live like this than in an SRO. I like to have my own place, can come in when I want, have my stuff.”
SF has a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, but that only applies to residential spaces. The law wasn’t designed to deal with this particular situation.
Ora Prochovnick, director of litigation and policy at Eviction Defense Collaborative, says there’s a good legal case for the residents to stay.
“California law clearly provides that it is illegal to remove a tenant without first providing proper written notice and a court process,” Prochovnick said. “The situations of many of the people who have been residing for a substantial period of time at the property on Merlin St. raise strong evidence of a legal tenancy, and any doubts must be resolved in favor of the residents’ due process rights.”
Sup. Matt Haney, who represents the area, told me that “these folks should get shelter and services and a path to housing. They absolutely shouldn’t be kicked out onto the sidewalk.”
I called Caltrans for comment, but nobody got back to me.