Proposed Legislation Would Crack Down on Illegal Owner Move-In Evictions in San Francisco

Doug Brien
April 6, 2017

San Francisco wants to crack down on illegal evictions that plague residents in rent-controlled units. Yesterday, two pieces of legislation were filed with the Board of Supervisors. Each took aim at how “owner move-in” evictions are handled.

Under San Francisco’s existing rent control ordinance, landlords can only evict tenants for a few reasons. The most common are non-payment of rent, breach of lease, and to perform capital improvements that will make the unit temporarily uninhabitable. Another common reason: when the landlord or an immediate family member wants to occupy the unit.

Landlords are only required to use good faith when evicting someone on the grounds of an owner move-in. The landlord (or his immediate family) is expected to use that unit as his principal residence for at least 36 consecutive months thereafter.

The problem is, nobody really checks to ensure the landlord or his family is actually living there.

Last year, an NBC Bay Area investigation revealed a lack of oversight and enforcement of eviction laws in San Francisco. The Rent Board submits a random sampling of 10% of all owner move-in eviction notices each month to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office for examination. But over the past decade, not a single landlord has been prosecuted for a fraudulent owner move-in.

It’s not that all landlords are following the rules. NBC reporters followed up on 100 of the owner move-in eviction notices filed with the Rent Board in 2014 and found that in at least 24 instances, the owner or relative who was supposed to have been living there was not, in fact, living there.

The two new pieces of legislation, one filed by Supervisor Mark Farrell and the other by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim, would require any property owners who file an “owner move-in” eviction notice to sign a declaration under oath that they or a family member plan to use that residence as their primary residence for the next three years.

The legislation would also require landlords to include the existing maximum rent on the notice to vacate. If the landlord is caught charging more than the prevailing rent on the notice to vacate during the three-year period after the eviction, he could be prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office.

Tenants’ rights advocates lauded the Supervisors for their attention to the matter, but acknowledged what we already know: there’s really no way to enforce this legislation, either. Neither the Board of Supervisors nor the District Attorney’s Office has the capacity to follow up on owner move-in evictions. And few former tenants will go through the effort of trying to collect information and build a case against a landlord who illegally forced them out.

District Attorney spokesperson Max Szabo echoed this sentiment, saying a California Supreme Court decision makes prosecuting illegal owner move-in evictions “nearly impossible”.

Until the discrepancies between City Hall and the state’s Supreme Court are resolved, we don’t see this legislation going anywhere. We will continue to monitor it closely, and will keep readers apprised of any new developments.

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