Ellis Act evictions hitting more west side tenants

by Thomas K. Pendergast

For 30 years, Pik Yuen Leung and Kwong Lun Leung have called their in-law unit at 332 29th Ave. home, but at the end of October they must leave their small yet comfortable residence because they are being evicted under the statewide Ellis Act.

So now, she and her son will join a growing list of long-time San Francisco residents facing possible homelessness under the law. City records show a significant increase in Ellis Act evictions during the last couple of years, including within the Richmond and Sunset districts.

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 Pik Leung

Speaking through a Cantonese interpreter, the 88-year-old immigrant from Hong Kong said she moved there in 1988, and now shares the apartment with her 64-year-old son, Kwong, who is essentially her caretaker.

She said that although it is a small place, she is happy there and until recently has not had any problems. Kwong said the previous landlord told her he got a promise from the new owner that she would be able to spend the rest of her days there, although the promise was verbal and nothing was put in writing.

She has four other children, all of whom live in San Francisco except one, who lives in Burlingame. And she has eight grandchildren. Yet for a variety of reasons, such as tenancy and lease restrictions, she does not think it is likely that any of them will be able to take her in to live with them.

City Planning Department records show the property was last sold for $912,000 on March 28, 2017. The land is valued at $651,168 and the building at $279,072.

About a month after the sale, the Leungs got their first eviction notice. Normally, these notices give the tenant 120 days to vacate, but San Francisco law makes more time available for elderly and disabled people who file for extensions.

Since then, Pik Leung has had a stroke, was hospitalized for a while, then fell and broke her hip, so now her mobility is limited and she uses a walker. The Leungs have also been served with a new eviction notice under the Ellis Act, and have until the end of the month to move.

The Leungs said the new landlord offered them $16,000 to move, and they are applying for affordable senior housing, but they doubt this money will last long in today’s rental market where even small places like theirs are charging thousands a month. Their current rent is $740 per month.

“Even if I got $60,000 it wouldn’t matter,” Pik Leung said. “Where would I rent and who would rent to me? That money will last you barely any time.”

She is worried that she will face discrimination in finding a new place because of her age. The family has never met the new landlords and have only dealt with their attorney. The eviction notice was issued on behalf of the property owners, listed as Frederick Ty and Leona Sy. Attempts to contact both for inclusion or comment on this article were not successful. A voice-mail message was left requesting comment from their attorney, Jamie Bombard, but she did not respond by press time.

Cynthia Fong, a community organizer at the tenant advocacy and counseling group Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, said owner move-in (OMI) evictions were more prevalent when legislation toughening up reporting requirements for OMIs was passed in July of 2017, but since then there has been a noticeable decline in those types of evictions, while concurrently Ellis Act evictions have increased.

“Part of that is because enforcement around the Ellis Act is still not fully there with the City,” said Fong. “A lot of the things that the City would need to do to keep track of Ellis Acts, similar to the (OMI) legislation, would be to require landlords to provide more reporting and more information, especially about the tenants. (Ellis Act evictions are) sort of the easier thing to get away with now.”

Statistics from the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board’s annual eviction notice report appear to support her statement. From March of 2016 through February of 2017, there were 127 Ellis Act evictions throughout the City, and 397 OMIs. From March of 2017 to February of 2018, however, the report shows 201 Ellis Act evictions and 297 OMIs.

Both the Richmond and the Sunset districts reflect the same upward trend during these periods. From March of 2016 through February of 2017, there were 21 Ellis Act evictions in the Sunset District and 25 through the same months in 2017-2018. In the Richmond, there were 16 evictions in 2016-2017 and 22 in 2017-2018.

Around the “panhandle” area leading to Golden Gate Park, there were six Ellis Act evictions from March of 2016 to February of 2017. In that same period during the next year there were 21. Between March and August of this year, there were 13 Ellis Act evictions in the Richmond, seven in the Sunset and five around the panhandle.

The Ellis Act is a 1985 statewide law that allows landlords to evict tenants if they go out of the rental business. While it is difficult to know how many of the recent Ellis Act evictions are for legitimate reasons, the data strongly suggests that a significant proportion of them do not go out of the rental business.

Fernando Marti, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, has a theory.

“I think that you’re seeing a move out into the avenues as our more accessible neighborhoods, like the Mission and Hayes Valley, become quite gentrified. So, whether it’s speculators or simply just actual buyers, they start to look into the next neighborhoods out,” Marti said.

“When they do an Ellis Act it means that they are not going to rent out. It doesn’t say anything about reselling as a Tenancy In Common (TIC) or just reselling as a condominium.

“And then nobody’s tracking if they actually do a renovation and then re-rent, it’s sort of up to the neighbors or the former tenant to go back and check to see that they’re actually not violating the law and re-renting, that they didn’t lie,” Marti said.

Pik and Kwong Leung understand and acknowledge that they are up against the Ellis Act, so ultimately they have no choice but to move. But as difficult as it is to find affordable housing, they are asking for more time.

2 replies »

  1. After reading your article, I have the same feeling how Leung felt. We have a similar situation. We are a family of six. Our landlord passed away suddenly. The two flats house was sold to the new owner recently(about two months ago). The new owner is using OMI and have us move out in 12 months time. If we are not agree with the buy-out agreement, the new landlord may use the Ellis Act. It is so stressful for our family. Like Leung said, the buy-out money won’t last for long. We have been renting the 3 beds 1 bath for $2000. For now-a-day rental market, we can’t afford over $4000~ for 3 beds. All we can afford is round $3000 for 2 beds. But most of the landlords don’t like to rent out for the family like us. We have to squeeze my family into the smaller apartment if the new landlord let us. We have a hard time finding the place to rent in Richmond District. We have been living in Richmond District for so long. My husband and our four children were grown up this neighborhood. We have been looking for SF City BMR rental. Since BMR is doing a lottery pick, we never get close to be picked. We work in the city, kid is going to school in this neighborhood. But our city leave us so helpless. Wish us luck that we can find a place to live soon!


  2. Ellis Act Evictions. Its really not an article about Ellis Act evictions. Its a “poor Pic Leung” article. Tom does some very in depth research and reporting here, but its all one sided. I would like to point out that if Pic has children who are tenants in San Francisco, why doesn’t she move in with them? the idea that rental restrictions won’t allow this probably isn’t true. A law was passed in SF a few years ago that says tenants can move additional people in without the consent of the landlord. Why is Pic bound to become homeless in San Francisco? Pic is paying around $740 per month for rent. In Lake county, about 95 miles from here, she could rent a nice one bedroom apt for her and her caretaker son for about $750-$900 per month. It’s not like she has to show up for work at 7:30 A.M. like I do. She has been aware that she needs to vacate for well over two and a half years. What has she been doing to prepare for this? There is a ton of free legal representation for people who may be suffering rental discrimination. Have Pic or her son tried to rent a place anywhere?
    My Incomplete Information warning buzzer is sounding here Tom. Marti fails to tell us that there is a mega sized law suit waiting to land on any owner caught renting a unit after someone was evicted from it under the Ellis Act. Could you have improved your article by reporting that it is legal for property owners to go out of the rental biz? I don’t want to be in the rental game anymore, because of all the legal nonsense going on.
    I hope for better from my favorite publication, the Richmond Review.
    Jeff Wayman


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