By Thomas K. Pendergast
Although a moratorium on evictions for people not paying rent because of unemployment during the pandemic is now in force across California, “no fault” evictions like owner-move-ins or major renovations have not been covered.
However, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston recently sponsored two San Francisco ordinances to address this situation. While tenants-rights groups are somewhat relieved, real estate groups are feeling distressed about one of them.
On Oct. 6, Preston pushed an ordinance through the San Francisco Board of Supervisors banning “no-fault” evictions until March 31, 2021.
“This ordinance … provides certainty and clarity to tenants who, with this ordinance, will not have to worry about being evicted through no fault of their own until at least March 31st of next year,” Preston told the Board in a Zoom meeting.
“Colleagues, we have taken, I think, tremendous strides and in many ways our City has been a statewide and nationwide leader in stopping the eviction machine during the pandemic. And our policies have prevented the wave of evictions that threaten many other places in this state and in this country.
“According to data that I reviewed from the Rent Board, for the four-month period between April 1 and July 31, the number of eviction notices for non-rent-related reasons fell by 69% from the same period a year ago,” Preston explained. “Taking a closer look over the same four-month span in 2019, the number of eviction notices for capital improvements – which is often … a tool that many of the bigger corporate landlords use to displace tenants – those have dropped by 84 percent; from 43 in 2019 to seven in 2020.
“Our efforts, colleagues, really have, for the most part, kept people in their homes during this pandemic. And, of course, the work is ongoing. But this ordinance is an integral part of preventing the floodgates from opening. And that’s why a broad section of tenant groups is asking all of us to support this ordinance.”
And indeed, 17 tenant advocacy groups from across the City submitted a letter to the Board in support of the ordinance.
The letter states: “Since March, San Francisco tenants have been protected by two emergency moratoriums preventing most evictions in the City, halting evictions for non-payment of rent arising out of pandemic-related financial distress and evictions for other alleged justifications unrelated to a threat to health or safety.
“San Francisco’s moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent has now been replaced by state law, AB-3088. The City’s moratorium on most other evictions effectively expires at the end of November, unless it is extended by the ordinance now before you…. Unless the Board acts by approving the proposed ordinance to extend the mayor’s moratorium, a wave of preventable evictions will occur in the coming winter months,” the tenant advocacy groups stated.
One of the organizations listed on the letter is the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. Community organizer Cynthia Fong works with tenants on the west side of the City.
“A lot of our tenants right now are out of work,” Fong said. “So if we’re talking about a crisis that has lasted multiple months, some of our tenants are coming up on 10 to 15 to 20 thousand dollars of debt and that is just to stay in their home,” Fong said.
“This most recent eviction protection, it’s important … and the reason why is that the gap that legislation is filling is around ‘no-fault’ evictions,” she explained. “It feels a little bit difficult to continue allowing landlords to evict when the tenant has done no wrong, at least right now.
“Certain of those include evictions for demolition, for example, or when there’s a certain type of construction happening. Sometimes – through no fault of the tenant – there may be an eviction. Owner-move-in is another example of a no-fault eviction. And it’s not saying that we’re taking away this right in the long term, but it’s saying right now we’re actually prioritizing people being in their homes,” Fong said.
“Does it go far enough? The answer is ‘no,’ because we haven’t addressed the real problem of rent debt. But is it important still? Absolutely,” Fong concluded.
Realtors and some property owners, however, are calling foul. In a letter to the Board, the San Francisco Apartment Association, the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute and the San Francisco Association of Realtors claim this ordinance conflicts with both the state plan and the law.
“We write in opposition to the above referenced proposed ordinance amending the Administrative Code to limit residential evictions through March 31, 2021, unless the eviction … is necessary due to violence-related issues or health and safety issues.… The Ordinance violates state law, violates the constitution, and would likely lead to more evictions if enacted,” the Realtor groups’ letter states.
“On Sept. 1, 2020 the State of California adopted AB-3088 to address the effect of COVID-19 on residential tenants and stabilize the chaos created by piecemeal and inconsistent emergency orders and regulations streaming out of all branches of government at the state and local level,” the letter states. “AB-3088 contains a comprehensive eviction scheme, titled the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act (CTRA), which alters the unlawful detainer statutes. The CTRA contains language explicitly intended to occupy the field of laws adopted by ‘a city, county, or city and county in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’…. Thus, the ordinance is directly and expressly preempted by the CTRA…. (Ultimately) it is our state and federal constitutions that ultimately dictate the rights of homeowners to live in property that they own.”
Also, now sitting in front of the Board is another ordinance that, if passed, would create a fund from which the City could provide financial support to residential landlords who have agreed to waive back rent for tenants who were unable to pay their rent during the COVID-19 emergency. If a landlord waived a tenant’s rent, the landlord could apply to the City for a grant from the fund equal to 50% of the amount waived, up to $3,000 per unit, per month. Landlords with 10 or fewer units could get grants for up to 65% of the amount waived, without regard to the $3,000 cap.
The Board of Supervisors would still need to appropriate money for this fund. If the appropriated funds are not enough to cover all claims, they could prioritize small landlords (those with 10 or fewer units) who are facing hardship due to their tenants’ inability to pay rent. The Board intends to fund this with revenues generated from “any real property transfer tax increase that may be passed by the San Francisco electorate in the November 3, 2020 election.”
“In the past few months, the stories that are the most harrowing to us in our clinic are often the ones where there are multiple things happening,” Fong said. “For example, someone’s been working a job and they’re paycheck-to-paycheck even before all this stuff began. And on top of that, sometimes, there’s a tenant who doesn’t speak English as a primary language…. The stress and the anxiety that is caused, knowing every single day that there’s an amount of money that someone might be coming after you for at some point, I think it causes a lot of stress and anxiety. That, to me, feels like the most defining characteristic of all this. It’s causing people to make some really hard decisions right now. Sometimes it’s between food and rent money.”