San Francisco tenant attorneys fight to stop evictions during Coronavirus

Led by Supervisor Dean Preston, a tenants rights attorney, local tenant attorneys are petitioning and imploring San Francisco Superior Court to halt all eviction proceedings during the Coronavirus crisis.

48 Hills – Tim Redmond 3.18.2020

Landlord lawyers are still demanding that courts rule against tenants and hold trials — right now, despite shelter-at-home rules.

The mayor has declared a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent. The sheriff has announced that they will “postpone all evictions until further notice.” The local Superior Court is continuing all non-essential civil cases for as much as 90 days.

But the landlord lawyers don’t care.

Supervisor Dean Preston wants a moratorium on all no-fault eviction cases.

As of Tuesday tenant lawyers tell me, Ellis Act evictions continue to arrive – and landlord lawyers are in some cases refusing any continuance.

Sup. Dean Preston put out a tweet yesterday:

Just learned of a landlord refusing to delay an Ellis Act eviction of a disabled tenant during this COVID-19 crisis. Here’s what the attorney wrote

“It is not my clients’ duty to build in protections for a pandemic or emergency. They are unwilling to extend the time, or amend the agreement to have stays of execution or extensions of time”

The landlord’s attorney also writes that “all trial court appearances are to be in person, and “preference” cases are not being continued.” In other words, the landlord is pressing forward and the court’s delay of other cases doesn’t apply to eviction cases.

Preston isn’t the only one hearing about this. Tom Drohan, director of litigation at Legal Assistance for the Elderly, told me that the courts are still planning to hear eviction cases.

“Although the San Francisco Superior Court has continued all jury trials for 90 days in the interest of public health,” Drohan said, “certain cases called preference cases are exempt from this ruling. Eviction cases are considered preference cases and therefore will be going forward as scheduled.”

Ken Garcia, a spokesperson for the Superior Court, confirmed that “Under the law (and until the legislature amends it), unless one of the parties waive their rights, the [eviction] cases must be heard.”

That would mean that, during a shelter-in-place order, tenants, many of them elderly or otherwise vulnerable, will have to appear in court for an eviction trial. Lawyers will have to show up. A jury will have to be empaneled. All of these people will be in close contact.

And even if the sheriff doesn’t carry out the evictions immediately, the legal judgment will still be on the record, and the tenants may be forced out as soon at the Sheriff’s Office decides to resume.

This is insane.

Drohan said that a group of tenant lawyers, working together, appeared Wednesday in Courtrom 501 to file motions for continuance in each of their eviction trials. Word is that some landlord lawyers may actually object.

Preston, at Tuesday’s board meeting, said that the evictions have to stop.

“I am calling on the Governor, the Courts, and the Mayor to immediately suspend all eviction activity, except for evictions that are necessary to protect from threats to safety,” Preston said. “Right now, eviction notices are being served in San Francisco and eviction cases are moving forward.  This is the last thing we need.”

Preston introduced an emergency resolution calling on the governor to expand his executive order to impose a moratorium on all evictions, and specifically to waive and suspend the provisions of the Ellis Act, asking the courts to stay all eviction lawsuits, with limited exception for tenants posing a serious danger to the safety of others; and asking the mayor to expand her emergency directive limiting certain nonpayment evictions to cover all no-fault evictions during the state of emergency

“I have seen a lot of good from people in the last week, with an outpouring of neighbors reaching out, asking how they can help. Some of those include landlords in my district,” Preston said. “But unfortunately, there are those who seem to lack compassion at this time, and it is to deal with them that we must take the actions at all levels of government to stop evictions in this time.”