San Francisco moves to provide tenants with increased eviction protection

Prior to his election to the Board of Supervisors in 2019 Dean Preston was a lead attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. He was also the leader of the statewide advocacy group Tenants Together

Preston is arguably the most aggressive tenants rights attorney in San Francisco.

His ascension to the legislature provides now Supervisor Preston with the opportunity to put his knowledge of housing and his zealous support of tenants  to work in the legislative arena.

Tenants rights groups are thrilled. Landlords are furious.

Excerpted from San Francisco Chronicle 9.15.2020

While San Francisco renters are currently protected from eviction if they can’t pay rent due to a coronavirus-related issue, they are still vulnerable to so-called no-fault evictions — a less common tactic that occurs when a landlord decides to move into the property, do construction or demolish it altogether.

New legislation by Supervisor Dean Preston, which he introduced at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, would change that by barring landlords from executing a no-fault eviction until March 2021, regardless of how the tenant has been affected by the pandemic.

“We will do everything in our power to stop evictions during this pandemic,” Preston said in a statement.

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Andrew Zacks, a landlord attorney in San Francisco, said Preston is behaving as if “property owners are not even his constituents.” He added that tenants are “fully protected under state law, and property owners are being completely ignored and their rights are being trampled.”

“Taking ‘no fault’ evictions like these off the table is crucial to making sure tenants have secure and stable homes throughout and after the pandemic,” Brad Hirn, a tenant organizer with the Housing Rights Committee, said in a statement.

No-fault evictions were responsible for about 20% of the 1,442 eviction notices filed between March 2019 and Feb. 2020, according to an August report from the Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board. That includes 196 evictions for owner move-ins, 87 for capital improvements, 12 for condo conversions, eight for demolitions and one for “substantial rehabilitation.”

Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, said this legislation would put a particular hardship on landlords who want to either move into their properties themselves or allow relatives to live there. She said many renters who are no longer tethered to the city because of their jobs are leaving, and San Francisco currently has a 20% vacancy rate.

“A 20% vacancy rate doesn’t warrant this type of legislation,” she said. “If you want to help the rental market, you should try to get more jobs into the city.”

Preston’s proposal is the latest in a string of legislation that attempts to protect tenants as the pandemic causes record unemployment and pushes more people toward poverty. Mayor London Breed, who supports protecting renters against no-fault evictions, first issued an eviction moratorium based on nonpayment of rent in April. That order, which eliminated late fees and interest and gave tenants more time to pay back their rent, is in effect until Sept. 30.

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 Preston also passed a law this summer that permanently bars San Francisco landlords from evicting tenants if they could not pay rent due to coronavirus-related issues between April and September.

That legislation was challenged in San Francisco Supreme Court by Zacks, the landlord lawyer, on behalf of a group of real estate trade organizations. The measure was upheld in August. An appeal is pending.

Zacks is also questioning the legality of Preston’s newest proposal based on language in the state law around whether new local ordinances can be enacted before Feb. 2021.

But Preston’s office is confident that they are in the clear. The ordinance is co-sponsored by Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Matt Haney, Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen and Rafael Mandelman.

On the state level, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a law written by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, that gives tenants a temporary reprieve on missed rent if they lost income due to the pandemic. If Preston’s legislation passes, it would close a loophole in the state law, which does not cover those facing no-fault evictions.