Through two measures intended to further tenants rights that might never see the light of day – both were tabled at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting – the mobilization efforts by tenant advocates have instead served to rally and unite their opposition.
The new politicized front goes by the name of COBRA: the Condominium Owners Builders and Remodelers Association.
“We’re getting tainted with a brush that’s inaccurate,” said Joe O’Donoghue, the founder of the association and a longtime developer in San Francisco who has taken it upon himself to “go on the offensive,” pulling together stakeholders in the rental market.
The upheaval on the part of O’Donoghue and fellow property owners came soon after the second Land Use Committee hearing last November on Supervisor John Avalos’s proposal to extend eviction protections to housing units built after 1979. As legislation currently stands, landlords must give one of 15 reasons to evict a tenant only if that tenant lives in a unit built before 1979. Separate legislation proposed by Supervisor Eric Mar includes children as a protected class under owner move-in evictions, which is also up for a final vote.
With the intent to alert property owners, builders, and remodelers – all those invested in a bustling rental market – of the impending legislation, COBRA will also strive to dispel the tenant vs. property owner dichotomy.
“The polarization has been created because of people who don’t like property owners,” said O’Donoghue, noting that the inherent relationship between tenant and landlord is a collaborative one.
The members of the organization feel like underdogs, arguing that their rights as property owners are constantly being eroded. But, they are quickly flexing their muscles.
Among the stakeholders COBRA will organize are owners of properties located in the South of Market, the Richmond, and the Sunset areas. Their outreach efforts will also cross ethnic and gender lines as they look to Irish and Chinese landlords as well as gay property owners to wield a stronger voice. According to O’Donoghue, 70 people showed up to the first meeting.
They are also challenging the data presented by Supervisor Avalos.
Because the Rent Board has no record of the number of evictions in post-1979 housing units, and much less whether they are prevalent, Avalos has had to rely on anecdotal information provided by nonprofit organizations, such as the St. Peter’s Housing Committee, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Housing Rights Committee.
During the four hearings the only concrete numbers cited by Avalos are the 16,000 to 20,000 housing units built after 1979 and the fact that tenants in those units don’t benefit from eviction protections.
“Legislation shouldn’t be passed on a supposition that you’re protecting someone from being evicted,” said O’Donoghue, arguing that Avalos has yet to prove tenants in post-1979 buildings are being unfairly evicted.
Nor should it be passed on the supposition that tenants aren’t being evicted, others argue. What remains at the heart of the matter is the lack of concrete data from both ends. While O’Donoghue asserts that not a single tenant has been evicted from the buildings the members of COBRA own, the actual number of evictions occurring in post-1979 buildings remains outside of anyone’s grasp.
What O’Donoghue does know is that according to his outreach efforts, there are approximately 31,000 post-1979 condo owners.
On the agenda for the association’s second meeting on Friday is developing a plan to counter Avalos’ proposal should it move forward.
O’Donoghue admits that these measures could be seen as a blessing in disguise.
“Maybe this was necessary to wake up people,” he said.