Supervisor Eric Mar’s amended legislation to protect families with children from being evicted during the school year was unanimously approved, but it was a bittersweet victory for many tenants’ rights advocates.
The supervisors gave 10 nods to Mar’s legislation at Tuesday’s board meeting, and Mayor Gavin Newsom will sign the legislation, making it the first housing initiative approved in more than a year.
“We worked with Supervisor Mar and the mayor said he will support it,” said Tony Winnicker, the mayor’s communications director. “We were able to make it work and come to a consensus.”
The amendments allow landlords to still evict tenants during the summer, if the tenant has lived in the unit for less than 12 months, if the landlord owns only one unit or if the landlord has children under 18.
Many tenants’ rights organizations see the legislation as a step forward in securing protections but they were also disappointed.
“[The mayor] has shown he’s definitely not supportive of tenants’ rights,” countered Mariana Viturro, co-director of St. Peter’s Housing Committee. “It does require a sort of compromise so we don’t just lose it all. We would have preferred to have the original legislation go to vote, but at least this does give some sort of protection during the school year.”
Although the amendments were made to appease renters associations, some could not be swayed.
“We are neutral on it — we are not supportive or against it,” said Janen New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Assocation. “We don’t believe the rent controls law should be expanded.”
Others were outright angry, particularly because of research done by tenants groups that showed that moving adversely affects a child’s health and academic and social progress.
“If you evict a kid in the summer, they are still going to go back to the same school in the fall,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, the Housing Rights Committee counseling program director. “It’s totally ridiculous because children are still affected by eviction.”
Avicolli Mecca added that many tenants’ rights advocates are unafraid of landlords who threaten to stop renting to families with children altogether because discriminating against families with children under 18 is illegal, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
Some housing experts, however, say that landlords might have an incentive to avoid renting to families with children.
“It is safe to say when people know that a certain liability comes with a certain class of tenants, they are going to try to be clever,” said Steven A. McDonald, a lawyer who has represented both tenants and landlords for almost 28 years. “It’s hard to prove discrimination. Clever people can get away with it.”
When seniors and those with disabilities were granted protective status in 1998, similar to the situation proposed for families in Mar’s legislation, McDonald said he saw an increase in seniors claiming discrimination, but “very few go to trial — they settle.”
Viturro said the St. Peter’s Housing Committee office also sees a lot of cases in which a landlord gives a tenant a faulty owner move-in notice without actually moving into the unit.
“It’s one of the main excuses that landlords tell tenants to move,” Viturro explained. “For tenants that’s unreasonable to say, ‘I want to move in to this place, you have to leave.’ While the legislation makes families a protected class, what our hope is is that illegal OMI notices will decrease and more families will be able to stay in their homes.”
Supervisor Michaela Alioto-Pier was absent Tuesday.
Mar said he had not expected his colleagues to vote unanimously on the amended legislation’s first reading.
“I think they appreciated that we reached out to a broad group of people,” Mar said, adding that he expects a similar vote when the legislation goes up for a second reading next Tuesday.
Also during the board meeting, Supervisor David Campos introduced legislation requiring single room occupancy hotels to post signs letting residents know they can call 311 to report problems with their units.
“I hope to spread the word that SRO residents have this option and will be able to report problems and not keep quiet,” Campos said. “This is especially important for families with kids or those with health problems. It can be a matter of life or death.”
Campos explained that residents had “basic but pretty serious” issues, ranging from the heat not working to unsanitary living conditions like bed bug infestation or mold in the carpets.
Rigoberto Hernandez contributed to this story.