Tenants rights groups rallied on the steps of City Hall on Monday to oppose what they say is a weak bill to curb owner move-in evictions.
The bill introduced Supervisor Mark Farrell, they argue,undermines a much stronger competing bill introduced by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim.
Under current law, landlords are permitted to evict their tenants if they or a family member plans to reside in the rented property. But a six-month investigation by NBC Bay Area revealed that as many as 25 percent of owner move-in evictions they studied were fraudulent. Nevertheless, in the last decade, not a single landlord has faced prosecution.
Tenants displaced from the Mission and other neighbors who attended the rally testified about landlords’ abuse of current laws and their own inability to take action once an eviction is completed. They called for stronger laws to prevent the fraudulent evictions.
“It has affected us so severely, I doubt we’ll ever recover from it completely,” said Montana Swiger, a single mother who was evicted from her Mission District residence four years ago because her landlord said he wanted to move his elderly father into her unit.
Swiger said she was forced to take a buyout and now lives in Oakland – while her landlord broke current city laws by failing to move his father in and selling the building just three years following the eviction.
But because of a one-year statute of limitations on evicted tenants taking legal action, Swiger is now unable to sue.
“We moved from the Mission under great duress.Then a few weeks later we got the paperwork that had nothing to do with that and was a minimal buyout that signed away all my rights,” she said. “The thing about these evictions that’s so dangerous is you don’t know until [years] afterwards what is happening.“
Deepa Varma, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, said, “After a year and a half of work we have come up with a set of tools to fight back and we’ve shared these with multiple supervisors.”
The Mission District-based tenants rights organization along with other tenant groups have offered recommendations and research to Peskin and Kim, but said that Farrell, whose bill is backed by the San Francisco Apartment Association, failed to consult with those affected or with the expert advocates.
Both bills would require landlords pursuing an owner move-in to state their intent to reside in their properties under penalty of perjury. They would also extend the statute of limitation from one to three years for the time that an affected tenant can file a wrongful eviction claim.
Farrell’s bill dictates that landlords must live in their properties for at least three years before re-renting their units, and provide annual proof of their tenancy or that of a relative.
Advocates and tenants who have been affected by such evictions say that Farrell’s bill lacks a key component– enforcement tools. While Farrell’s proposal creates a set of reporting requirements, it does not strengthen those requirements with legal or financial repercussions if landlords fail to comply.
They favor Peskin and Kim bill, which allows third party nonprofits to sue landlords even after a tenant has waived their rights.
“The biggest problem is tenants are forced to waive their rights to sue [when accepting a buyout from a landlord] which gives landlords basically a free pass,” said tenant lawyer Scott Weaver. “They re-rent units at a higher amount, or sell the property, they don’t move in, which is really what the purpose of the OMI eviction is.”
Allowing nonprofits to sue when the landlord violates the law and a tenant has waived their rights is a way to still “look over a landlord’s shoulder,” said Weaver. Requiring a statement of occupancy and imposing fines if a landlord fails to comply will additionally thwart abuse, he said.
Peskin and Kim’s proposal would also require landlords who move out up to five years after an owner-move in eviction to locate their previous tenants and offer them the units back, at the previous rent.
It also regulates owner move-ins by subjecting landlords to criminal charges and penalties should they re-rent their units at higher rates after an eviction.
Farrell’s bill was heard at the Land Use Committee on Monday, with some controversy. According to a press release by the tenant rights organization Causa Justa, the authors of the tenant-backed proposal had requested that their bill be heard. Instead, Farrell, who is the committee’s president, “scheduled his own legislation and fast-tracked it to be voted on at the Full board the next day, June 13.”
Farrell responded to these accusations in committee by accepting several amendments and continuing the hearing to June 26, so that both proposals could be heard side by side.
“We were not made aware of this legislation and not able to agendize it for today’s meeting,” he said. “I believe in transparency – this wasn’t publicly available until Friday morning and I want to make sure we have wholesome conversations about this.”
In committee, Farrell’s bill received some support from homeowners who felt that the reporting requirements and legal implications under Peskin and Kim’s bill are too stringent.
“I am a senior and my mother is in a wheelchair. I had to do a legitimate relative move-in evictions. If you want me to report it every year because i have to take care of my mother and forget, you are going to put me in jail?” asked a woman who gave her name as Kathy.
“I can support Farrell’s legislation, but if you go beyond you are creating a lot of burden on people like me,” she said.