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Supervisor Dean Preston on Monday posted on social media a snippet of a back-and-forth between attorneys representing a medically disabled Mission resident and the landlords using the Ellis Act to evict him and his wife — a dialog the legislator wrote made his “blood boil.” 

When asked for an extension due to the onset of a plague, the landlords’ attorney was not amenable. “My clients are not willing to amend the agreement in any way,” she wrote. “It is not my clients’ duty to build 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.” 

This language may come off as Dickensian. But it’s not illegal, even in the face of San Francisco and California’s new COVID-19-related eviction moratoriums. Mayor London Breed on March 13 introduced such a moratorium — but it only applies to evictions of “any resident who suffers a loss of income related to COVID-19.” 

Similarly, the March 16 order from Gov. Gavin Newsom only covers evictions due to “nonpayment of rent” and, what’s more, nonpayment of rent tied to COVID-19-related causes. 

As such, Ellis Act evictions are not impeded. Nor are owner move-ins, renovations or other “no-fault evictions” removing tenants from units — even in the midst of a shelter-in-place order. 

“It makes no sense to be allowing evictions to proceed now, even if there are pre-existing stipulations requiring people to move,” said Preston. “The Department of Public Health and the mayor have ordered shelter-in-place for the entire city. It makes no sense for anyone to be evicted.” 

Preston praised the mayor’s actions as “a positive step forward,” but says he’ll continue his legislative push for blanket eviction protections during the pandemic. 

“The mayor’s eviction moratorium is quite limited and does not apply to any other type of eviction than nonpayment of rent based on income loss due to coronavirus,” notes Carolyn Gold, the founder of the Eviction Defense Collaborative and a judge-elect. “We feel a need to halt all evictions right now except in the case of public safety.” 

Our messages for the mayor’s office have not been returned. 

Preston also plans on Tuesday to introduce a resolution imploring Newsom to suspend or ease the Ellis Act, which allows California landlords to evict tenants before ostensibly getting out of the rental business — but is easily exploited by savvy investors and corporations. 

This move comes at a time of great flux and uncertainty during a global humanitarian, economic and health crisis. California courts have issued a patchwork of delays or out-and-out shutdowns, but it does not appear San Francisco eviction trials and hearings have yet been nixed — even while the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department this week confirmed it will no longer physically carry out evictions. 

A March 16 communique from the San Francisco Superior Court did not mention any changes to eviction-related proceedings. When asked if these cases would be curtailed, as others have been, spokesman Ken Garcia wrote, “I’m told that unless there is a legislative change to the law regarding evictions, there is no change in eviction proceedings.

Preston felt this made a mockery of the city’s social-distancing order. “Walk down the [courthouse] hallway and you’ll find dozens of people waiting for their settlement conferences or jurors assembling for eviction cases,” said the longtime tenants’ attorney. 

The impetus for tenants to show up in court is high: Failure to do so can result in a default judgment.

“It’s amazing we have to legislate this. It’s amazing the mayor has to issue directives. People using the Ellis Act to evict a disabled tenant while we have a shelter-in-place order in this city: It doesn’t’ take a genius to figure out that this is not an ideal time to displace someone from their home.” 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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  1. I just wanted to say that my mother and I are getting evicted (Ellis Act), and March of 2021 will mark my mother as renting our rent-controlled apartment for 52 years in the Mission District!! My mother is 81, elderly and quite disabled. We are fighting this hard but I feel there are other things I should and/or could be doing to protect my mother. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  2. I’m just curious to know why people think ordinary property owners can afford to not evict tenants that don’t pay the rent. Many of these property owners are renting the properties to make a living themselves, it’s their monthly income and they may not be able to afford tenants staying without paying rent. Some of these owners are senior citizens who rent property as their retirement income.

  3. None of this makes sense. If you want to help people who lose income, give them money. Don’t make landlords pay for your social generosity.

  4. For the record, it has been clarified that moving homes is a valid reason to leave the house under the current shelter in place order.

  5. There needs to be a halt on rent payment to buildings owned by the banks and landlords for those many that can’t work, that have lost their job due to covid_19. It’s a worldwide disruption, and we need to treat it as such. Ordinarily, renters go about their daily lives and are expected to pay, but right now, we have an extraordinary circumstances, that many can weather. Especially since many are lacking funds due to income inequality. It’s easy for the wealthy to carry on as if not much has changed, but pay that live pay check to pay check simply cannot should such burden.

  6. Exactly what I’ve been saying…I have no money to pay the mortgage without the rent payment…I’m upside down and if need be I’ll drag them out by their hair to get a paying renter to occupy the premises…

    1. Nickole… Lol you can enjoy being arrested then. Just like you tell your tenants, figure it out. You own property and from the sounds of it you’re a terrible landlord. Sure have been saving them coins for a rainy day. Not your tenant’s problem.

      1. Unfortunately, most of the good landlords have skipped town to operate property in jurisdictions that actually care to have them and offer a path to actual returns. I’ve lived in many places but none besides SF where landlords actually pray to lose tenants.

      2. I am a lefty.
        This “All landlords bad” knee jerk lefty garbage is just as bad as the empathy deficit you get from the red team. How offensive. Someone — AN INDIVIDUAL — owns property they don’t occupy for whatever reason, so they offer it to someone so that person may have shelter and automatically they are bad and subject to hate from so-called empathetic ‘support the underdog’ people. Fact is you have no ethics, on a ‘side’ which you stick by regardless of hypocrisy regarding principles which you’d easily go exactly the opposite way only were your team on the opposite side.

    2. Funnily enough, your hypothetical assault’s trial would be paused under the larger court shutdown.

  7. Somehow landlords expect to pay mortgages without rent payments. If there is moratorium on evictions should we have one on mortgage payments?

  8. Yes a bad time to evict people but nobody is writing anything about setting up emergency care facilities for coronavirus patients. I just finished watching the news from Berlin and I have to say that they are not talking about $1,000 checks to anybody, or evictions, but about turning closed school gyms and exhibition halls into emergency care centers for coronavirus patients. I have yet to read word in the US press on anything like that. Just wondering. We are all either crazy overreacting (possible?) or missing some important things we might need soon.

    1. There are people in San Francisco who have the skills and interest to build solutions to our problems. Unfortunately, they are deplored as “techies” and scapegoated for all the city’s corruption and dysfunction.

      It’d be great to hear how the underutilized ~$1,000,000/year shelter for homeless families at Buena Vista Horace Mann might be repurposed now that we have an even more pressing public crisis: https://missionlocal-newspack.newspackstaging.com/2018/04/homeless-shelter-at-sf-mission-school-met-with-questions-optimism-from-parents/

      Or how the large number of now vacant parking lots and play yards might provide space for quarantine.

      1. Lol who the fuck is stopping those fucking techies to help people? They are still deplorable and dysfunctional because they haven’t done anything to stop gentrification. to this day, I don’t see shit from them in the serving the people kinda area

  9. I am beginning a southern california eviction of a disabled vet (diabetes, bad feet) and his caregiver/driver. I rented it out when I couldn’t get a fair sale price. He decided to quit paying $1,000 rent in May, 2019. This forces me to make the $527 payment from my $780 disability check. Should this eviction be under the moratorium?

    1. According to Dean Preston, you should not be able to evict your tenant. Elections have consequences.

  10. I guess misinformation and false media is rampant. I thought I read that the Sheriff’s Department has suspended eviction proceedings during this crisis and that would mean ALL EVICTIONS. But, I that author may have been mistaken. I quit reporting on all the obvious news out there assuming that everyone now knows the details by watching non-stop news, but, perhaps I was wrong, since the news is becoming a gray area. It is important for us to share what we think is fact just in case it is fake news. If anyone sees any thing that appears to be a mistake please let us know. In this case, we are astounded and hope the Sheriff’s Department will clarify the current eviction policy.

    Thanks to Dean Preston and all our supervisors who are trying to mitigate the damage being done to our citizens. And thanks to our intrepid investigative reporters who are digging deep for the details so that they may uncover the truth.

    1. Courts can still rule to evict tenants, but landlords will not be able to use the sheriff’s office to actually execute the order.

  11. In spite of continuing trials in all cases for 90 days, the San Francisco Superior Court incredibly has exempted eviction trials from this continuance. There are still cases involving low income seniors and disabled tenants who are set for trial in the coming weeks without the consideration and relief that is given to every other litigant in the city by the court. Please consider calling presiding judge Wong And demanding that all trials even evection trials are continued for 90 days as is being done in federal courts.