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.”
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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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