Understanding complex tenant protections in San Francisco: who can be evicted and when? _______________________________
Some 50 protesters rallied against evictions Monday morning in front of the courthouse on McAllister and Polk Streets where once-a-week eviction court hearings resumed on September 1.
Those hearings involve eviction proceedings that started before Covid-19, but the West Side Tenants Association, which helped organize Monday’s demonstration, said these cases should be postponed, as they go against the ethics of keeping people in their homes during a pandemic.
Protestors shouted, “housing is a human right!” and “when tenants’ rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” as the sounds of tubas, trumpets and drums playing Balkan music reverberated across McAllister Street near City Hall.
The organizers also fear that tenants will have less protection when the city’s eviction moratorium ends at the end of September and is replaced by the state protections covered in AB 3088. And, while Supervisor Dean Preston passed legislation which says non-payment of back rent from covid can never be used as grounds for eviction, this ordinance is set to expire on September 30.
The Mayor’s order and Preston’s ordinance applies to tenants unable to pay between March 16 and September 30. At present, San Francisco renters have until February 28, 2021, to pay unpaid rent for those months. Moreover, tenants cannot be evicted for unpaid rent between those dates. Any unpaid rent for that period turns into consumer debt. To claim it, landlords must go through small claims court to receive payment, and a record of this debt can also make it difficult for tenants to rent another unit.
Unpaid rent from October 1 onward falls under AB 3088 and tenants have to pay back 25 percent of it by January 31, 2021. If it goes unpaid, landlords can evict tenants if they fail to make that payment.
The state’s AB 3088, passed by the California Legislature and signed by Governor Newsom at the end of August, took effect immediately but does not cover all evictions.
It does not, for example, cover Ellis-act evictions, evictions that occur when a landlord decides to exit the rental business and evicts all of a building’s tenants.
Joy Lee, the Westside program director at the Housing Rights Committee, said, “the state legislation does not cover no-fault evictions, such as owner-move-ins or temporary eviction while a landlord makes improvements – all of which had been covered by the city’s moratorium.”
“Tenants are having a difficult time navigating the laws and legislations, especially those whose first language is not English,” Lee said.
Moreover, illegal evictions remain a concern for tenants and tenants rights groups. The Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco has been counseling over 1,000 tenants since March, according to Joy Lee, and she estimates 20 percent of the cases involve landlord harassment.
Kyle Smeallie, a legislative aid for Supervisor Dean Preston, who wrote the legislation preventing evictions, said in a phone interview, “There should be very limited circumstances for which an eviction proceeds.”
Many of the tenants still have no income to pay rent, and are being harassed by landlords to move out, the advocates said.
One tenant who has been fighting against her landlord and working with the West Side Tenants Association is Jasper Wilde, a 31 year-old living in the Richmond district for over six years.
Wilde has not paid rent since she lost her job in April. “If it were not for the tenant protections put in place by Dean Preston and adopted by the Board of Supervisors I would have been evicted by now, she said.
Like others, under AB 3088, she will be expected to pay back 25 percent of her rent owed by January 2021. Wilde says she owes her landlord over $14,000, and still cannot afford to pay.
She wants “all evictions to stop,” and says “during this public health emergency and with the CA wildfires, it is even more unethical to evict. We want all back pay forgiven. It’s not our fault we can’t pay.”
Rachael Lopshire, 28, is also unemployed and on a self-described “personal rent strike.” She has not paid rent since May 1, 2020, but has been harassed in her room by her landlord, who is not giving her access to the kitchen since she isn’t paying rent.
She is not under threat of eviction, but believes there should be “rent forgiveness and at least a rent freeze until we can safely reopen.”
She cannot work because it “puts her health at risk.” Housing rights advocates like Leticia Arce, a 30-year-old organizer with Causa Justa agreed that the protections have not prevented all evictions.
Arce said she gets calls everyday from “tenants who are evicted or harassed after telling their landlord they are protected.”
“We don’t have full data on evictions because people are being evicted and displaced outside of courts,” she said.