Crackdown on Fraudulent S.F. Evictions Passes Unanimously After NBC Bay Area Investigation Reveals Widespread Abuse

Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Bigad Shaban, Michael Bott and Mark Villarreal
NBC (Bay Area)

With a unanimous vote approving significant changes to the city’s housing laws, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors signaled Tuesday it intends to crack down on landlords who illegally evict tenants in order to turn a larger profit.

The ordinance, authored by Supervisor Mark Farrell with significant input from Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim, comes in direct response to a six-month NBC Bay Area investigation that revealed what appears to be wide spread abuse by landlords who wrongfully evict rent-controlled tenants in order to find new tenants willing to pay more in rent.

“I believe we have to do everything we can to stem the tide of wrongful evictions and give tenants a fighting chance to stay in our city,” Farrell said. "I strongly believe we have a bill to deter bad actors in San Francisco."

Farrell said he expects the ordinance to dramatically reduce the number of fraudulent evictions, which he says are forcing many residents out of the city.

Property owners can legally evict tenants if they, or in some cases a relative, intend to occupy the unit. An NBC Bay Area investigation, however, found nearly 25 percent of owner move-in evictions in San Francisco could be fraudulent.

Citing the NBC Bay Area investigation, lawmakers deduce that hundreds of families may have been wrongfully kicked out of their homes over the past several years through fraudulent owner move-in evictions.

“In many cases, when you’re forced out of your unit in San Francisco, you can’t afford to live in San Francisco anymore,” Peskin said.

An NBC Bay Area analysis found landlords are rarely, if ever, punished. Now, city officials are trying to change that.

“We absolutely want to close the door on fraudulent owner move-in evictions,” Peskin said.

Peskin said he’s long heard anecdotes of landlords using bogus owner move-in evictions as a ruse kick out rent-controlled tenants, but nobody ever made an attempt to find out how bad the problem actually was.

“NBC Bay Area came along and actually gave us some hard numbers,” Peskin said. “City Hall wasn’t doing its job.”

Tuesday’s unanimous vote was the product of months of compromise between Supervisor Farrell on one side and Supervisors Peskin and Kim on the other. The two factions were originally pushing competing plans, but came together in the end after Farrell incorporated some of the tougher enforcement provisions Peskin and Kim championed.

In a time when national politics are divisive as ever, Peskin and Farrell both praised the consensus reached by their colleagues.

The new law makes it more difficult for landlords to fraudulently evict tenants and gives renters and city officials additional tools to go after landlords who attempt to abuse the system.

Landlords now have to sign a declaration under the penalty of perjury that they intend to move into the home within three months of an eviction and stay there for at least three years. They’ll also have to submit annual proof of residency to the Rent Board, such as an electric bill or voter registration, showing they actually moved in. The ordinance also gives non-profits the right to sue landlords on behalf of tenants who may have been fraudulently evicted, a provision that Peskin and Kim pushed hard for, but Farrell originally had reservations about.

Over the course of several hearings, residents turned out by the dozens urging the board to take action.

“Right now our family is being evicted from our home,” said Cesar Valenzuela, a San Francisco student who testified at a Monday committee meeting at city hall. “This is the second time the same landlord is trying to evict us. This is becoming the worst summer vacation for me. If my family gets evicted, it would be very hard to find a new place to live. The rents for other apartments are very expensive and finding a house that’s affordable is impossible.”

The board is expected to send the legislation next month to Mayor Ed Lee for his consideration. If approved, the new law could begin taking effect by the end of this summer.

“What’s at stake is people’s lives,” Peskin said. “What’s at stake is being able to live in San Francisco.”

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