Tenant ousters reach 12-year high as market gets increasingly tight

Evictions from San Francisco homes have increased to levels not seen since the early 2000s, while the cost to rent continues to climb.

There were 1,757 eviction notices filed with the San Francisco Rent Board from March 1, 2012, to Feb. 28, 2013, a 12-year high. The prior year, there were 1,395 notices recorded. The Rent Board tallies figures from March 1 to Feb. 28, unlike the regular fiscal year that runs from July 1 to June 30.

Few issues are as polarizing in San Francisco as rent and the relationship between property owners and tenants.
Competition in the rental market is fierce — asking prices for 1-bedroom apartments in many parts of The City are between $2,000 and $3,000 a month, according to listings on zumper.com — and apartments are fought over even after a lease is signed. Petitions filed with the Rent Board — disputes over rent increases or costs passed on to tenants, such as for utilities and improvements — also increased, from 1,078 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, to 1,368 in the most recent fiscal year.

However, property owners and renters do agree on one thing: The statistics paint an incomplete picture. Whether the eviction notices represent either more displacements than actually occurred or only a fraction of the total depends on whom you ask.

“We aren’t seeing massive evictions,” said Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association. She noted that not every eviction notice results in a displacement. Some are negotiated between landlord and tenant and are withdrawn, and others are fought in the courts.

The vacancy rate is “about 2 percent,” estimated New.

Tenants breaking the terms of their leases accounted for the most evictions, at 468. Nuisance violations were second with 352.

There also were 116 instances in which a unit’s landlord invoked the Ellis Act, a controversial law in which a property owner is allowed to remove all tenants from a building in order to sell it. The year prior, there were 64 such evictions.

Tenant advocates say many eviction notices aren’t filed with the Rent Board. And some landlords use an “Ellis Act warning,” a nonlegal notice coupled with a cash payment, to get a tenant to move out, said Ted Gullicksen, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

“For every Ellis Act eviction filed, there are 10 or 15” of the warnings, Gullicksen said.

Current tenants hold on to their units for dear life, with most vacancies being in new buildings built by large, publicly traded companies, New said.

“Any San Francisco tenant in a rent-controlled unit for more than a year would find it extremely difficult to pay current rents on vacant units,” said Gullicksen, adding that the days of a two-bedroom for $2,000 are “long gone and never coming back.”

“So people [in an apartment] for 10 years or more would certainly find it impossible to compete in this market,” he said.



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