City attorney to appeal federal judge’s ruling against tenant relocation law

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Wednesday announced plans to appeal a decision by a federal judge to invalidate a city law requiring increased relocation payouts to tenants who are evicted under the state Ellis Act.

The announcement comes a day after U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer struck down The City's tenant relocation law, calling it unconstitutional. The decision is scheduled to take effect Friday. The Ellis Act allows a landlord to evict tenants in order to get out of the rental business.

The ordinance, which went into effect June 1, requires landlords to pay tenants evicted under the Ellis Act the difference between their current rent and the cost to rent the same-sized unit at market value, as a relocation fee. Opponents have argued that under the ordinance, a tenant's relocation payout for an apartment in more expensive city neighborhoods could have reached as high as $100,000, and no restrictions exist on how to use the payment.

Herrera, however, referred to the struggles rent-controlled tenants face after eviction, saying the law is needed to assist tenants with relocation costs and significant rent increases.

“The district court's decision is contrary to cases interpreting the U.S. Constitution,” Herrera said in a statement. “San Francisco is facing a housing affordability crisis that's historically unprecedented, and our tenant relocation law serves a legitimate and lawful public purpose in helping tenants to adjust to the loss of rent control and mitigating the harms of displacement.”

In response to the appeal, Pacific Legal Foundation attorney J. David Breemer, the lead attorney in the challenge to the ordinance, said it is disappointing that city officials continue efforts “to defend the indefensible.” “(Lead clients Dan and Maria Levin) and Pacific Legal Foundation would prefer that the city spend its energy coming up with solutions to the affordable housing crisis that are constitutional and just,” said Breemer, adding that the foundation is prepared to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the legislation.

But Herrera said defending the tenant relocation law has high stakes for more than just tenants, with consequences that could be dire for laws protecting land use and the environment if the judge's decision stands.

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