Ellis Act reform bill stalls at State Assembly hearing

AP PHOTO/RICH PEDRONCELLIState Sen. Mark Leno

A bill targeting Ellis Act reform in San Francisco failed to receive enough votes to pass the California Assembly Housing Committee today. However, it could be reconsidered by the committee if state Sen. Mark Leno, the San Francisco Democrat who proposed the legislation, brings it up for a second vote. The proposal would limit evictions in The City by requiring new property owners to wait five years before invoking the Ellis Act, a state law that allows a landlord to get out of the rental business.

Senate Bill 1439, proposed by Leno and sponsored by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, passed the Senate in May after a similar reconsideration process. It did not initially gain the votes required to pass, but later received the three crucial votes for passage after Leno promised amendments to the bill. 

SB 1439 is also supported by sf.citi, a coalition of Bay Area tech companies, and Tenants Together, an advocacy organization. It is opposed by the California Apartment Association and the California Chamber of Commerce. 
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In today's hearing, Leno described amendments to SB 1439 that he said would protect “mom-and-pop landlords” from losing their Ellis Act eviction rights. One amendment, Leno said, would exempt property owners from the five-year waiting period if they own only one or two rental properties in San Francisco, with a total of no more than four rental units. 

Rather than adversely impacting small landlords, Leno said SB 1439 is designed to target speculators.

“A speculator's business is 100 percent vacancy,” Leno told the Housing Committee. “The legislature did not create the Ellis Act for speculators, for people who want zero percent occupancy and 100 percent vacancy.” 

Jeff Buckley, Lee's housing policy adviser, and Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together, also testified in support of the bill. 

Leno's office has not indicated whether the senator will bring SB 1439 up for reconsideration. 

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