Illegal units could be added to SF notification rules for demolishing housing

San Francisco building owners who intend to demolish a residential unit may soon have to inform tenants of their plan regardless of whether the home is illegal.

As The City grapples with the ongoing housing crisis, Supervisor Scott Wiener said he plans to introduce legislation that would require notification to tenants in an illegal unit when a permit is issued to remove the unit. That is already the law when it comes to legal units.

Wiener’s effort was recently boosted by a recommendation from the Board of Appeals.

“When someone has been living in and paying rent on a unit, whether it’s legal or illegal, that is still their home and they have every right in the world to be notified if the landlord is intending to demolish the unit,” Wiener said.

The legislation, expected to be introduced in the coming weeks, will seek to provide tenants of illegal units with the same 15-day appeal period as tenants of legal units. The idea is to prevent residents from being blindsided with an eviction notice.

“The idea that we would ever allow someone’s home to be demolished without having even given them notice … doesn’t make any sense to me,” Wiener said.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, director of counseling programs for the Housing Rights Committee, said the current housing climate has led to a spike in evictions of illegal and rent-controlled units so they can be converted into market-rate dwellings.

“We are seeing a trend in landlords demolishing illegal units,” he said. Avicolli Mecca cited a recent example of a family that had been living in an illegal in-law in the Sunset for about six years and only learned the unit would be demolished when they were served with a 60-day eviction notice in February.

“At that point, it was too late to appeal it,” Avicolli Mecca said.

It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of illegal units in The City, though beginning in May 2014 unauthorized dwelling units could apply to be legalized. City officials recognize that in-laws are particularly valuable to preserving the housing stock, said Debra Walker, a member of the Building Inspection Commission.

“Any time there’s pressure in the market, these things around the edges are problematic, but we really do count on them for a large source of affordable housing. The City really wants to keep those,” Walker said.

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