Mayor Ed Lee does not veto new tenants’ rights legislation

After days of speculation and a showdown between tenant advocates and small property owners, Mayor Ed Lee decided Friday not to veto the law boosting tenant protections, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors last week.

While not vetoing the law, the mayor did show his concerns over the law by returning it unsigned, which is mostly symbolic as the protections are now the law. On Thursday, the mayor wouldn’t commit to a position, but said “I’ll let you know when I do [decide].” He was being pressured by small property owners to veto the bill, which was introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim and called Eviction Protections 2.0.

“The crisis is so acute, and the anxiety and reality of eviction and displacement real for so many, that we must take unprecedented steps to help,” said the mayor’s letter sent at 4:54 p.m. Friday to the Board of Supervisors about not signing the law. “This is why I am allowing this legislation to become law, despite a provision that I believe creates a significant intrusion into certain fundamental rights of small property owners.”

Had the mayor vetoed the legislation it was likely that the Board of Supervisor would have overridden it, which takes eight votes. The board approved the legislation in an 11-0 vote, after taking a 7-4 vote on a separate provision that allows tenants in excess of the leases, tying the occupancy to city housing codes instead. Those limits are, for example, two persons in a studio unit, three persons in a one-bedroom unit and four persons in a two-bedroom unit.

In the letter, the mayor said that while he supports all the provisions related to “stopping predatory, frivolous and so-called ‘nuisance’ evictions, one particular provision does not reflect the right approach when it comes to property owners’ rights to set occupancy limits for their own apartment buildings.”

To address his concerns, the mayor said he has directed the Rent Board to draft new regulations to clarify the definitions for “reasonable admission or denial” when a tenant requests to add roommates.

In a statement, Kim credited the powerful testimony of tenants who are facing eviction or have been evicted in recent years amid the booming real estate market for the political pressure needed to approve the amendments to San Francisco’s Rent Ordinance.

“Without the courage of tenants speaking out like Theresa Flandrich, Gum Lam Lee, Robert Dodd and John Cress, Daisy Macarthur, and so many just like them telling the eviction deniers about their real struggles to stay in their homes, we would not be here today,” Kim said. “We won a victory today for all San Franciscans who care about affordability. We know from the Housing Balance report published in July 2015, that we are running in place when it comes to affordable housing.”

The mayor had met with those on both sides of the issue Monday at City Hall during an hourlong meeting. On Wednesday, a Small Properties Owners of San Francisco Institute board member sent to the media a lengthy document blasting the legislation. On Thursday, Kim was among tenant advocates rallying on the steps of City Hall against the prospect of a mayoral veto.

The mayor was critical of the legislative process in the letter. He said he would have preferred the discussions he had with both sides to have occurred before the law was passed, not after. “The traditional divisiveness surrounding landlord tenant issues does not lead to more stable housing or more units being built,” Lee said. “Rather it poisons the conversation and leads people to retreat to their original positions and harden their resolve.”

Last week, Supervisor Scott Wiener had attempted to separate and approve on its own the roommate provision in the law, which had he been successful, would have allowed the mayor to only veto the roommate provision had he wanted to.

San Francisco’s rents are the highest in the nation, but other cities are also experiencing the pressures of climbing real estate costs. Tenant advocates said The City needs to lead on the issues of tenant rights and efforts to address income inequality, as it has led on other social issues in the past. “The country is looking at San Francisco to set the stage for solutions to these regional and national issues,” said Maria Zamudio, Executive Director of Causa Justa::Just Cause, a tenant rights nonprofit. “The advocacy and tenacity of the tenant community has resulted in the passage of one of the strongest tenant’s rights laws in the state. Today, the people won.”

Under the law, eviction notices must now include contacts for legal assistance and tenants must have a chance to cure minor offenses and proof must be provided with any nuisance eviction.

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