New shelter-in-place order gives tenants a temporary reprieve from eviction

Sheriff’s Department briefly resumed regular enforcement this week

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department resumed regular enforcement of court-ordered evictions this week for the first time since early in the pandemic, before abruptly putting them on hold again on Friday.

Deputies moved forward with the eviction of three households on Wednesday and had 19 scheduled for next week as of Thursday. No evictions were enforced between March and Nov. 12, when a court granted an exception to various emergency orders, said Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Nancy Crowley.

But after health officials implemented a new shelter-in-place order on Friday afternoon, Sheriff Paul Miyamoto indicated he would postpone further enforcement action.

“Given the accelerated COVID-19 surge and the significant restrictions ordered by Mayor Breed today and Governor Newsom yesterday, the sheriff will use his discretion to temporarily postpone enforcement of these orders until there is a safer time to do so,” the Sheriff’s Department told the Examiner in a statement. “The sheriff will continue to enforce writs during this time if the court makes an explicit finding that health and safety mandates immediate enforcement.”

Groups including Eviction Defense Collaborative, Bay Area Legal Aid, Asian American Advancing Justice and Tenderloin Housing Clinic sent a letter to Miyamoto on Friday morning asking him to stop enforcing evictions. Though it has not yet been peer-reviewed, they cited a recent University of California Los Angeles study that found higher rates of coronavirus cases and deaths in states that lifted eviction moratoriums.

“We all see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cary Gold, director of litigation and policy at Eviction Defense Collaborative, told the Examiner. “But that tunnel is still long. To evict anyone in December, January and February when it’s cold and rainy under normal circumstances is cruel. Let’s add COVID to it, and you don’t have a pretty picture.”

Gold added that if evictions are happening, more housing needs to be available to prevent more homelessness, but The City is winding down its shelter-in-place hotel program that provided emergency shelter.

Crowley originally cited the lapse on Nov. 30 of a local moratorium on most evictions as the cause for enforcement of evictions resuming. California’s Assembly Bill 3088, an emergency law on eviction protections, prevents The City from imposing a new local moratorium on evictions from coronavirus-related non-payment until Feb. 1.

The bill sets statewide rules against nonpayment evictions so long as tenants pay 25 percent of rent from September by Jan. 31 and regularly attest to financial impacts from the pandemic with a specific form. Landlords may pursue unpaid rent in court after Feb. 1, when the bill largely sunsets.

Separately, the Board of Supervisors also passed legislation in October that prohibits all no-fault evictions until March, allowed under AB 3088. Eviction proceedings have still continued in San Francisco in cases involving violence, violent threats, health or safety, and Ellis Act evictions.

“We would be in contempt of court if we don’t follow court orders,” Crowley said. “We don’t make decisions about these things.”

Tenant advocates, however, remain confused about the timing of the Sheriff’s Department’s actions. Miyamoto in March announced he would not enforce evictions as The City’s coronavirus response took place and continued that policy until Nov. 12, which was an exception, despite certain eviction proceedings continuing in the courts.

“They already delayed court orders in months prior,” said Shanti Singh, Tenants Together spokesperson, before Miyamoto reversed course. “If they weren’t processing evictions then, I don’t know what their excuse is now. There’s no rhyme or reason to why they’re resuming them.”

There is also a federal moratorium on evictions from non-payment of rent that lasts through Dec. 31 to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The Judicial Council of California previously halted most eviction proceedings but repealed the temporary changes in September, leading to the state law that tenant advocates such as Singh criticized.

The exact reasons for the evictions that were enforced this week are not yet known; a spokesperson for the San Francisco Superior Court as well as the San Francisco Apartment Association, which represents landlords, did not respond by press time.

Supervisor Dean Preston, a former tenant attorney who authored the no-fault eviction ban, praised Miyamoto for instituting the original ban in March and urged him to consider it again.

“I think the simplified version is, really, with the state law allowing some eviction cases to moved forward, there are more cases landing on the sheriff’s desk to carry out,” Preston said. “That shift to AB 3088 opened the door to more nonpayment evictions.”

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