Planning Commission Vice President Dennis Richards listens during a Planning Commission meeting held at San Francisco's City Hall Thursday, January 12, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Planning commissioner pitched idea to curb illegal evictions — but supes ignored it

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/on-guard/

I like it when you folks are angry for a good cause. And hot damn: Readers were plenty hot under the collar after last week’s column on fraudulent owner move-in evictions.

For those who missed it, On Guard touched on the potential hundreds of fraudulent owner move-in evictions, in which landlords say, “Hey, I’ve got to move my mother/brother/whomever into your apartment. So you’re out!”

Then, the landlords pull a bait-and-switch. They rent the apartments to new tenants and raise the rent through the roof. It’s illegal to do intentionally, but few landlords are ever caught.

Folks sounded off on Twitter and Facebook, and a few emails I got were copied to the Board of Supervisors. One heartfelt reader, Deni Leonard, wrote to the supes, “A record of the hundreds the false evictions should be compiled for this hearing and those landlords lying and evicting be called to testify.”

One noteworthy call I received was from Dennis Richards, vice president of the Planning Commission. In 2015, Richards apparently floated a plan among supervisors to create a No-Fault Eviction Task Force to actually investigate evictions in The City.

No one bit, he said.

The problem has only gotten worse. Eviction information flows in, but they can’t track outcomes.
“The Rent Board needs active enforcement,” he said.

That’s not to fault anyone at the Rent Board, which, Richards said, does a great job with what it has. But San Francisco doesn’t equip them or the District Attorney’s Office with the necessary staff, funding or tools to investigate evictions.

Richards’ task force would require a new penalty model and would be more effective if it was “patrol-driven” rather than complaint-driven. For a fraudulent owner move-in eviction to even reach the Rent Board or the District Attorney’s Office, an evicted tenant would have to play personal private eye. That’s a no go, he said.

Instead, landlords should be required to submit more data, and employees of The City should investigate evictions.
“To get a parking permit [in San Francisco], you need to prove more [about yourself] than to evict someone,” Richards said.

Even if it was only one investigator, he said, that may be enough to deter scofflaw landlords, who right now know few tenants ever check up on their old apartments. The Entertainment Commission, for instance, “has a guy who goes to bars and clubs monitoring noise,” Richards said.

Nonetheless, some hurdles exist, like choosing a criminal or administrative fine-driven model of enforcement and fulfilling legal and administration requirements of implementation, like clearing “right of entry” authority for this new investigative body.

Even Richards’ own family was evicted under an owner-move-in.

In 2014, Richards’ niece was owner move-in evicted from her Inner Richmond apartment on 8th Avenue. Richards has a copy of the Notice of Termination of Tenancy her landlord had to fill out, identifying the landlord’s relative who would move into the apartment.

But on Monday, Richards conducted a public records search online. To his surprise, he found records showing the new tenant of his niece’s apartment is not the relative listed on her eviction form.

I went to Richards’ niece’s former apartment, and no one was home. Next door, I met the landlord’s wife, who said her sister now lives in the apartment. Her sister’s name was the one listed on the termination notice.

When I asked for some sort of written record to show this — a water bill, rent payment, anything with her sister’s name on it — she declined (rather pointedly!).

So even with that effort, I still don’t have a concrete answer. For Richards’ niece, and all those evicted like her, it’s tough to sleuth out if their evictions were fraudulent.

Richards’ plan may solve that. Supervisors take notice: You should call him.

***

Will another mustachioed man rise to power in the Mayor’s Office?

Rumors ran rampant among San Francisco’s political class last week that mayoral candidate Mark Leno may pick Supervisor Aaron Peskin to be his first chief of staff (should Leno win the 2019 mayor’s race, that is).

The political implications are almost as monumental as that big orange bridge spanning the Bay.

Steve Kawa, Mayor Ed Lee’s chief of staff, has long been rumored to be keeping “Da Mayor” Willie Brown’s ideals alive under the gilded dome. Stopping that legacy, and that ideology, is a threat downtown business interests wouldn’t take lightly.

Peskin couldn’t be reached for comment, but Leno squashed the idea flat.

“There’s absolutely no truth in it,” he said. “The two of us have talked about the fact of this rumor, and he laughed about it himself.”

As for how the rumor got started in the first place? Well, that remains a mystery, but speculating ain’t tough. Recall the campaign against Peskin’s 2015 supervisor run: Moderates painted Peskin as the mustache-twirling villain of San Francisco.

And attaching a bogeyman to the otherwise squeaky-clean and well-liked Leno would be the easiest way to take him down. Too bad for his opponents, the rumor seems to be just that.

At least, for now.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at Facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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