Report: SF sees spike in evictions based on low-fault issues

Evictions on the rise — no-fault and at-fault — is nothing new in San Francisco, but a report released Tuesday highlights a recent spike in those considered low-fault, spurned by tenant actions such as cooking late at night, having a documented service animal and leaving vehicles outside parking lines.

The second annual eviction report by the Eviction Defense Collaborative, a nonprofit law firm based in The City, like the inaugural report, shows that vulnerable populations are a continued target in eviction lawsuits.

The group of about a dozen lawyers prepared responses to 2,003 eviction lawsuits involving more than 4,000 tenants in 2013, noting there was a “huge increase” in low-fault or pre-textual evictions in which landlords claimed to have a valid reason for evicting tenants but the grounds were considered speculative or untrue, Executive Director Tyler Macmillan said. In addition, more violation notices and pre-lawsuit paperwork were filed, this year's report found.

“What was startling to us this year was how many of those fringe, or low-fault, evictions actually became lawsuits,” Macmillan said. “The lawyers actually alleged that behavior to be evictable and so that was really surprising to see landlords willing to roll the dice in cases that were clearly losers.”

Drawn from staff interviews, as well as San Francisco Superior Court, San Francisco Rent Board and San Francisco Tenants Union data, the report did not have the number of such low-fault cases landlords actually lost, which is a challenge to track, according to Macmillan.

The data did, however, indicate how vulnerable tenants continue to be disproportionately displaced by eviction lawsuits. Black households represented 29 percent of those evicted while only making up 6 percent of The City's population. Of households sued for eviction, 88 percent were very low-income, living off $36,950 per year or less. And 52 percent of households that sued over eviction included at least one person with a disability.

“This story of increasing 'low-fault' evictions is one that impacts some of San Francisco's most vulnerable communities and ultimately threatens the diversity that makes San Francisco so unique,” the report concludes.

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