SF evictions under Ellis Act often followed property sales

The ink was barely dry on the deed when the new owners of 1648 Beach St. decided to do something about the legal one-bedroom apartment on the premises. The stately, two-story single-family home steps from Marina Green sold for $2.8 million after only three weeks on the market.

Then three months later, the newly minted landlords decided to get out of the landlord business with an Ellis Act eviction, according to records.

They were one of 32 landlords in The City who within two years of purchasing real estate with rental units used the controversial state law that allows property owners to get out of the rental business.

Ellis Acts are rare – just 6.6 percent of all evictions in San Francisco in a yearlong period from 2012 to 2013 were Ellis ousters, according to the Rent Board's most-recent annual report. And despite such evictions being far down from the early 2000s, they have spiked in the past several years.

But their ability to allow a property owner to remove rent-controlled units from The City's stock makes them a flashpoint in the landlord-tenant struggle.

Property owner advocates say the Ellis Act's power is overstated and that the name serves as a convenient bogeyman when tenant-friendly politicians are looking for votes.

However, at least some landlords appear to be using the law if not to speculate then to quickly change their just-purchased rental properties to something else: 16 property owners filed Ellis Act evictions within the same year of purchase, records show.

Recently, Mayor Ed Lee and other civic leaders called for Ellis Act evictions to somehow be restricted. That would require action at the state level.

Staff for members of The City's delegation to the state Legislature declined comment late Friday, but state Sen. Mark Leno told The San Francisco Examiner last week that the law, intended for longtime property owners intent on leaving the rental business, is being used by non-landlords. He added that state legislation would aim to clarify that the law is for landlords, not real estate speculators.

That's long been the contention of tenant advocates, and it appears to be at least partially true.

Ellis Act ousters

Ellis Act evictions were filed on 113 properties during a yearlong period from spanning 2012 and 2013 (some of them twice).

113 Properties whose tenants were served with an Ellis Act eviction by their landlords

32 Landlords served their tenants with an Ellis Act eviction within two years of buying the property

16 Landlords filed an Ellis Act eviction the same year

At least 8 landlords filed an Ellis Act eviction within three months

4 Landlords who filed Ellis Act evictions but whose names have yet to be recorded as the property owners

Sources: San Francisco Rent Board, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder

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