At a time when tenant advocates in The City are calling evictions an epidemic, the San Francisco Rent Board's recently released annual report for fiscal year 2012-13 indicates that overall petition filings have increased considerably from past years.
The driving factor?
“The economy,” said the board's executive director, Delene Wolf. “Landlords have more money to spend on renovating their properties, so properties are being turned over. And when landlords raise rents, tenants complain about habitability issues.”
Overall, the number of petitions filed with the board increased 17 percent to 1,522 this year from 1,389 the previous fiscal year. With the exception of petitions from utility-paying landlords who charge tenants for any increase in service within a year (utility “pass-through” petitions), the total number of petitions is the highest in 11 years, the report shows.
The most striking finding, according to Wolf, is that landlord petitions rose 37 percent in the last fiscal year while tenant petitions dropped 4 percent.
“It's anomalous,” she said. “Usually when landlords are filing petitions for rent increases, then tenants tend to also file or come in and get educated about their rights and then file. Whereas they don't rock the boat if rent is not up.”
Ted Gullicksen, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, attributed the disparity in part to tenants' fear of evictions, which he and other tenant advocate groups claim are at a crisis level.
The annual report shows eviction notices filed with the board increased 36 percent from 1,421 to 1,934, and the number of units withdrawn from the rental market under the Ellis Act increased 59 percent, from 121 the previous fiscal year to 192.
Meanwhile, tenant reports of alleged wrongful eviction decreased by 13 percent from 570 to 497.
“In most cases, they cannot be helpful to the tenant and in fact can be harmful,” Gullicksen said of wrongful eviction reports.
On the steps of City Hall on Thursday, tenant advocates rallied around a poster-size “Eviction Crisis” line graph they created using Ellis Act filing numbers from June 2010 to this year. Since May 2012, when an Ellis Act eviction notice was served to the Lee family, whose story has reinvigorated public attention on the issue, 281 units have been subject to notices citywide.
“That is just the bottom of the curve. These other evictions are still coming down the pipeline,” said Gen Fujioka, policy director of the Chinatown Community Development Center. “It's very clear that we're going to hit 300 by the end of this year and it doesn't look like it's slowing down.”
Together, the advocates pitched legislative reforms that include significant increases in relocation benefits for displaced tenants and requiring the Planning Department to approve the conversion of residential rental units into tenancy-in-common units. Another measure — approval for mergers or demolition in units subject to “no-fault” evictions within the past 10 years — was adopted by the Planning Commission the same day and will go before the Board of Supervisors.
Filing gaffe leads to eviction victory
The Ellis Act eviction of longtime Castro resident Jeremy Mykaels was quashed in court on Wednesday, but it was a victory by error of sorts.
That's because San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay held that the Ellis Act eviction notice Mykaels' landlord filed with the San Francisco Rent Board stated his rent incorrectly — $100 more than Mykaels paid per month.
“I didn't think it was going to be enough to do anything,” the 63-year-old tenant said. “I thought we were just buying time to appeal, to be honest, but I'm certainly happy and relieved.”
Mykaels, who has lived in the Castro for 40 years, including 17 years at 460 Noe St., received his Ellis Act eviction notice in September 2012 and had a year to vacate because he classifies as elderly. The law does not prohibit his landlord from filing a new Ellis Act eviction at any time.
Steve Collier, Mykaels' lawyer and a staff attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said it was likely his client would have won the case even had it not been for the landlord misreporting the rent amount.
“We had other arguments and we still have other arguments,” Collier said. “It's just that the court chose that one to rule on.”