Tenants find stability under Eviction Protections 2.0


The rent is too damn high!

That may still be true, but at least the evictions aren’t too damn high.

The latest numbers from the San Francisco Rent Board show a steady two-year decline in filed evictions since 2015. What’s behind the decline, you may ask?

Did landlords become less greedy? Have rent prices cooled? With an average two bedroom rental price of $3,400, according to Curbed, I think we can safely say no.

What has happened, say tenant advocates, is a handy suite of protections passed in 2015 are kicking in. Eviction Protections 2.0, the wonky rewrite of San Francisco’s rent-control law, is working.

“Stronger rent projections led to an immediate drop in these kinds of evictions,” said Gen Fujioka, of the Chinatown Community Development Center, a nonprofit housing group.

So-called “nuisance” evictions — attributed to actionable offenses hanging laundry outside the window or leaving shoes in the hallway — and evictions for breach of lease when bringing in new roommates are measurably down from two years ago.

Between October 2013 and September 2015, there were 4,304 evictions filed with the Rent Board, 2,200 of which were nuisance- or roommate-related. After Eviction Protections 2.0 passed, total evictions have dropped to 4,102 filed evictions between October 2015 and September 2017.

While a difference of 202 evictions may not sound like much, the devil is in the details: 635 fewer evictions were filed in the categories targeted by Eviction Protections 2.0. However, other types of evictions actually increased during this period, by about 200.

That increase was anomalous, Fujioka said, and represented about 200 temporary evictions (for tenants invited to later return) at Parkmerced, as improvements were made to their housing.

Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, also cautioned that landlords tend to search for new tools to evict tenants when the old ones stop working.

“The landlord wants to find a way to get you out,” Sherburn-Zimmer said. “That isn’t as easy anymore.”

Sherburn-Zimmer was replete with examples of how the roommate clause, in particular, was once targeted by landlords before: A grandmother, whose two adult grandchildren moved in with her to care for her health, was served with an eviction notice for breach of lease after they moved in.

A single-room-occupancy hotel on 2 Emery Lane also served as a cautionary tale, as Chinatown residents faced evictions for hanging their laundry out of their windows — a practice that predates San Francisco’s founding.

But Eviction Protections 2.0, authored by Supervisor Jane Kim, also paints a keen political lesson: Who sits on the Board of Supervisors matters, as does advocacy.

At the time of the law’s passage, Supervisor Julie Christensen, an appointee of Mayor Ed Lee, was facing sharp critique from the left for her record (or lack thereof) on tenants rights. With an electoral battle with now-Supervisor Aaron Peskin looming, Christensen was forced to vote in favor of the protections.

The highly controversial roommate provision passed 7-4 — swung also, in part, by Supervisor Malia Cohen, who sided with the progressives (and, really, common sense). The complete legislative package then passed unanimously.

Facing pressure from small property owners, Mayor Ed Lee left the tenant protection law unsigned, a symbolic critique — though he did not veto it.

Now, two years later, Fujioka said, “We’re still not at the [eviction] levels we need to be.”

But it’s a start.

* * *

Speaking of evictions, a coalition of tenants rights advocates on Tuesday took the first step toward creating a ballot initiative to provide a right to legal counsel for victims of evictions in San Francisco.

It’s similar to the right to legal counsel in criminal court; instead of public defenders, the legal counsel would be structured by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

Deepa Varma, of the San Francisco Tenants Union, told me she’s seen many cases fall through the cracks in her time as a tenant attorney — and it’s heartbreaking.

“It happened every week,” she said.

“[An attorney is] a prohibitive cost for most tenants,” Varma added. “If someone could afford that much, they’d own a house.”

That hurdle leads to tenants taking buyouts for fear of eviction, Varma said, even when the law is on their side. Without representation, tenants are often in the dark about their rights.

The measure needs at least 9,485 valid signatures by Feb. 5, 2018 to qualify for the June 2018 ballot, according to the coalition of tenant groups who aim to pass it.

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.

Editor’s Note: Deepa Varma’s title was changed to reflect that the Tenants Union is a collective.

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