Momentum Builds for Ellis Act Reform

by Randy Shaw on April 1, 2014

A week before the first Senate Committee hearing on San Francisco’s effort to stop speculator evictions under the Ellis Act finds prospects for passage increasing.

On April 8, the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee holds the first hearing on Mark Leno’s SB1439, which allows San Francisco to impose a five year holding period before owners invoke the Ellis Act. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will be attending the hearing, along with a delegation of supporters.

Weak Opposition Response

Landlord groups usually play possum on pro-tenant legislation, waiting in the bushes until the last days or even hours before a floor vote. This serves two purposes. First, it can create a false sense of security among tenant backers, who refrain from intensive mobilizing and lobbying because the opposition is not there. Second, it enables legislators to cast negative votes without previously announcing a public position that could get them in trouble with voters.

But even assuming that the full-fledged speculator attack on SB 1439 has yet to be launched, early signs confirm that in a booming real estate market, few property owners are up in arms over the measure. It speaks to the fact that a small sliver of the real estate market is reaping profits from economic terrorism against a city’s most vulnerable tenants.

To date, opponents have marshalled weak claims against the bill.

Dean Preston of Tenants Together has previously detailed the California Apartment Association’s (CAA) astonishingly misleading website against the bill. The “Protect the Ellis Act website said Ellis simply allows landlords to avoid bankruptcy or to move into their own rental units; a patently false assertion that does nothing to justify the speculator practice of buying buildings and invoking Ellis almost immediately.

On March 25, 2014, the CAA wrote a letter to Leno opposing SB 1439 in which its top argument is that the measure would “force property owners into bankruptcy.” None of the CAA arguments explain why the state should continue to allow speculators to buy a building on Monday and then “go out of the rental business” on Tuesday, a practice the Leno measure would stop.

Opponents of Ellis reform also have lost their three leading allies in the State Senate. Rod Wright was convicted of felony perjury, Rod Calderon has been indicted, and Leland Yee was led off in handcuffs last week. With all three suspended from office, the real estate speculators have little time to find new champions.

It’s also worth noting that on March 17 progressive tenant supporter Toni Adkins was elected Assembly Speaker, replacing the more real estate industry friendly John Perez. And unlike the days when Leland Yee used his Westside legislative seat to oppose tenants, current Assemblymember Phil Ting spoke at the February 24 press conference announcing introduction of the Ellis reform legislation.

Endorsements

If you are part of a group—-any group, large or small- that has yet to send a letter of support for SB 1439, the time is now. Email support letters to Leno’s senior staff, Barry Steinhart, at Barry.Steinhart@sen.ca.gov. Or mail to Senator Mark Leno
State Capitol, Room 5100, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Support from small and large businesses, merchants associations, developers, and those employed in the trades are particularly helpful to refute claims that Ellis Act reform is “anti-business” or “anti-development.” The San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council has already sent a strong endorsement letter to Senator Mark DeSaulnier the Chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation & Housing that hears SB 1439 on April 8.

The Council’s Secretary/Treasurer Michael Theriault has been a highly visible advocate of Ellis reform. This is significant because Governor Brown vetoed an inclusionary housing bill last year because he claimed it would impede development. With the Building Trades and the tech industry backing SB 1439, opponents cannot successfully attack the measure as anti-development or anti-business.

The momentum is greater than ever to once and for all prevent speculators from misusing the Ellis Act. The legislative battle has just begun, but those opposing throwing seniors and other longterm vulnerable tenants out of their homes have to feel good about the bill’s progress so far.

And reform backers will feel even better on April 2 when Tenant Together releases a new study on the Ellis Act. You can read about it that day in Beyond Chron.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.

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