Apartment Association Launches Misleading Website against Ellis Act Reform

by Dean Preston on February 20, 2014

Responding to the growing momentum to reform the Ellis Act, the California Apartment Association has launched a bizarre website called Protect the Ellis Act. The website claims the Ellis Act is used by landlords to avoid bankruptcy and then has the audacity to paint the Ellis Act as a tenant protection law. If facts matter (and CAA is assuming they don’t in Sacramento), this website should cause opponents of Ellis Act reform to lose credibility with legislators.

The CAA website describes the Ellis Act as follows:

“The Ellis Act is state legislation that simply allows rental property owners to exit the rental market to avoid bankruptcy or to move into their own rental units.”

As CAA well knows, there’s no requirement that a property owner show they are using the Ellis Act to avoid bankruptcy or to move into their unit. Owners can use the Ellis Act to evict the entire building regardless of their financial solvency or intended use, a loophole that has been exploited by speculators who are the main users of the Ellis Act. Speculators buy rent-controlled buildings, use the Ellis Act to evict everyone, and then convert the property to uses other than rental housing.

The argument that landlords invoke the Ellis Act to avoid bankruptcy is pure fiction. I have worked on Ellis Act evictions for 13 years and have never heard of a landlord claiming that invoking the Ellis Act was needed to avoid bankruptcy. CAA should be asked by legislators to document their absurd claim.

Likewise, the statement that the Ellis Act exists to allow landlords to move into their properties is false. There is no requirement in the Ellis Act that a property owner who evicts under the Act move into the property. Landlords that want to move into their homes can do so through “owner move in” eviction provisions that exist in every local law that regulates evictions. They don’t need the Ellis Act for that and that’s not what the Ellis Act is for. CAA knows that.

CAA’s website also accuses Ellis Act reform advocates of trying to prevent landlords from selling property: “Certain politicians and special Interest groups are gearing up to change the state Ellis Act and prevent rental property owners from selling their buildings, even if it means they go bankrupt.” No politician or group has proposed changes to the Ellis act that would prevent landlords from selling property. To the contrary, critics of the Ellis Act have long maintained that the Act is unnecessary because rental property owners who are tired of being landlords should sell their property to a new landlord, rather that evict everyone in the building under the Ellis Act.

The strangest part of the website is the attempt to recast the Ellis Act as a tenant protection law. The homepage headline blares: “The Ellis Act Protects Tenants.” Readers are to believe that a law that allows mass eviction of tenants and is opposed by every tenant group in California is actually a tenant protection law. Presumably, the homepage photo of the smiling family outside their home depicts a cheerful bunch of tenants thrilled to have been evicted under the Ellis Act. The website is offensive and completely ignores the human misery created by the displacement of long-term tenants, including seniors, families and persons with disabilities.

It is disappointing that the California Apartment Association has chosen this path. The group represent landlords. Yet with this anti-reform campaign CAA is advocating not for landlords, but for the interests of speculators who are preying on rental housing with no intention of being landlords. CAA repeatedly states on the website that the “solution” is more rental housing. Meanwhile, the website is designed to make sure speculators can continue to remove rental housing from the market through Ellis Act evictions.

The time for Ellis Act reform is now. Rather than try to rewrite the Act through a misleading website, CAA should join the effort to rewrite the Ellis Act itself so that it can no longer be used by speculators to profit through unfair evictions.

Dean Preston is the founder and Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. For more information about Tenants Together, visit www.TenantsTogether.org

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