Major Eviction Defense Legislation Hits Board

by Casey Mills on April 25, 2006

The next front in the battle against evictions will open up Wednesday, as Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s legislation to limit the use of the Ellis Act and other no-fault evictions comes before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee. Currently, all buildings where a no-fault eviction occurred remain eligible for conversion into condominiums. Peskin’s legislation aims to change that by prohibiting any sites where multiple evictions or the eviction of a senior, disabled or catastrophically ill person occurred from ever entering the city’s lottery for condo conversion. With victory a strong likelihood at the Board, the real question remains whether or not Mayor Gavin Newsom will veto it – and, if he does, how its probable appearance on this November’s ballot would affect his public image.

Peskin’s legislation represents the latest in an increasingly heated public debate over the merits of using the Ellis Act and other types of evictions as a path to homeownership.

Ellis Act evictions in particular have driven the debate. Property owners can currently use the Ellis Act to evict tenants living in their buildings by claiming they wish to exit the rental business.

The units in the buildings are then sold off as TICs, a type of shared home ownership. TIC owners can only escape this shared ownership by converting their units to condos. However, San Francisco caps the number of conversions allowed per year at 200, and chooses whose buildings will be allowed to convert through a lottery.

Tomorrow, the Board will consider preventing certain TICs from entering that lottery. Should they approve the new legislation, any building where multiple evictions occurred or where certain protected tenants were evicted would never be allowed to become condos.

The proposal comes on the heels of a nasty fight over less far-reaching eviction defense legislation sponsored by Supervisor Chris Daly. The Board passed two pieces of his legislation: one would have required a hearing at the Planning Commission for buildings where evictions occurred to be allowed to convert to condos, the other would have required realtors to disclose the eviction history of buildings they’re trying to sell.

Newsom vetoed both proposals, prompting tenant activists to place the disclosure provision on this June’s ballot. After a resounding endorsement by the city’s Democratic Party and signals from the Mayor that he will not campaign against it, it appears Proposition B has a solid chance at winning at the polls. Should the measure pass with a strong majority, it puts Newsom in the unenviable position of being on the record as severely out of step with San Francisco voters regarding tenant issues.

Now, with much stronger eviction defense legislation headed to a Board likely to grant its approval, Newsom will face another tough decision. Should he choose to veto Peskin’s legislation, not only will the Mayor face another round of condemnation from tenant activists, but he will also face another uncomfortable situation during the November election.

Some political insiders believe Newsom may choose not to veto the proposal should it pass in the hopes of avoiding another fight with tenants. Others, however, can’t imagine the Mayor contradicting himself by killing two relatively minor eviction defense proposals, then approving a major one.

Either way, in the upcoming weeks the Board will have yet another opportunity to tackle the dramatic consequences of evictions. In particular, they may be able to severely limit Ellis Act evictions, which in recent years have swept across the city and harmed long-term tenants, seniors and disabled people the hardest.

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