Resolution Aims to Stop Enforcement of Ellis Act Evictions

by Casey Mills on July 25, 2006

The Board of Supervisors will consider today another way to end the steady stream of Ellis Act evictions sweeping San Francisco in recent months. The resolution urges the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, the agency in charge of physically removing evicted tenants who refuse to leave their homes, to stop helping landlords extract those tenants evicted by the Ellis Act. Taking a cue from recent legislation passed by the Board forbidding city employees from helping INS investigate the immigrant status of San Francisco residents, tenant activists hope the resolution will play two roles: as a last-ditch way for Ellis Act victims to keep their homes, and as a way to send a message to the state and nation that the city will not enforce unjust laws.

The Ellis Act, a state law allowing landlords to evict tenants and then sell their units off as tenancy-in-commons (TICs), must ultimately be enforced by the city’s Sheriff. While most victims of the Act do not wait until they’re physically removed before vacating the premises, if a tenant were to refuse to leave, landlords can request that the Sheriff’s Department make them do so.

Tomorrow, the Board will hear a resolution co-sponsored by Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Ross Mirkarimi asking the Sheriff’s Department to deny these requests. It also asks the Rent Board not to provide any assistance to such landlords.

Inspiration for the resolution came in part from recent legislation passed by the Board that prevents city employees from helping federal immigration officials in any effort to research the immigration status of city residents. Supervisors passed the ordinance both to slow or prevent the deportation of illegal immigrants living in San Francisco, and to send a message to the nation that U.S. immigrant policy remains immoral and unjust.

While the immigrant legislation was binding due to the Board’s ability to control the city’s employees, today’s resolution will not be. Because the Sheriff’s Department remains primarily under the jurisdiction of the State rather than the city, it will be up to Sheriff Michael Hennessey himself to decide whether to comply with the Board’s request that he not enforce the Ellis Act. Right now, that doesn’t appear likely.

“I don’t wish to be held in contempt of court, and failing to carry out court orders usually goes in that direction,” said Hennessey. “I’m supportive of spirit behind issue, but I don’t intend to violate court orders.”

Should Hennessey change his mind, tenant advocates have already declared they’re in contact with tenants willing to test the legislation soon. They believe such tests would have an immediate effect, both by giving these tenants a last chance at saving their homes, and by prompting media attention sure to send state legislators with the ability to alter or eliminate the Ellis Act a powerful message.

“We want to send a strong message to Sacramento that San Francisco simply refuses to obey the Ellis Act,” said the Tenants’ Union’s Ted Gullicksen. “We think we can have some impact on letting legislators know that we don’t like this law, and that it hurts the community to the point where local officials are not following the law.”

Whether tenants will have the chance to make that impact, however, remains unclear.

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