Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I Cannot Believe I Am Saying This

I am a renter. I am also an attorney who does a fair bit of work (most of it pro bono) for people in danger of being evicted. So, when I hear a new anti-eviction measure is in the works, my ears prick up.

For what I'm about to write, I am probably going to get pounded on by the other tenant's rights lawyers and tenants' activists.

That said, apparently the Board of Supervisors in the city has decided to try and kill three birds with one stone. The three birds being: the decreasing quantity of affordable rental housing in the city, the rate of condo conversions and the surge of evictions to create the right climate for condo conversions.

In case you don't know, here in San Francisco, in order for a building to go condo, it must be go through lottery process. Many would be conversions languish there for years as they wait for their number to get called. I'm not going to go into the process, but while its not permanent purgatory it can seem like that to the people who are on the list for the second and third times.

Anyways, apparently under the proposed new law if a building has a history of two or more evictions, then it is barred from the condo conversion lottery. Apparently, the wording of the proposed ordinance covers any buildings going back as far as 1999. Potentially, this means that a building that has changed hands, and is otherwise legitimately ready to enter the lottery, could be barred from the lottery because of the actions of a prior owner.

To my mind, this seems a little too draconian. The objective is good: prevent people from being evicted solely to clear the way for condo conversion. The problem is there are probably a number of building owners, especially in the two and three unit buildings in the avenues where there has been an eviction prior to the sale of the building. Once the new owners get around to converting, they are going to find a nasty little surprise for something that they did not do. Yes, they would benefit from it, but I'm not sure that this is an equitable solution.

On the other hand, two strike rule might be cutting the baby. However, in reading the proposed ordinance, I find it interesting that they do not mention unlawful evictions. Why only penalize what may be good faith evictions (say the tenant has refused to pay rent, or better, the tenant has burned down part of the unit)? I would think that if the landlord had committed an unlawful eviction or a forcible detainer, then they should get a ban from the condominium lottery.

Then there is another thing that this proposed law could run afoul of, namely takings issues. I am not an expert on this, but I predict someone, if this was to be signed by the Mayor, would challenge it on those grounds.

I think something is needed to slow the condo conversions in the city that are powered by evictions to clear the buildings. However, I do not think that this law goes far enough. The law I would like to see would include: penalties for unlawful evictions and forcible detainers; no entry into the lottery for five years if there is a history of evictions for good cause for five years; and no entry to the lottery for ten years if the evictions were of a protected person (in San Francisco that means some one over 60 who has resided in the unit for ten years, or is disabled and living in the unit for ten years or more or catastrophically ill and living in the unit for 10 years).

Not that the Board of Supervisors or Mayor Newsome is going to listen to me. But that is my idea. Everyone gets something.

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