San Francisco Supervisor David Campos has introduced legislation aimed at regulating buyout agreements between landlords and their tenants.
Before we get into some of the details, let me say first that I know a little something about buyouts from personal experience: About two years ago, a landlord offered me money to vacate my flat in San Francisco.
Even before I received the buyout offer, I had concluded that, for a variety of reasons, my rent was simply too high to sustain much longer. For me, accepting the offer was a no-brainer — and extra incentive to make the jump as quickly as possible.
My landlord and I drew up a contract and, after finding the city’s dog-friendly options depressingly limited, I moved to the East Bay. Under the agreement, I would receive the money as soon as my landlord sold the two-unit building, which I assumed would happen quickly in Noe Valley’s red-hot real estate market.
I was mistaken — but more on that later.
Tenant rights groups report that for every eviction in the city right now, there are as many as seven buyouts. But it’s hard to say for sure how accurate that estimate is because the city doesn’t keep track.
Campos says if San Francisco is serious about understanding the scope of tenant displacement, it needs to regulate buyouts, just as it does evictions. Furthermore, he says, tenants who agree to buyouts should be aware of their rights so that no one moves out unnecessarily.
“I think it’s really an effort on the part of the city to regulate something that is completely unregulated right now,” Campos says.
Campos says the legislation he’s proposing would:
- Require landlords offering buyouts to give their tenants information about their rights well before negotiations begin.
- Require landlords to submit any written agreement or material terms of an oral agreement to the city’s rent board.
- Grant the rent board power to initiate administrative action against landlords who fail to comply with either of the above regulations.
- Give tenants the right to initiate civil action against landlords who begin buyout negotiations without first informing the tenant of his or her rights.
- Require the rent board to post buyout agreements on its website.
- Impose the same condo conversion prohibitions that are already in place for no-fault evictions.
The San Francisco Apartment Association, which advocates on behalf of landlords, opposes the idea.
“We just believe that two individuals have a right to make a contract between one another,” says Janan New, the association’s executive director.
“If the legislation does pass, our biggest concern is paying member dollars to sue the city under the First Amendment. And the unfortunate ramification for taxpayers in San Francisco is that they’re going to have to pay for another lawsuit,” she adds.
In other words, stay tuned for what could shape up to be a big battle over buyouts at City Hall.
Now, back to my own story.
I mentioned earlier that I believed that my landlord’s property would sell quickly, and that I would receive the promised payout within months of my move. Perhaps because my downstairs neighbors refused to budge, perhaps because the property itself was a fixer-upper, there were no acceptable offers. He gave up and took the property off the market.
Yikes, I thought. My buyout contract hinged on the assumption that the house would sell. My landlord, an attorney, had no legal reason to cough up the promised payout. For all I knew, it could be generations before the property changed hands.
Lucky for me, the landlord had a heart — not to mention a big infusion of market rate rent from my old apartment’s new tenants. About two months ago, he left a message on my cellphone.
“I have a check for you,” he said.