Activists protest outside Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)
Activists protest outside Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

By Isabell Angell and Grace Rubenstein

State lawmakers are jumping into San Francisco’s affordable housing crisis, trying to ease the crunch by targeting the controversial Ellis Act.

Two bills from San Francisco legislators — one each from state Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano — would allow cities to limit how landlords can use the law.

The Ellis Act, enacted by California in 1985, was intended to give landlords a way out of the rental business. But in San Francisco it’s been widely used to evict tenants to make way for condos.

Leno’s bill, introduced yesterday, would allow the city to prevent landlords from using the Ellis Act for five years after buying a property. Ammiano’s bill would allow cities to enact a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions when they don’t have the ratio of affordable housing required by law (most cities don’t).

“When you buy properties solely to evict long-term tenants, and to flip those at extraordinary prices, that is the wrong message,” Mayor Ed Lee said. “That is not what the Ellis Act was created for, and it’s certainly opposite of our values in this city.”

Ellis Act evictions in the city have tripled to more than 300 in the past year, and about half were initiated by owners who’d held the property for less than a year, according to Leno. “Many of these renters are seniors, disabled people and low-income families with deep roots in their communities and no other local affordable housing options available to them,” he said in a statement.

His bill has a broad coalition of support, from housing advocates to tech companies. But about two dozen small-property owners showed up at Leno’s announcement in Chinatown yesterday to protest the bill. They were led by Josephine Zhao, who’s been a landlord in the Sunset District for less than five years.

“If I get into problems with transferring to a different job or have to dispose of my properties somehow, I couldn’t do that,” she said. “I couldn’t get out of business, so what right is there left for us? We have to take care of tenants for the rest of their lives. Who’s taking care of us to the end of my life?”

Janan New, who heads the San Francisco Apartment Association, which represents landlords, said, “In our research, many owners have had to invoke the Ellis Act in order to move in a family member or caretaker in their home.”

City officials say the Leno bill is aimed at speculators looking to flip apartments into condos for higher profits.

  • Meatwad

    So if you’re a long term landlord and you can’t sell then I guess you just go bankrupt. I’m sure the bank will be nice to these tenants.

    • Jennifer Redwine

      The law specifically states less than 5 years. Do you really think that is long term??

    • An Nawn.

      The law that prevents landlords from using the Ellis Act for five years after buying a property would only apply if the landlord wanted to evict the current tenants, and convert the building to condos.

      Should someone buy an apartment building, and then go bankrupt, they can sell the building as an apartment building.

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