Renters, listen up. Deceitful landlords, beware.
Sweeping housing reforms are now officially law in San Francisco and aim to crack down on wrongful evictions. The new safeguards and restrictions come as a direct result of a series of NBC Bay Area investigative reports, which exposed what appeared to be widespread fraud that forced innocent families out of their homes.
Mayor Ed Lee signed the ordinance into law Thursday.
“This legislation will offer critical additional tenant protections for our residents,” Lee said in statement provided to the Investigative Unit. “Signing this into law will help keep more longtime San Francisco residents within their homes.”
The new law centers around owner move-in evictions, which provide landlords a legal path to evict tenants so long as the landlord or, in some cases, landlord’s relatives intend to move into the home for at least three years following the eviction. Little or no enforcement of that requirement, however, has led to widespread abuse, according to a series of NBC Bay Area investigative reports beginning last year.
“People are blatantly breaking the law,” said Supervisor Mark Farrell, who spoke to the Investigative Unit in April when the board was still debating the details of the reform plan. "This type of behavior is outrageous and we don’t want to see it continue.
Farrell authored the ordinance, which was one of two competing plans to tackle wrongful owner move-in evictions. The second ordinance, pushed heavily by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Jane Kim, was largely melded into Farrell's plan after supervisors managed to reach a compromise that garnered unanimous support from the board.
A Summary of San Francisco’s Owner Move-In Eviction Law:
- Landlords must sign a declaration, under penalty of perjury, stating they intend to live in the unit for at least 36 continuous months.
- If landlord moves attempts to rent out unit within five years of the owner move-in eviction, the landlord must first offer the unit back to the evicted tenant at the same rent price paid prior to the eviction. If that tenant declines, any new tenants cannot be charged more than that previous rent rate within five years of the owner move-in eviction.
- Landlords who attempt to charge new tenants more than the maximum allowed rent within five years of the owner move-in eviction are subject to a misdemeanor conviction.
- Each year, for five years following an owner move-in eviction, the Rent Board will mail a notice to the home informing the tenant of the maximum allowable rent. If a new tenant is charged a higher rent, that tenant can file paperwork with the Rent Board to have their rent reduced and collect the surplus rent that was previously paid to the landlord.
- The statute of limitations for claims regarding wrongful owner move-in evictions is extended from one year to five years.
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The Investigative Unit spent six months canvassing San Francisco, going door-to-door, to expose wrongful evictions. The team obtained every owner move-in eviction notice filed with the San Francisco Rent Board in 2014, more than 300 in all, and set out to see how many landlords or their family members are actually living in those units. Ultimately, the Investigative Unit was able to interview tenants at more than 100 addresses where an owner move-in eviction took place. In 24 cases, nearly one in four, the landlord or family member was not living in the home. Instead, there was often a new tenant living there, paying significantly more rent than the previous tenant.
“This is now the most expensive place in the United States of America, and that has given incentive for speculators to unceremoniously kick people out in any way that they can,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin during a June interview with the Investigative Unit. “Until NBC Bay Area came along and actually gave us some hard numbers, City Hall wasn’t doing its job.”
Since the initial NBC Bay Area investigation aired in November, lawmakers have repeatedly credited the Investigative Unit for exposing the serious need for reform.
“While they are not a city agency, I should … recognize and thank the NBC Investigative Unit for taking the time to do the work that I had hoped we would be doing,” Supervisor Jane Kim said during a committee hearing in April.
The new reforms are scheduled to take effect by Jan. 1.