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July 26, 2017

SF non-profits can now sue other people’s landlords over evictions

New law tries to put pressure on phony owner move-in evictions

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law on Tuesday that would, among other things, allow non-profit groups to sue local landlords that they allege commit fraudulent evictions.

It’s part of a package bill aimed at penalizing scofflaw owners who might abuse the city’s laws allowing for evictions in the event that the owner or relatives want to occupy the home themselves.

The San Francisco Tenants Union claims that unscrupulous landlords often use fake-out move-ins to clear out old tenants:

Many landlords seek to circumvent restrictions by giving tenants “advisory” or “warning” notices—letters saying, for example, “I’m writing to let you know that my daughter will be moving into your apartment next Spring…”

[…] Landlords are hoping the tenant will move out pursuant to such a “warning” and will then try to argue that the restrictions are not applicable since the tenants was not evicted but moved out “voluntarily.”

[…] OMI evictions can be fought on the grounds that the landlord […] has ulterior motives.

In 2016, NBC Bay Area claimed that nearly a quarter of owner move-ins are fraudulent.

That figure is based on 24 suspect cases out of a 100 the channel followed up on, which is not a large enough sample to draw conclusions about citywide behavior. But it’s still more bad apples than anyone would like.

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When implemented, the new rules passed Tuesday will, in part, demand:

  • “[Landlords] provide a declaration under penalty of perjury that the landlord intends to occupy the unit for principle place of residence of the landlord or landlord’s relative for at least 36 continuous months.”
  • “Extend from three years to five years the time period after an OMI during which a landlord who intends to re-rent the unit must first offer the unit to the displaced tenant.”
  • “Extend the statute of limitations for wrongful eviction claims, based on an unlawful OMI from one year to five years.”
  • “Authorize interested non-profit organizations to sue for wrongful evictions and collection of excess rent.”

That last one is of particular interest to groups like the San Francisco Tenants Union and Housing Rights Committee, giving them a tool to pursue action against suspect landlords on behalf of tenants who might not have the means to do it themselves.

It’s not clear how such cases would actually hold up in court. But as MissionLocal notes, just the danger of such a suit might provide a check on potential bad actors.

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