San Francisco to provide right to counsel for tenants facing eviction

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OPINION San Francisco is the second most unequal city in the nation. Working and middle-income people and families are being forced to flee the city they love. Between 2010 and 2013, Ellis Act evictions alone increased by 170 percent.

In 2013, a total of 3,662 San Franciscans were served with eviction notices. Over 1,000 of these tenants went to court without lawyers. According to court statistics, 90 percent of landlords hire attorneys, while only 10 percent of tenants have a lawyer. This inequity has made it more difficult for tenants to adequately assert their rights.

To level the playing field, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee just designated $1 million to fund 10 nonprofit housing attorneys to perform full scope legal services for any tenant facing eviction in San Francisco. We teamed up with tenant rights organizers and attorneys to fight for this budget allocation in order to address San Francisco's affordability crisis. This funding will ensure that all San Franciscans facing eviction will receive legal assistance if they need it.

Crucial to ensuring economic diversity in this city is protecting our rent-controlled housing stock. Every time a tenant is evicted from his or her apartment, we lose another unit of price-controlled housing that is safe from the current astronomical market rental and sale prices. The board has passed local legislation that helps tenants remain in the city after an eviction, including Sup. Campos' legislation increasing relocation assistance amounts after an Ellis Act eviction.

However, only the state Legislature has the power to change the law in a manner that would make a large impact on the frequency of evictions. Sadly, last week, Sen. Mark Leno's bill that would have curbed Ellis Act evictions died in the Assembly Housing Committee. Leno said he will not further pursue the bill this year. Therefore, we must continue to act locally to deal with our housing crisis.

Legal representation for tenants is a crucial part of the fight against displacement. Several academic studies have shown that tenants are five to 10 times more likely to stay in their homes after receiving an eviction notice if they are represented by an attorney throughout the eviction process. Furthermore, having an attorney protects the tenants against abusive practices by landlords.

Tenant advocates report that illegal harassment by landlords is on the rise in an effort to force out tenants without having to resort to the formal eviction process. It is common practice for landlords to attempt to "buy out" tenants by offering a monetary sum to vacate a unit outside of the legal process. Vulnerable tenants, including immigrants and tenants who live in Section 8 housing, are often forced out of their units because they do not understand or assert their rights. Even if the action results in the tenants leaving, an attorney can help tenants avoid having an eviction on their record, which makes it much more difficult for the tenants to rent again.

We are fortunate to have 14 excellent nonprofit organizations in San Francisco that provide no- or low-cost legal services to tenants. However, these organizations have been woefully underfunded and do not have sufficient staff to address this housing crisis. The budget allocation of $1 million to fund 10 additional tenant attorneys will have a profound impact on San Francisco's housing crisis. It will also make San Francisco one of the first cities in the country to provide a right to legal assistance to tenants facing eviction. Just as the Constitution allows an attorney for a person accused of a crime, a person threatened with the loss of his or her home should have legal assistance. San Francisco can and should lead the way when it comes to providing legal assistance to those tenants who need it.

Comments

be careful. while there are many deadbeat and scummy landlords, there are also tenants who make it a profession of working the system. not paying rent for months at a time, trumping up fake habitability charges that the city of san francisco building inspectors and health dept inspectors find are just not true... thrown away smoke detectors and carbonmonoxide detectors, plain harrassment, wasted utilities...

justice is TWO SIDED and blind. this article is NOT! the board of supervisors is NOT.

let's not forget landlords can be good and of good service and will. just as tenants can be

how about FREE legal representation for landlords. when a tenant has a frivolous case just to prolong living in an apartment for free, there should be some recourse for landlords who spend 5000-15000 on average for eviction processing by an attorney... how about a fund to pay attorney's fees when landlords win....

Posted by Guest on Jul. 08, 2014 @ 11:20 pm

And certainly not with tax money they have taken only from property owners. It's like using your money to fund the other side's lawyer.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 09, 2014 @ 10:46 am

Did you say lawyer? I know a savvy lawyer in Walnut Creek who knows how to multi-task in spite of his mediocre Avvo rating.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 11:21 am

Find another hobby.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 11:31 am

The property owners didn't actually make money out of thin air, they get it from charging the tenants more than they spend in building costs. Also most tenants pay taxes too, but I guess your entitled to your opinion that tenants don't pay taxes.

Posted by guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 1:28 am

but it seems that only the tenants get the benefit of those taxes.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 2:32 am

I think you meant to say "how about a fund to pay attorneys fees if the landlord wins" not "when the landlord wins"

I don't think their are lots of scummy landlords. Often, it's not even the landlord who has the choice of being god or bad and they're responsible to the building owner for taking the highest profit course of action. It's up to the courts and the public to make sure the landlords can't profit from shortcuts to the tenants rights. So, in my opinion, not a bunch of scummy deadbeat landlords, just a lot of greedy landlords who do a cost and risk estimate before deciding how good of service they absolutely must provide to avoid financial cost from the courts of non-compliance.

Also,

I believe any tenant working the system like you hypothesized can be counter sued for legal fees if the tenant suit is frivolous. So you already have what your asking for, you just need to use it. There's a reasonable level of proof you have to show to win a verdict in a frivolous lawsuit case. That's to prevent landlords from abusing the law to get free defense lawyers to pay for the most common scenario's where the landlord addresses the problem just after the lawsuit is filed, but before the inspectors show up.

Posted by Steve Whetstone on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 12:49 am

I think you meant to say "how about a fund to pay attorneys fees if the landlord wins" not "when the landlord wins"

I don't think their are lots of scummy landlords. Often, it's not even the landlord who has the choice of being god or bad and they're responsible to the building owner for taking the highest profit course of action. It's up to the courts and the public to make sure the landlords can't profit from shortcuts to the tenants rights. So, in my opinion, not a bunch of scummy deadbeat landlords, just a lot of greedy landlords who do a cost and risk estimate before deciding how good of service they absolutely must provide to avoid financial cost from the courts of non-compliance.

Also,

I believe any tenant working the system like you describe can be counter sued for legal fees if the tenant suit is frivolous. So you already have what your asking for, you just need to use it. There's a reasonable level of proof you have to show to win a verdict in a frivolous lawsuit case. That's to prevent landlords from abusing the law to get free defense lawyers to pay for the most common scenario's where the landlord addresses the problem just after the lawsuit is filed, but before the inspectors show up.

Posted by guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 12:54 am

Privately owned property is not "our" housing stock.

It may be subject to rent control laws, but that is precisely why much of it is being steadily converted to owner-occupied housing.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 09, 2014 @ 9:58 am

if owners want to occupy their own units to provide housing for themselves, I think that would be great. Owners should probably be required by law to live in the buildings and experience for theme selves the problems. (or enjoy the benefits, if they are good landlords)

When demand for apartments go up, through no actions of the landlord, does it seem right the landlord should make a larger profit? Landlords don't spend more money on maintaining the building when property values go up, so why should they take more profit from the tenants?

It's interesting to note that if a landlord chooses to evict everyone in a large building it would increase the number for people who need a place to sleep so the newly homeless will have no choice but to pay the other landlords more to try and get a bed in the remaining places. This means that as a group landlords profit from creating scarcity and destroying opportunities for affordable housing of mothers, kids, and anyone else.

Posted by guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 1:22 am

If the city discourages the provision of rental housing and the building of new housing, then there can only be one result" fewer homes and more expensive homes.

You cannot blame property owners for refusing to rent out their homes when the city has passed so many laws that reduce the profitability and flexibility of doing that.

Price controls always suppress supply except in the very short-term.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 2:35 am

I'm about as liberal as they come. Still I do not understand the mentality that says, "When demand for apartments go up, through no actions of the landlord, does it seem right the landlord should make a larger profit? Landlords don't spend more money on maintaining the building when property values go up, so why should they take more profit from the tenants?"

That's what ownership MEANS. I could follow if the critique was of the entire capitalist system as a whole. Hey, I can contemplate that kind of thinking myself. But while we're still in the realm of acting within the system we have - YES, a landlord, like any other business owner, is entitled to make profits on investments that rise in value. I certainly favor some laws to stabilize rents and facilitate a situation where there are apartments at an array of prices.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 14, 2014 @ 7:11 pm

The biggest problem is that landlords not only cannot "take more profit from the tenants" but instead actually lose more profit each year given the insignificant increases allowed under the rent control rules.

While most expenses increase at or around the rate of inflation, rents are capped at 60% of the CPI. This means that as one's insurance, maintenance, accounting, etc. costs increase at 100% of inflation (actually higher here in San Francisco), rents can only increase at 60% of this rate. This is a recipe for a failed system and the number of evictions is just a symptom of this failure.

And none of the above even begins to address what happens when a property changes hands.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 11:23 am

When applied and sustained long-term, they inevitably lead to shortages as roperty owners choose other uses for their building.

Who do progressives not understand this?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

Jason Grant Garza here .... WHAT a FARCE ... this is the same Adachi and Campos who were SOOO concerned that they helped pass Laura's Law and can NOT even get MEDICAL LAW ENFORCED? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIPN-55O8UA . Remember I have been constantly and illegally denied medical care by DPH https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo&list=TLdXGg40w5c2kCrMOL_h9e_... for HOW long NOW? If you go to youtube and type in Jason Garza you will see over 500 videos inclusive of the complicit players (Sheriff and SFPD) that DO NOT ENFORCE medical law. At least NOW you can watch me go to the SUPERVISORS (as I will and videotape as I have in the past and NOT been helped) in order to follow up with Laura's Law and ask to go before a JUDGE to show my videos, the law breaking activity, the complicit players, the continual HARM and DAMAGES and the YEARS of ABUSE. Shall we see JUST HOW MUCH HELP I get from the SUPERVISORS with the videos. documentation and proof that I have? Yes let us watch the RESULTS .... KEEP DRINKING the KOOL-AID and DESPAIR. Oh and while we are at it maybe we can speak with Adachi and ask where was my counsel when I was illegally arrested at SFGH and called the PO. We can ask David Chiu where was my CIVIL GIDEON that I went to him about when DPH committed CRIMINAL FRAUD https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cP3jCmJFRo&list=TLdXGg40w5c2kCrMOL_h9e_... .....
Learn the GAMES and watch the INHUMANITY .... mind you CIVIL GIDEON and that failed thru the President of the Board of Supervisors (the videos are in my account on youtube) and we get this from Adachi and Campos .... what a FARCE. Keep watching as I will continue to follow up and point out the "FALSE PROPHETS" by the FRUIT that they BEAR. Go to youtube and type in Jason Garza and tell your friends who can see REALITY as OPPOSED to the "feel good meaningless non-result producing" rethoric.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 6:02 am

I am tired of the rhetorical conflation in this discourse. "Preserving units" does absolutely nothing to enable new middle-income renters to find housing in the city. As written, SF rent control protects incumbents - rich, poor, and in-between - from price increases. In some cases, this enables a middle-class family to stay in a home or keeps a poor person off the streets. In others, however, it protects a person who could afford a rent increase from a natural rise in cost of living or protects a person from the consequence of their lifestyle choices by externalizing those conequences to other middle-class people, including other prospective tenants.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 9:49 am

Rent control incumbents will never willingly give up their subsidies. It's a variant on the NRA slogan: "I'll give you my rent controlled apartment when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 10:18 am

of a tenant by a landlord to create a vacancy.

But we won't need them to give up their units. We will simply wait until there aren't enough of the old farts left to fight a repeal of rent control

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 11:18 am

You mean like the way landlords will never fix anything they aren't legally required to fix? it's also a variant NRA slogan: "I'll fix the fire alarms when you pry the money from my cold, interest bearing stock portfolio"

Posted by guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 1:37 am

after the initial rent is set. That subsidy is the rent foregone by the owner and is equal to the difference between the actual rent and the market rent.

You cannot have cheap rent without some kind of subsidy. Either a government subsidy or an "opportunity cost" subsidy imposed on landlords.

If you pay less than something is worth, then someone else has to make up the difference.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 2:31 am

It's amusing how rent control addicts refuse to admit they're being subsidized.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 10:30 am

their subsidies. It's to increase "diversity", or to save the "soul" of the city, or because someone claims to be an "artist".

People will always find a reason why they should get a handout.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 10:49 am
Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 11:19 am

I'm confused by your comment. can you explain to me. . .
How does rent control reward mean landlords?

Posted by steve on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 1:39 am

A landlord who is aggressive will get more turnover, and therefore higher rents and more profits.

A "nice" landlord lets his tenants get away with stuff and his tenants then never leave.

The most common phrase I hear from other landlords? "No good deed goes unpunished".

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 2:29 am

Nobody old.
No single moms.
Must have job at fortune 500 company in a primary role.
Verify bank statement and credit score and job references.

In a city with an abundance of renters, many with good income, it just ends up hurting people at the margins.

And there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

Lawyers
Activists
Artists
Students
Public sector workers
Anyone with zero ambition
Anyone who is here for the city rather than the job.

OTOH, foreigners are great. They ALWAYS leave.

Illegals are good too. They never assert their rights.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2014 @ 9:28 am

My parents were landlords outside California in a very large city with rent control that was even more renter friendly than SF.

here's what I have to say to landlord's in SF - stop bitching! When you bought the business (and yes, it is a business) you knew what the conditions of the business are, what laws you would have to abide by, what your tax deductions would look like, how your profits would be taxed at a different rate than straight income, how to write off losses and capital investments versus daily repairs.

a good tenant is worth their weight in gold. They pay their rent on time and they don't bother you with repairs. The tenant from hell is what you have to watch out for and what you don't want the city to fund, especially if you are a small landlord.

I used to have a small business helping small landlords evict problem tenants when I was in college, for a year or two. I didn't collect any money except court filing fees until the tenant was out. I would refuse clients who I thought were jerks and I would provide advice to tenants who needed help on other issues.

I disagree with tenants renting their places on airbnb for profit; I don't think it's fair to the landlord or the fellow tenants as there are safety and liability issues involved. My neighbor 2 doors down rented hers out and the tenants kept forgetting their key and were buzzing my unit to let me in, were fighting all the time and locking each other out so they would pound on the apartment door, etc.

my current landlord wants to take away my closet space so that, now that my next door neighbor has moved out, he can renovate a perfectly good apartment and add a washer, dryer, and dishwasher, and charge $4000 instead of $1500 from 2010.

why not just take half of my living room to give them a pantry? Already my apartment is a junior 1 bedroom that is 500 square feet or less.

landlords and tenants both need to be reasonable and work together.

rents in 2010 were $1500 for a 1 bedroom. They jumped in 2012 to $3000 due to demand not due to costs. SF is 7x7 square miles. Unless height limitations are removed, there's never going to be sufficient housing stock. Rent control doesn't have much to do with it in my humble opinion.

...just my thoughts - everyone is entitled to disagree with them but I thank you for reading them and considering them in the first place.

Posted by cacanuck on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 8:13 am

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