A 1999 provision increasing the notice time for Ellis Act evictions led landlords to scramble to provide eviction notices ahead of the effective date on New Year’s Day, 2000.
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S.F. tenants tossed out in time for the new year
67 evictions in last do this to you week of ’99, before change in Ellis Act
By Gregory Lewis
Of the Examiner Staff
Lisa Menna was returning to her North Beach apartment from an early evening New Year’s Eve drink with a friend when she discovered an eviction notice on her door and on the doors of the three other apartments in the building.
“I thought it was a joke,” Menna, a magician, said. “Who would do this to you on New Year’s Eve? I thought one of my friends had done this.”
But it wasn’t a joke.
“It’s nasty. But posting a notice on the door is a legal notification,” said one San Francisco Rent Board counselor who declined to be identified because counselors are not supposed to talk to reporters.
Menna and her fellow tenants at 201 Chestnut St. were among 67 renters in 22 buildings throughout The City who were evicted from their apartments during the last week of 1999 by landlords wanting to get out of the rental business and avoid new requirements in a state law that protects tenants.
The new provisions, which took effect Jan. 1, apply to the state’s Ellis Act, a 14-year-old law that allows landlords to evict tenants when they quit the rental business. In most cases, the new law increased the notice time for evictions from two months to four months. It requires landlords to give a full year’s notice before evicting a disabled resident or anyone 62 and older.
Evictions done prior to Jan. 1 required landlords to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 to tenants forced to leave a building. Now, renters who are displaced must be paid a $4,500 relocation fee.
The prospect of the new restrictions apparently got landlords busy in 1999. In fact, in San Francisco last year there were 211 eviction filings whereby the landlords decided to quit the rental market. That number nearly doubled the total number filed in the previous 14 years.
From 1986 through 1995, only 29 buildings were taken off the rental market. But in 1996, when The City got tougher on owner move-in evictions, 14 buildings were “Ellised.” The number grew to 16 in 1997 and 65 in 1998.
The notification Menna and her fellow tenants received gives them until Feb. 28 to move out or face legal proceedings.
A letter addressed to Menna from an attorney for Cambridge Construction Management, a Bainbridge Island, Wash., firm which owns the building, informed her that she could live in the apartment rent free during that time. “The new owner hopes that you will use this (savings) to re-locate,” said the letter from attorney Andrew Zacks.
The offer would be rescinded and the rent demanded should she fail to vacate, the letter added.
Facing the prospect of finding a new apartment in one of the country’s most competitive housing markets, Menna, who has lived in the building for 10 years, said she plans to “do everything possible to remain in residence at 201 Chestnut St.” and believes that her fellow residents are committed to fighting the eviction as well.
“We are hopeful that we can delay this eviction until the laws change and we are allowed to live here forever,” Menna wrote to Zacks.
Still, Menna and the tenants asked the landlord for a $35,000 per-unit–payment to assist in relocation.
“The new owner is sympathetic to your concerns regarding relocating in this housing market, and is committed to working with you to achieve ‘a graceful exit.’ However, a $35,000 demand to vacate… is not a ‘good faith payment.’ The request “unrealistic and excessive” and asked that each tenant “submit a more realistic proposal in writing, outlining your specific requirements.”
In a telephone interview, Zacks said he wasn’t sure exactly what the owner planned for the apartment building’s future but that leasing apartments to tenants was definitely out. He said the company may even raze it.
Zacks said the reason the company delivered eviction notices on the eve of the change in the law was because the owners “just took charge of the building on Dec. 31.”
The attorney said, “the real estate market in San Francisco made it so an owner doesn’t have to be in the rental market.”
Evictions under the Ellis Act have climbed in San Francisco since 1996, when The City began restricting owner move-in evictions. The state law allows landlords to evict tenants when they take their properties off the rental market. The chart reflects the number of buildings emptied under the Ellis Act in the last four years. Between the time the state law took effect in 1986 and 1996, only 29 evictions took place.