New SF Eviction Law Extends Protections to Renters in Nearly All Privately Owned Units

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Activists and tenants of a San Francisco apartment building protest the landlord's eviction efforts. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tens of thousands of San Francisco renters now have stronger eviction protections under a new measure that went into effect this week.

The new law affords tenants in nearly all privately owned units in the city, regardless of when they were built, the same protections against no-fault evictions that have long applied to tenants in older buildings, covering more than 35,000 additional units across the city, according to Supervisor Matt Haney, who authored the legislation.

Approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in December, the law is the city's latest effort in recent years to limit evictions amid a growing affordable housing and homelessness crisis.

Fifteen percent of renters were threatened with eviction over a 5-year period, according to a 2018 survey by the San Francisco Planning Commission. And of the more than 8,000 homeless people identified in San Francisco's point-in-time count last year, 13% cited eviction as the main cause of their homelessness.

“Now is the time to correct this inequity and treat all units the same,” Haney said last month. “This legislation will provide protections that will ensure that nobody is under threat of an arbitrary eviction in San Francisco.”


Until recently, the city's strict no-fault eviction rules — which protect tenants from being evicted if they haven't committed any violations — only applied to renters whose units were built on or before June 1979. Assembly Bill 1482, a new California rent cap law that took effect at the beginning of January, expanded those protections statewide. It requires landlords in housing created in the last 15 years to provide a legitimate reason, as defined by law, for evicting tenants. San Francisco's new law fills the time gap, extending protections to tenants in housing created between 1979 and 2005.

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"This should cover at least, if not every private rental, the vast majority," including Section 8 housing and single-room occupancy (SRO) units, said Robert Collins, executive director of the San Francisco Rent Board, whose agency will oversee the new rules. The ordinance will not, however, affect Ellis Act evictions, which occur when landlords evict tenants in order to remove their properties from the rental market. And it does not apply to public housing units.

Landlord and apartment associations have typically opposed such tenant-protection measures, arguing that stricter eviction rules make it more difficult for residential property owners to maintain and renovate their buildings, and will ultimately result in fewer affordable housing options.

The overwhelming majority of evictions in San Francisco are legitimate and for cause, said Charley Goss, government and community affairs manager with the San Francisco Apartment Association, a group that opposed the measure. Nuisance and non-payment are among the most common causes of evictions, he added. “To the extent this makes it more costly and difficult to process those types of evictions is detrimental for both landlord and tenant,” he said.

The legislation, Goss added, further complicates the already confusing web of city and state rental laws that landlords struggle to make sense of. “For small owner-operators, it's tough to keep up with all the different laws,” he said.

Goss noted, however, that the new measure will only apply to a very small portion of the city's housing stock, much of which is older and falls under existing eviction rules.

“Really, it’s a set of laws that the majority of our members and apartment operators have been operating under for 40 years,” he said.