Anti-eviction Law Will Have Big Impact in Ingleside

Juan Martinez
Newswire21.org

San Francisco supervisors have agreed to protect renters from eviction during foreclosures.

The measure, passed unanimously in mid-March, will have a big impact on the Ingleside, which had the highest number of foreclosures in the city last year.

“During these tough economic times, we must do all what we can to keep families in their homes,” Supervisor John Avalos, who represents the area, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the foreclosure crisis does not just affect homeowners. Renters also wind up losing their homes through no fault of their own.”

Prior to the law, renters lacked protection when their landlords faced foreclosure. Former property owners in some cases failed to pay utility services like electricity and water without telling the tenants, leading to service cut-offs while renters were still in the homes.

“I spent seven months without any electricity and three days without water,” said Ernestina Castillo, a resident of Visitacion Valley. “My landlord did not notify me that I was living in a foreclosed property for three months. Finally, I received a letter from the bank saying that I had to leave my home in three days.”

Now, the new owners of foreclosed property can’t evict tenants from rental units built before 1979 until the lease ends. Avalos previously tried to include newer rentals in the measure, but that version was vetoed by Mayor Gavin Newsom. The new version is veto-proof because it was approved unanimously.

“While it was important for me to pass a broader piece of legislation to extend just cause eviction protections to all rental property built after 1979, I am glad to pass this version to protect tenants in properties where foreclosures have occurred,” said Avalos.

Sheriff's Role
“We are the only entity that performs all evictions in the city by law,” said Eileen Hirst, the chief of staff for the Sheriff’s Department. “By us going out there, that means tenants have not left the property.”

In 2009, the city’s sheriff department performed 74 evictions due to foreclosure. In the last year, nearly 603 foreclosed properties have been put up for auction and 426 properties were handed over to banks in the Ingleside District, according to a report by RealtyTrac.com.

Myrna Melgar. director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, said the Ingleside is home to the largest number of seniors and children in the city and has been the neighborhood most affected by foreclosures.

The 2008-2009 annual fiscal year report provided by the city rent board revealed that this area had the highest number of tenant petitions (66) claiming wrongful evictions of foreclosures. The report also showed that the neighborhood had the highest number (33) of Ellis petitions, which are filed by a landlord seeking approval to empty an apartment so it can be taken off the rental market..

“Often times the plan is to convert the property to condominium spaces and sell it at market rate,” said Omar Calimbas, an attorney for the Asian Law Caucus.

Many organizations worked with supervisors from different city districts to develop the original version of the anti-eviction law in May. That law called for all residents living in rental units built after 1979 to also be protected. The ordinance was then introduced by Avalos on January 12, but failed to over-ride a mayoral veto by one vote.

Newsom didn't return phone calls requesting comment.

Owners Threatened
The ordinance posed a threat to the ideals of homeowners, according to Kevin Kitchingham, the housing director for the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center.

“Anytime you try to regulate property or restrict what owners of property can do, you are going to have debates, disputes and problems,” Kitchingham said. “There’s obviously a difference in opinion between those who own and those who just rent.”

He also said the passage of the new law can prevent banks from evicting tenants. “Nearly everyone today in San Francisco is under non-rent control," he said. "This means foreclosures affect renters the most.”

In 2009, the Eviction Defense Collaborative had roughly 100 cases involving tenants facing possible evictions in foreclosed properties, according to Executive Director Miguel Wooding. The EDC provides legal and rental assistance to tenants who file a lawsuit after being evicted.

Innocent Bystanders
“Banks want to generally evict people,” Wooding said. “The reality is that people’s lives are affected when a bank evicts everyone. Tenants have nothing to do with foreclosures.”

Malcolm Yeung, the public policy manager for the Chinatown Community Development Center, said the reason he supported the law is because some banks are not aware of tenants’ rights in foreclosure cases.

“There’s been a trend where banks outside the city didn’t know our laws,” he said. “Attorneys handling the cases were from San Diego. By supporting this law, we just want to build and enhance a community around tenants.”

Tommi Mecca. director for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, which offers counseling to tenants, had mixed feelings. While he is happy to see the eviction law finally pass, he said it is unfortunate that it will not protect those living in buildings built after 1979.

“Everyone should be protected,” Mecca said. “It’s hard to relocate in this city because rent is expensive. People’s rights should be more important than making money.”