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Landlords in California Abusing Loopholes to Evict Tenants

Steve Rhodes
Written by Ethan M. Long

As the economy recovers and housing markets rebound in cities across the United States, landlords have come to the conclusion that now is the time to act on their investments. The decisions they make might be beneficial to them on paper, but once the human element is brought in, it shows a trend that is quickly becoming a problem for tenants who are being priced out of the neighborhoods they had been living in.

In April, the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition released a report about what they call an “Eviction Crisis” across the city. They wrote that “Current data from the San Francisco Rent Board show that efforts to evict tenants are reaching levels not seen in over a decade.”

According to the report, there has been a 54.7 percent increase of reported eviction notices from Feb. 28, 2010 to 2015. This figure does not include notices that went unreported, nor informal eviction threats.

The city’s Rent Ordinance, enacted to protect tenants, requires a “just cause,” from the landlord, as well as a 10 day period in which they must file a copy of an eviction notice to the Rent Board. The report lists five of the leading reasons a landlord might evict a tenant with “just cause.”

Firstly, a tenant might commit a breach of lease. Secondly, if a tenant causes a rift in “the comfort, safety or enjoyment of the landlord or tenants in the building,” they could be evicted. An OMI (Owner Move In) would allow them to force a tenant out if the landlord wished to make the unit their residence. If a tenant is engaged in willfully illegal activities, they are prime to be evicted.

Finally, there’s the Ellis Act, part of the California Government Code which says that if a landlord wishes to take an entire building off the market for other use, they must evict every tenant and offer them compensation. However, for tenants who were planning on living in the location long-term, there’s a fighting spirit to keep their homes. Especially in a city with a housing crisis.

The San Francisco Tenants Union has a page set up for residents to learn about their rights and protections regarding the Ellis Act. They write that “Ellis Act evictions generally are used to change the use of the building. Most Ellis evictions are used to convert rental units to condominiums, using loopholes in the condo law.”

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A press release sent out detailed the fight David Brenkus has put up against his landlords, who bought the building during the recession. Brenkus was one of several long-term tenants, which reduced the price of the building.

Recently, his landlords, the Harshawat family, started to evict their tenants by using the Ellis Act. According to the press release, “the landlords claim that the whole family will live in the house, but since the first round of evictions carried out by the Harshawats (including Emma Acker, Assistant Curator of American Art at de Young Museum) the unit on the 1st floor, supposedly occupied by the parents, has remained empty. The parents live and Indiana, where they own a home and a chain of for-profit psychiatric hospitals. The brother, Kavi Harshawat, who would supposedly move into David’s apartment, works and lives in Washington DC.”

So, even as it seems like the family is spread across the country, they are still trying to force out Brenkus, who has protested the eviction since the first notice.

“The Harshawats need to take responsibility for their choices and stop hiding behind unjust laws,” said Marianne Maeckelbergh of Eviction Free San Francisco in the press release. “Just because they have millions of dollars does not mean they have the right to destroy people’s lives and homes. The Harshawats lives are not more important than David’s.”

The press release simply states what Brenkus, and others being evicted in the area, have to lose when a landlord decides to force them out:

“If David were to be evicted he would have a rent increase from $365 to $5,500 per month. An eviction would mean that David, a local SF artist and resident of 34-years, would have to leave his city and his community forever.”

But it isn’t just Bay Area tenants being faced with a rise of Ellis Act evictions. Los Angeles Public Radio station KPCC reported in April that Ellis Act evictions rose 235 percent in 2014 when compared to the previous year. This is due to the recovery of housing markets in cities that fell during the recession. Now seeing them as high-value cash-outs, landlords are moving in, forcing their tenants to move out at an increasing rate.

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One expert told the radio station that because there is a far greater demand for housing than what’s currently available, evictions will rise. The buildings themselves might be razed in order to build condominiums.

That’s really the end-game for a good amount of landlords and developers: fit more people into smaller spaces. With housing in high demand, they see the answer being more units on the same number of lots. However, as urban renewal has shown in the past, sometimes the neighborhoods become crippled or completely destroyed in the process.

Source: KPCC

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About the author

Ethan M. Long

Ethan Long is a journalist based out of Boston, MA.

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Landlords in California Abusing Loopholes to Evict Tenants

by Ethan M. Long
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