Of the 16 grounds for eviction in San Francisco, among the murkiest is the scenario known as an owner move-in eviction. There, a landlord seeks to relocate themselves or a close relative into a unit currently being rented out, effectively taking it off the rental market. Corroborating a general concern over the misuse of the practice is a new NBC Bay Area investigation that found roughly a quarter of owner move-in evictions could be fraudulent.
Over the past six months, NBC Bay Area reporters investigated the more than 300 owner move-in eviction notices filed with the San Francisco Rent Board during 2014. They were only able to investigate 100 of those, and in 24 cases, the owner or relative who was supposed to have moved in was not, in fact, living there. Instead a new tenant had been installed, often at a much higher rate of rent.
"A landlord can evict a tenant if the landlord is going to move into the unit to live, or (only if the landlord is also going to be living in the building) for a close relative to move in and live there," The San Francisco Tenants' union explains the tactic covered by San Francisco Administrative Code Section 37.9(a)(8), adding that "these evictions are highly abused and landlords who want to evict a tenant in order to raise the rent on a new tenant typically use owner move-in evictions (OMIs/landlord move-in evictions/LMIs) that are only allowed if done properly."
One troubling example dug up by NBC Bay Area concerns Angelique Rochelle, who was evicted from her three-bedroom apartment in SF in 2014. That disrupted her whole way of life and her family: She'd lived there for a decade and was paying $1,700 in rent under rent control. The mother of three children, Rochelle now lives in Oakland, and to allow her two older kids to stay in the same school, they now stay with their father. “My whole life was there,” Rochelle told the news station of her old apartment. “For my daughter, I think it’s the worst because she’s eleven years old. I mean she grew up with [her siblings] since she was a baby and they no longer live together.” Although Rochelle's landlord claimed an owner move-in eviction, that landlord is now renting the unit for $5,000 per month to another tenant.
Executive Director of the San Francisco Rent Board Robert Collins tells NBC Bay Area that the report is somewhat eye-opening. “It actually does surprise me that it’s that high —one in four is a lot." However, Collins denies responsibility for investigating whether or not owner move-in evictions are correctly carried out. “There’s no way of knowing that for the Rent Board — that’s not one of the tasks we have,” Collins said. “I suppose for the individual person who was evicted, there would be other ways of finding out, perhaps. But it would be up to them, it wouldn’t be something the Rent Board does.”