Landlords like the one who evicted Angelique Rochelle and her three children from a San Francisco apartment in 2014 under the false pretense of an owner move-in eviction — the landlord simply raised the rent on the unit and found new tenants — may soon face repercussions for abusing this aspect of San Francisco tenant law.
Owner move-in evictions are fully legal: "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 law says. But the city's rent board rarely investigates these situations to ensure that owners really do move in to units after evicting their tenants, and no landlord in at least a decade has been prosecuted for abusing this law.
Last year, NBC Bay Area's investigative unit conducted a survey of more than 100 addresses at which a landlord had claimed their own or a family move-in as grounds for eviction, discovering that as many as a quarter of them were fraudulent like Angelique Rochelle's. They even created a map to go with it.
NBC Bay Area now reports that two pieces of legislation seek to reign in abuse of owner move-in evictions as a result of their investigation. First, Supervisor Mark Farrell is proposing an ordinance today to require landlords or family members to present evidence that they moved into the unit in question, such as a utility bill. And second, Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin propose to make it easier to fine or even jail landlords if they wrongfully evict tenants in order to charge higher rent to new ones.
"If you own a piece of property and want to move back in, I think everyone should have the right to do so," Farrell told NBC Bay Area. "But I’m not going to sit here and stand by idly when you see and hear of cases where people are blatantly breaking the law."
To the Examiner he explained that his legislation would provide a "legal hook" to "make people think twice before they intentionally move forward with what is an illegal eviction," hopefully giving teeth to prosecution efforts.
Finally, Farrell thanked NBC Bay Area. “It was the great work of NBC that really turned up the volume to really talk about and identify and expose the amount of fraudulent practices that are happening in this area and really spur us into action.”