Two record-setting settlements of more than $2 million apiece in recent months, where the settlement cost more than the house itself, are putting a chill on the old owner move-in eviction runaround.
Evictions are way down during the pandemic, primarily because they’ve been mostly illegal thanks to certain local and state laws. This also includes the often-dubious owner move-in eviction, wherein landlords can evict tenants because they or a family member are moving into the unit, and the owner sometimes generates an implausible number of relatives to evict as many rent-controlled tenants as possible. According to data from the Chronicle, owner move-in evictions peaked in 2016 at 417 of them, dropped to 196 in 2019, and in 2020 — during the pandemic — there were but 29 of them.
But that Chronicle report notes the pandemic is not entirely responsible for this drop. Toughened owner eviction rules the Board of Supervisors passed a few years back increased the penalties on sham owner move-in evictions, and the Chron notes that in recent months, two record-setting settlements of $2.1 million and $2.6 million have spooked landlords away from the practice.
In both cases, the settlement cost more than the house itself.
“Insurance companies paid most of the money to fund these settlements and made the decisions to settle these cases,” landlord attorney Andrew Zacks told the Chron. “These extraordinary payments in cases such as these reflect on the difficulties that property owners face in the San Francisco court system. Insurance companies are reluctant to go to trial given the one sided nature of local law and the risks if the owner loses.”
This is a unique San Francisco phenomenon thanks to legislation from supervisors Aaron Peskin and (then-supervisor) Jane Kim that passed in 2018 which required landlords to declare under the penalty of perjury that they or a family member did indeed move in, and then gave tenants a three-year window in which they could sue if they thought the move-in was dishonest.
In the case of the $2.6 million settlement, attorney for the landlord of course claimed that the evicted tenant were “disgruntled former tenants who, after failing to extort an exorbitant cash payment from the Defendants before moving out, now seek to secure payment through frivolous litigation.”
There are reasons to be skeptical that the legislation is making as much progress as the Chronicle claims. They only cite two cases, though both were record-setting, and both had the same attorney, who certainly toots his horn quite well to the media. But it's an encouraging sign that one of the most notorious shady landlord practices could be on the wane.
Image: Foreclosed or eviction notice on a main door with blurred details of a house with vintage filter (Getty Images)