Property owner groups file lawsuits over new SF housing laws 

San Francisco property owner groups want to take The City to court over new housing regulations they say go too far and take a wrongheaded approach to addressing soaring rents.

Two lawsuits filed this week argue that San Francisco’s two recently adopted housing laws, which are intended to address the housing crisis, are pre-empted by the state’s Ellis Act, which allows property owners to evict tenants if they want to get out of the rental business.

“We are not going to stand by and watch them over-regulate the market,” said Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, which represents owners of large rental properties.

The legal action illustrates how landlord and tenant issues remain as politically charged as ever. It also suggests Mayor Ed Lee’s campaign for Ellis Act reform at the state level is exacerbating those tensions.

One lawsuit was filed Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court by the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, and another was filed by the apartment association, the Coalition for Better Housing and the San Francisco Association of Realtors.

Both local laws were approved unanimously in December by the Board of Supervisors and signed into law by Lee. If there was an Ellis Act eviction in the past 10 years or five years following an owner move-in eviction, one law prohibits the merging of units and the other the issuance of city permits for work on so-called nonconforming units.

The groups suing also criticized the laws for being anti-family and for hampering necessary repair work.

Last month, Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the legislation, called them “two very strong tools to protect existing rent-controlled affordable-housing stock from real estate speculation that is playing havoc with our community.”

He noted that “many of us have been to events trying to prevent evictions.”

It is this kind of public pressure that New believes is causing San Francisco’s elected officials to try to push the legal envelope.

“They are all afraid politically,” New said. But she said their efforts are misplaced. “It’s 30 years of failed housing policy. It’s a supply-and-demand issue. It’s not our fault.”

New also expressed concerns about the ongoing San Francisco tenant conventions where advocates are hosting meetings in rental-heavy neighborhoods to drum up support for a pro-tenant legislative package for the Board of Supervisors and a November ballot measure.

Avalos said he had not seen the lawsuits, but, “The arguments that their groups had in expressing opposition back in December were spurious at best.”

“The city attorney had vetted the legislation and said we had a strong case in defending it,” Avalos said.

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