Report claims speculators are behind most Ellis Act evictions in SF 

click to enlarge Tenants Together
  • courtesy Tenants Together
  • A report published by Tenants Together and The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project highlights Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco.
More than half of Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco in the past five years were invoked by landlords within their first year of owning the property, according to a report by a statewide renters’ rights organization.

The report, called “The Speculator Loophole: Ellis Act Evictions in San Francisco” and released Wednesday by Tenants Together, comes as legislation has been introduced locally and at the state level that aims to address the so-called speculator sales and boost Ellis Act eviction compensation for tenants.

From 2009 to last year, the report found that 51 percent of Ellis Act evictions were filed within less than a year of ownership of a property and 78 percent were filed within the first five years.

Data for the five years was similar to numbers for 2013, with 60 percent of Ellis Act evictions filed after less than a year of ownership and 79 percent within the first five years.

The Ellis Act, passed in 1985, allows a landlord to get out of the rental business by evicting tenants.

The report, which analyzed San Francisco Rent Board data and property ownership records, also found 30 percent of units were “Ellised” by “serial evictors,” defined as landlords who used the Ellis Act to kick out tenants in other properties.

The findings support Senate Bill 1439, introduced by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, in late February. The bill seeks to stop speculators from using loopholes in the 1985 Ellis Act. Among the protections San Francisco leaders could choose to impose is requiring that landlords own buildings for no fewer than five years before invoking the act.

“The report says that which we already understood is the case in San Francisco,” Leno said. “The Ellis Act is being abused not by landlords, but by speculators.”

Added mayoral legislative aide Francis Tsang: “Passing Senator Leno’s bill to stop unchecked real estate speculation and to keep renters in their homes is Mayor [Ed] Lee’s first, second and third priority in Sacramento,” said Francis Tsang, a spokesman for Lee.

A snapshot of speculator data was available when Leno first introduced the bill, but the Tenants Together report is much more comprehensive, said Executive Director Dean Preston. His organization, in partnership with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, spent half a year looking through every Ellis Act filing.

“We used five-year data so as not to be accused of cherry-picking this year or that year,” Preston said.

But Charley Goss of the San Francisco Apartment Association said the report is misleading because any change in a landlord’s title, such as a divorce, reflects on paperwork as if there is a new owner.

“The reason I am able to tell you that with confidence is because we went through these numbers ourselves and interviewed a handful of these people,” he said. “A landlord owned the building for 30 years and the records said four years.”

According to Goss’ statistical analysis released last week, 60 percent of Ellis Acts evictions in the past year were done by individuals or family trusts, not speculators.

The report by Tenants Together also identified “serial evictors” including Urban Green Investments for invoking the Ellis Act on 28 units, Kaushik Dattani on 25 units, and Iantorno on 19 units. They did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Goss said he was not familiar with Urban Green Investments or Dattani, but that Iantorno, a member of the apartment association, is an 80-year-old man of declining health trying to plan for his estate.

“He has two sons and doesn’t want to leave them with an investment that’s losing money every month,” Goss said. “He doesn’t feel it would be fair to leave his sons with that.”

Supervisor David Campos also has introduced legislation locally that would entitle tenants evicted under the Ellis Act to receive more relocation compensation. Under existing law, those amounts are about $5,261 per tenant capped at $15,783 per unit. Landlords must also pay about $3,508 for each displaced elderly or disabled tenant.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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