Condo conversion advocates lobbying for aid to owners of tenancy-in-common units 

click to enlarge Jake Sproull, 43, a sixth-grade teacher, has been waiting for seven years for the chance to convert his South of Market tenancy-in-common unit into a condo. - ANNA LATINO/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Anna Latino/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Jake Sproull, 43, a sixth-grade teacher, has been waiting for seven years for the chance to convert his South of Market tenancy-in-common unit into a condo.

A homeowner advocacy group is targeting three city supervisors to ensure passage of legislation that would give some San Francisco homeowners a one-time opportunity to bypass The City’s condo-conversion lottery system by paying a fee.

The owners of more than 2,000 tenancy-in-common units are seeking permission to convert their homes into condos — typically so they can refinance their homes at a lower mortgage rate. But The City’s lottery system only lets 200 units a year be converted into condos, forcing other owners to wait for years.

Financing for such units became hard to obtain and more costly after the 2007-08 banking crisis that ushered in the economic downturn. People living in such units share a percentage of a building’s ownership and do not own the units outright, unlike condo owners, who have many more financing options.

A progressive bloc on the 11-member Board of Supervisors has derailed similar efforts in the past, but supporters of this reform believe the political climate has shifted enough to make its passage possible.

“We’re confident we’ll have the six votes,” said Mike Sullivan, head of Plan C, the homeowner’s advocacy group fighting for the proposal.

With supervisors Carmen Chu, Scott Wiener and legislative sponsor Mark Farrell on board, the group has launched a campaign to secure the support of one-term Supervisor Malia Cohen and new supervisors London Breed and Norman Yee. It takes six votes to pass legislation.

The legislation will be considered  Jan. 28 by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee. Wiener, the committee chair, said if his committee doesn’t allow the legislation to be considered by the full board, he will use a tactic allowing four supervisors to bypass the committee and bring it to the full board.

He would like a full board vote Feb. 5.

“I’m not going to let it stay bottled up in committee,” Wiener said. “We have a lot of TIC owners who are really struggling and we want them to have stable housing.”

The San Francisco Tenants Union is mobilizing to oppose the legislation.

“The proposal will lead to more evictions and conversions as the main deterrent to more TICs being created is that it can be a lengthy and difficult process to turn the TIC into a condominium,” says a statement on its website. “In addition, state law prohibits rent control on condominiums permanently (but not on TICs); meaning many will simply be put on the rental market after conversion as expensive non-rent controlled apartments.”

But supporters of the proposal say there are adequate eviction protections in place. Conversions are not allowed following a tenant eviction under the state’s Ellis Act. Also, although tenancy-in-common units are generally owner-occupied, any tenants residing in these buildings would have to be offered lifetime leases under Farrell’s proposal.

According to the Department of Public Works, which administers the condo conversion program, 2,393 units comprising 701 properties were entered into last year’s lottery. A total of 124 units had been in the lottery for seven years.

“TIC owners are not wealthy individuals; these are teachers, nurses and police officers who aspired to own a home in San Francisco, and deserve our support and common sense legislation to solve their issues,” Farrell said. “These are exactly the middle-income households that we need to be fighting for in San Francisco.”

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