Eviction numbers in San Francisco debated 

  • mike koozmin/2013 S.f. Examiner file photo
  • Tenants at 1049 Market St. rallied last November after being served eviction notices.
As local politicians vigorously seek to pass anti-eviction laws and activists block commuter buses whose riders they blame for skyrocketing housing costs, one thing remains uncertain: the number of evictions occurring in San Francisco.

“The universe seems starved for data. People want to know … how many evictions were there in San Francisco, and we can’t tell you that,” Rent Board Deputy Director Robert Collins said.

But some new numbers may give a better picture of evictions in recent years, even if the reasons for those evictions remain unclear.

At the behest of District 9 Supervisor David Campos, The City’s budget and legislative analyst issued a report Tuesday finding that more eviction proceedings are occurring than have previously been reported.

“Rent Board statistics undercount total evictions in San Francisco,” the report found.

The report counted eviction court cases called unlawful detainers, which are for nonpayment of rent, in all rentals and all other evictions in housing not under rent control. Such evictions require landlords, per state law, to go through the courts.

In 2013, there were 3,423 unlawful detainer filings in San Francisco Superior Court, and 3,695 were filed in 2012.

Up until now most eviction trackings used one metric, which was from the Rent Board. According to the report, the Rent Board received 1,981 eviction notices in 2013 and 1,677 the prior year in rent-controlled buildings.

Actual eviction totals, including detainers and proceedings, appear to be 5,404 in 2013 and 5,372 in 2012.

But the mismatching and overlapping of this data remain a major problem when it comes to understanding the eviction issue, said Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whose deputies carry out all evictions requiring a court order.

“The City, and therefore the public, has no master understanding of the true cause and current state of evictions due to various agencies collecting disparate data,” Mirkarimi said. “The absence of a comprehensive analysis undermines the debate.”

In 2012, the Sheriff’s Department completed 1,000 eviction lockouts, which dropped to 975 last year.

Even with all this data, tenant and housing advocates say the real eviction picture remains unclear, as many circumstances may be unknown and cases that did not reach the court level may not be factored in.

Still, San Francisco Apartment Association spokesman Charlie Goss disagrees with the idea that there is an eviction epidemic in San Francisco.

“The issue of evictions in San Francisco is probably smaller than we think it is,” he said.

But context is important, he says. For instance, Ellis Act evictions, in which landlords say they are getting out of the rental business, remain a small portion of all evictions, he said. And other evictions include cases where landlords are within their rights to evict tenants who, for a variety of reasons, have not lived up to their responsibilities.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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