Understanding Ellis Act Evictions

Landlords and tenants often have a contentious relationship. In many cases, tenants feel like they have very little power when it comes to changes in rent, inadequate repair work, or other lingering problems. With the ever-increasing price of real estate and resulting rise in rents, tenants may feel even more at the mercy of their landlords and may live in fear of an eviction notice. As a San Francisco tenants’ rights law firm, we want tenants to know that they do have rights and that evictions, including Ellis Act evictions, must be done in a proper manner and for a valid reason.

Ellis Act Evictions on the Rise in San Francisco
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that a common hypothesis may be accurate – rising rents have been followed by a skyrocketing number of evictions, especially those in which the landlord purports to be taking the unit out of the rental market. To some, this confirms that the rise in rents is squeezing longtime residents out of certain neighborhoods in San Francisco. Supervisor David Campos requested that analysts prepare a report on Ellis Act evictions, often used by landlords who want to sell the property. The report found that between the year ending in February 2010 and the year ending in February 2013 Ellis Act evictions rose by a whopping 170%, compared to a 38% increase in evictions overall. The same time period saw a 22% increase in San Francisco home prices. There had been a sharp decline in Ellis Act evictions following the economic difficulties of 2009 and the rate has risen steadily since then, although the 116 Ellis Act evictions (of 1,716 total evictions) for the year from March 2012 to February 2013 is still much lower than the all-time high of 384 in 2000. The rate appears to be continuing to climb, with a 145% rise for September 2012 to September 2013 compared to the prior twelve months. Ellis Act evictions seem to be clustered in a few areas, with the Mission District leading with 71 Ellis Act evictions between 2009 and 2013; the same period saw a nearly 30% rise in housing prices for the neighborhood.

The Chronicle reports that the tide of evictions has gotten some attention at City Hall, including a discussion of increasing the amount landlords must pay in relocation expenses for Ellis Act evictions. Currently set at $5,200 per person. Campos notes that such an increase could help tenants afford other housing and create a disincentive for landlords thinking about using the Act. Landlord groups, in contrast, downplay the increase in evictions and dismiss those calling it a “crisis.”

Overview of the Ellis Act & Protections for Tenants
The Ellis Act, Government Code section 7060-7060.7, is a state law allowing owners/landlords to evict tenants if they are planning to sell the property or otherwise move it off the rental market. According to the San Francisco Tenants Union, for each Ellis Act action, there are probably three or four houses displaced by more informal buyouts where the owner tells the tenant to either accept an offer to leave for a certain payment or face eviction proceedings.

The Union also notes that the law does provide protection for tenants when a landlord invokes the Ellis Act. Tenants must have 120 days’ notice of eviction, rising to one year for seniors and disabled tenants, and must receive relocation benefits. There is no such thing as a partial-Ellis, every tenant must receive a notice of eviction at the same time. A landlord is not totally forbidden from re-renting after an Ellis, but the maximum rent for the next five years is the rent the evicted tenant paid for that unit (plus increases allowed by rent control) AND the evicted tenant has the first right to take the tenancy for five years. Those rules hold for new owners/landlords in addition to the original ones. There are special regulations that apply to buildings with five or more units. The landlord’s intentions for the building after eviction may also give rise to a defense if they don’t meet the allowed uses. If the Ellis Act’s strict procedures are not followed to the letter, the tenant has a defense to the eviction. Additionally, Ellis Act evictions are not permitted during the period of a fixed term lease.

As the Tenants’ Union notes: “Defenses may be limited but tenants who fight the Ellis eviction win surprisingly often.” If you believe you were improperly evicted, call our San Francisco tenants’ lawyer. In many cases, successful tenants are able to recover the cost of their attorney’s fees from the opposing party.

See Related Blog Posts:
What Does “Habitability” Mean in California?

A Quick Guide to Tenants’ Rights Under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance