An uptick in Owner move-in evictions as people yearn to return home
With a societal shift of people going to and fro during and after the pandemic, it was inevitable that property owners would want to come back home, but there is a deep distrust among regulators of these no-fault evictions.
There has been a lot of chatter and analysis about the coming and going of Bay Area residents and the lasting impact of remote work, but it seems that this is a tired topic we've been discussing for years. All we can say is that we live in an international destination with renowned educational institutions and a technology sphere that is the envy of the rest of the world and so we expect these parts to be thriving for a long time to come.
Of course, there will always be a fluid nature of people seeking greener pastures and new faces arriving. One of the consequences of a free society is that people can move freely and we will leave the demographics and raw math up to the experts.
Bornstein Law can, however, anecdotally report that our office has seen an uptick in the number of owner move-in and relative move-in evictions (OMIs/RMIs) as clients who have left the Bay Area during the heart of the pandemic now want to come back.
These type of transitions - when the owner endeavors to recover possession of the unit for their own use or that of a close relative - is a core practice area of our firm, but we remind owners that in order to accomplish the goal, there are several procedural requirements to follow, and it may be painful to part with relocation payments so that the outgoing tenant is able to find a soft place to land.
OMIs are met with skepticism
The notion that landlords can live on their own property has always been a hard pill to swallow for tenants' advocates and lawmakers. Gone are the days of laissez-faire when owners could evict tenants under the theory of an OMI/RMI and re-rent the unit with impunity.
In San Francisco, an enterprising reporter exposed the abuse of OMIs by knocking on doors to see if the owner or their relative still lived in the unit. The findings incensed lawmakers who have since put greater safeguards in place.
Most of the OMI/RMI cases we get interjected into at Bornstein Law have been helping first-time homeowners move into a property they just purchased. Inevitably, though, a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch.
Bornstein Law has not only seen more robust enforcement of OMI laws with reporting requirements but increased litigation from tenants who have resorted to private eyes and dumpster diving.
What we see is a larger movement to add teeth to landlord-tenant regulations
It's one thing to have rules, but another to enforce them, and this has been a phenomenon in the making. We predicted early on that the law would catch up to technology when Airbnb hosts failed to register their units in San Francisco and elsewhere.
After the tragic Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, there were increased calls for proactive inspections whereby inspectors would not merely respond to complaints, but attempt to find unacceptable conditions on their own.
We see this enforcement, as well, in anti-harassment laws that add more teeth to existing laws on the books that prohibit "self-help" eviction measures, with Richmond being the latest in recent memory. It's evident in rent registry proposals that have repeatedly been rejected at the state level but these failures have not deterred local governments from enacting or pursuing their own databases of their own.
The Attorney General says he’s not kidding
But just to add an exclamation point to tenant protections and to make it clear the government is serious, Attorney General Rob Bonta issued legal guidance about steps law enforcement should take to prevent and respond to unlawful lockouts such as changing locks or shutting off utilities.
Oakland property owners have a target on their backs, as well.
Oakland officials have been criticized for a perceived failure to enforce tenant protection laws. One casualty was Michele Byrd, the former head of the embattled housing department. When asked why the city is not clamping down on violations, she said vaguely, "We don't want to be punitive... First and foremost is to do education and outreach and make sure we have made [them] well aware of what the requirements are." Landlords didn’t get the memo and Bryd was ousted.
The cloth cuts both ways for both landlords and tenants in terms of enforcement
In some respects, Byrd shared the same fate as ousted San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, an elected leader who had not endeared himself to rental property owners because of rampant crime occurring in and around properties that went unprosecuted.
In the words of one author in the recent edition of the San Francisco Apartment Association's magazine, the populace values "results and competence over revolution." This is more of a professional and less vulgar way to put it than certain posts on social media that we came across.
“We have reason to believe that some landlords and their attorneys may be filing false declarations to push hardworking Californians out of their homes."
~ Bonta was quoted as saying in the Mercury News.
Sometimes we get injected into the stories we read. Bornstein Law was one of the firms that were sent a scathing letter from the attorney general's newly created "strike force," alerting legal practitioners not to file evictions against tenants who have applied for rental assistance, as it is against the law.
Daniel told the news outlet in the same article that the letter struck him as insulting and unfair. His reaction went from a feeling of vulnerability to anger, he conveyed.
Bottom line: municipalities are cracking down on landlord transgressions of all kinds, whether the acts are intentional or not. More than ever, landlords and their agents need to be tethered to an attorney to ensure compliance with the law. OMIs/RMIs are an area that is ripe for liability if not done correctly.
What is "good faith" in an owner-move in eviction?
It's easy for the owner to claim that they will use the rental unit as their primary place of residence for a certain time period. He or she can just raise their hand and attest to the Rent Board that they plan on living there for a time certain. The phraseology is the OMI/RMI is done "in good faith, without ulterior motive, and with honest intent."
Where we often encounter difficulty is when there is previous acrimony in the rental relationship and the OMI/RMI looks retaliatory.
There are several potential red flags, or indicators, of "bad faith." Rather than delineating them all here, consult our guide.
Unable to maintain the rental unit as a primary place of residence for a lengthy period?
A tenant buyout agreement remains a viable option and is attractive whenever there is any question as to whether or not the owners or their relatives can live in the unit long-term. A buyout agreement gives us maximum flexibility. There's no obligation to use the unit as the owner's principal place of residence for years.
Alameda County owners constricted in the use of OMIs/RMIs
These are one type of "no-fault" evictions that are banned under the draconian moratoriums that exist in Oakland and throughout Alameda County. Landlords in this Republic called Alameda County are severely limited in the reasons to evict, although our office has been aggressive in commencing unlawful detainer actions when there is a threat to public health and safety.