Alarms are being sounded that San Francisco evictions are returning to pre-pandemic levels
Go figure. Couldn’t evict during the pandemic.
We don't hear any more apocalyptic predictions of an "eviction tsunami." Those voices have faded out after many months have elapsed without it coming ashore. Yet there are still alarmists that insist there is an eviction problem.
We were intrigued to come across this San Francisco Chronicle article that reports a "surge" and concentration of eviction notices captured in data obtained by the Rent Board. This data only confirms what tenants are seeing on the ground, it goes on to say. So, let's look at the data.
When you hover over a zip code in the handy map displayed in the article, you'll find numbers like 2 eviction notices per 10,000 residents or 5 evictions for every 10,000 residents, and so forth.
When you start venturing into the Tenderloin, South of Market, downtown, and South Beach, the numbers tick up, but by how much? There is a trio of zip codes that report 45, 47, and 90 eviction notices filed per 10,000 residents. Still a minuscule amount. We're looking for a problem but can't seem to find it.
The numbers related to nuisance eviction notices are, well, a nuisance.
In 2020 and 2021, the percentage of eviction notices based on the theory of a nuisance went up over pre-pandemic levels, and there are two forces to explain this.
To be fair to tenants' advocates, there were some landlords who stretched the definition of a nuisance "related to public health and safety." These were the only types of events being heard by the courts during the heart of the pandemic. Loud music, unauthorized subletting, bringing in pets, and stuff like that was not being entertained.
Bornstein Law was able to secure judgments for more egregious acts. Notable ones include a tenant feuding with a neighboring tenant and taking a bat to his window, or a tenant setting fire to a vacant unit. As long as we had credible evidence, we could also pursue an unlawful detainer action in drug-dealing instances where residents were selling methamphetamine out the window at all hours of the night. Clearly, such behavior endangers public health and safety.
For more minor offenses, we had to tell clients and would-be clients that the severity of the transgression did not rise to this level. It's a tall bar. But many landlords tried anyways and failed.
The Chronicle article correctly points out that the Rent Board only mines data on the number of eviction notices filed, not the outcome of unlawful detainer actions. In other words, an eviction notice can be filed, but it doesn't equal eviction. Indeed, our offices have been busy during the pandemic and are now post-pandemic negotiating voluntary buyout agreements that do not translate to the tenant being evicted but he or she leaving of their own volition.
Keep in mind that under a newly minted ordinance, San Francisco tenants must now be served a 10-day warning letter to cure nuisance conduct. This "cooling off" period should further reduce the number of evictions by affording the tenant more time to correct the underlying behavior.
This new requirement is one of the many topics we discussed in an earlier webinar.
Unmentioned in the article is the inherent dysfunction we often encountered in rental units during COVID. When people lived in close quarters and were cooped up in the unit, this naturally led to more conflict with household members and neighboring tenants.
Non-payment of rent notices
Eviction notice numbers are indeed on the uptick because landlords can proceed with unlawful detainers whereas before, the tenant could merely say the word "COVID" and be off the hook from consequences. Troublesome tenants once insulated from COVID-era protections can no longer put a halt to the eviction process. Instead, tenant-defendants or their legal counsel can assert a COVID impact as a defense to the eviction action as the case progresses.
However, the defense claim can be rebutted, and thus, it will be up to a judge or jury to decide the veracity of such a statement. Point is, the case will proceed and the COVID defense is only legitimate if the circumstances justify it.
There are mutual obligations in a rental relationship and we have always operated on the presumption that there are good landlords and bad landlords. Good tenants and bad tenants.
Eviction notice numbers are indeed on the uptick because landlords can proceed with unlawful detainers whereas before, the tenant could merely say the word "COVID" and be off the hook from consequences. Troublesome tenants once insulated from COVID-era protections can no longer put a halt to the eviction process. Renters or their legal counsel can assert a COVID impact as the case progresses, but it will ultimately be up to a judge or jury to decide the veracity of such a statement. Point is, the case will proceed.
So, of course, eviction notices are on the rise. Why would we expect otherwise?
Having said that, our goal at Bornstein Law is to never enlarge a dispute and have oftentimes said litigation is not a sporting event when one side wins and the other side loses. The mission is to resolve the dispute as quickly and as cheaply as possible, taking into account time, risk, and attorneys’ fees.