Eviction notices in San Francisco have been increasing every year for the last five years, and it’s the renters in Mission, Sunset and Tenderloin who are on the wrong side of these notices.
Renters in these areas are prone to breaking contracts or being nuisances — at least that’s what the data from the San Francisco Rent Board show. But a closer look at the data tells a much different story.
Eviction notices have jumped 60 percent since 2011. Mission, Sunset, South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods together account for more than a quarter of the notices served. More people in the Mission have been asked to leave than in any other part of the city.
But an analysis of the reasons for all evictions showed that breach of contract and nuisance account for half the eviction notices served since 2011.
All told, 2,080 tenants were served eviction notices last year — nearly six a day.
In a city with more than 850,000 people, these numbers are small. But nearly two-thirds of the population lives in rental housing, according to data from the 2014 American Community Survey.
“This is an underreported problem in San Francisco. We are seeing a huge surge in evictions where landlord trumps up some silly claim to force the tenant to spend money to defend his rent-controlled tenancy … it’s probably the biggest threat to rent-controlled housing in San Francisco and other rent-controlled jurisdictions,” said Joseph Tobener, a Bay Area tenants’ rights attorney.
What the numbers say
Just four neighborhoods had more than one-third of the breach eviction notices in the last five years.
Lakeshore, located in the southwestern part of the city, topped the list of breaches, with 199 notices served in 2011. In 2015, the number dropped to 73.
Renters in the Sunset, located in the western part of the city, have seen breach eviction notices nearly triple over the last five years — going from 11 to 29.
For east-central neighborhood Mission, breach notices nearly doubled until 2014 — going from 33 to 59 — before dropping to 44 last year, still more than from five years ago.
In the Tenderloin, a northeastern neighborhood that has long had a reputation for drugs and crime and is now experiencing an influx of highly paid tech workers, breach notice numbers have soared. Last year, 97 notices were served. Five years ago, this number was only 12. Tenants have also seemingly become more of a nuisance here. Last year, 45 tenants were asked to leave, compared to 23 in 2011.
Many of the 8,859 eviction notices served since 2011 reported multiple reasons. In our analyses, if ‘breach’ or ‘nuisance’ were one of the reasons, these were counted in their respective categories. If both appeared, or if the reasons included several of the other categories, these were counted under the ‘multiple’ head — 267 of them in total.
The numbers reflect the notices served to tenants and may not have always resulted in them getting evicted. Yet, in many cases, an eviction can result in the displacement of an entire family.
Landlords are serving eviction notices for minor reasons such as putting up decorations on the door, said Deepa Varma, executive director of San Francisco Tenants Union. Calling them “low-fault” evictions, Varma said landlords use these instances as excuses to evict low-income tenants and replace them with high-income tenants — usually young employees of tech companies.
Tobener, too, recalled similar situations. “We have seen cases like, ‘The water heater busted and that’s a nuisance so we’re going to evict. You let off fireworks on the Fourth of July, so we’re going to evict,” he said of two of his clients.
The city, on its end, passed legislation last year to prevent owners from serving eviction notices on frivolous grounds. The law came into effect only on Nov. 9, 2015 — meaning the latest eviction data do not account for and may not reflect this change.
How this affects the overall eviction numbers remains to be seen, Varma said.
The number of renter-occupied units and houses has increased by 4 percent from 2011 to 2014 — from 212,864 to 221,143 — according to the American Community Survey.
Many long-time renters occupy spaces in rent-controlled units, which means the landlord cannot increase their rent — or can institute small increases as regulated by the rent board. But if a tenant moves out or the house is vacated, local laws allow the landlord to increase rent to market rates, Tobener said. With a limited housing stock and high demand, this means there is greater incentive for landlords to get new tenants.
Both Tobener and Varma said the market forces and income inequality contributed towards the evictions. It’s not so much the fault of the high-income tech workers who move in, Varma said. She added that landlords like having young tenants because the latter have a disposable income and don’t stay for too long. This means landlords can keep raising rent and the poorer tenants end up being victims of the market’s forces.
The city’s data doesn’t even tell the story of renters being forced out to make room for other tenants paying higher rents, said Erin McElroy, co-founder of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a housing rights collaborative. McElroy, along with several other contributors, has analyzed the eviction data and created several maps to highlight the housing crisis in the city.
“Many times, the tenant will just leave when served this [eviction] notice because they don’t know their rights or are too scared. These [cases] are not reported to the city at all,” she said.
Even if someone does want to put up a fight, it may not be economically feasible. “Defending a tenancy can cost tens of thousands of dollars — hundreds of thousands of dollars if it (the case) goes all the way,” said Tobener, the tenants’ rights attorney.
The other side
Landlord associations, however, pointed out that tenants in the city have “sufficient protections” and that most evictions are legitimate.
“We respectfully disagree that people are being evicted for frivolous reasons. You need to have a just cause to evict [a tenant] and most of those reasons are: non-payment of rent, breach of lease, nuisance to other people in the building, eviction to do lead-based paint remediation,” said Charley Goss, who works on government affairs for the San Francisco Apartment Association, a group for rental housing owners.
Goss said there is no evidence to prove that low-income tenants are being evicted. “The vast majority of evictions are not to profit or kick low-income people out. There aren’t any statistics that bear the fact that these evictions are happening primarily to low-income people,” he said, adding that most of the cases that get attention are Ellis Act evictions “that are viewed to be done in bad faith, but are a very small percentage of the total evictions citywide.” Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords to evict tenants if they wish to take their unit off the rental market.
“One of the reasons why breach evictions are on the rise is because Airbnb use is on the rise. Tenants who use Airbnb to profit off of their rent-controlled apartment are getting evicted. The vast majority of evictions are for a fault — for a disruption being created, breach of lease and those types of things — and we do feel they are appropriate,” Goss said.
Goss said they and the tenants’ rights groups often work together on issues of common interest. “We enjoy a good working relationship. We disagree on certain things but we respect the work that each of the other group does,” he said.
Explore the data
Peninsula Press has built an interactive application to allow people to know how many eviction notices have been served in each neighborhood in San Francisco. You can explore the eviction data here.