San Francisco has enacted its third emergency rent increase freeze. Like the previous one, Ordinance 158-20 was meant to apply (retroactively) upon the expiration of its predecessor.
However, Section 2.107 of the San Francisco Charter dictates that emergency ordinances are effective immediately upon passage, not “whenever the Board of Supervisors feels like”. Therefore, the previous ordinance (probably) expired later than it claimed to, which makes it unclear when the Board believes the 60 days of emergency Ordinance 158-20 is supposed to start running.
According to the Charter, its passage on August 25, 2020 means that it will expire October 25th.
Ordinance 114-20, passed as an emergency ordinance, re-enacts its predecessor Ordinance 68-20 to suspend the annual allowable rent increase for 60 days, per Section 2.107 of the San Francisco Charter (unless re-enacted again).
According to Section 2.107, an emergency ordinance is effectively immediately upon passage (which, for this ordinance was July 7, 2020). However, Ordinance 114-20 states that it is instead effective immediately after the expiration of Ordinance 68-20 (which is likely because the first emergency ordinance expired on June 23, 2020, before it this one was passed.
When in doubt, follow the charter. Ordinance 114-20 probably expires on the 61st day after passage – or September 6, 2020.
San Francisco passed legislation, sponsored by Supervisor Preston, which prohibits evictions for non-payment of rent, for any rent due during Governor Newsom’s eviction moratorium, which is currently extended through September 30, 2020. Therefore, for rents due between the original March 16th order and September 30th (as may be further continued), San Francisco landlords cannot collect this rent (and the unit) via an unlawful detainer lawsuit.
Unsurprisingly, several industry groups – the San Francisco Apartment Association, the San Francisco Association of Realtors, the Coalition for Better Housing, and the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute have sued to overturn the ordinance.
The full text of Ordinance 93-20 is available here.
Signed into law on April 24, 2020, but retroactive to April 7, 2020, Ordinance 68-20 temporarily suspends certain rent increases during the Mayor’s eviction moratorium prompted by the COVID-19 epidemic. The suspension applies to increases under Section 37.3(a) of the Rent Ordinance (which covers annual allowable increases, as well as any banked increases from previous years, and various passthroughs).
Now, it’s questionable whether even the Mayor’s emergency powers under the San Francisco Charter permit retroactive laws, though they may permit immediate ones. And otherwise, the authority of local governments to manipulate landlord’s state law procedural protections is strictly limited. Cities also lack authority to impose rental rate restrictions that prevent rents from keeping pace with inflation.
That said, Ordinance 68-20 contains specific references to the “anniversary date not being affected by deferral of the increase”. Likewise, it states that the right to impose the increase shall “immediately resume” when the moratorium expires. Likely, a landlord may send the increase, preserve the anniversary date, and simply not require the additional payment.
Today, March 13, 2020, Mayor London Breed ordered a moratorium on evictions based on a tenant’s inability to pay rent, if the inability is because of a “COVID-19 related impact”. For the next 30 days (and renewed as necessary), the tenant may notify their landlord of an inability to pay rent. They then have one week to provide documentation or other supporting evidence of an inability to pay rent.
Tenants who cannot pay rent will then have six months following the end of the emergency declaration to repay the rent. (Under state law, a landlord can demand rent via eviction notice a year’s worth of past due rent. At the moment, it is unclear whether the grace period would extend this.)
The press release adds that “recommendations from the San Francisco Department of Public Health can be found at www.sfdph.org/dph/alerts/coronavirus.asp along with up-to-date on coronavirus news and information. You can also call 311 and sign up for the City’s alert service for official updates: text COVID19SF to 888-777.”
In 1979, San Francisco enacted an emergency ordinance to address “a shortage of decent, safe and sanitary housing in the City and County of San Francisco resulting in a critically low vacancy factor”. It extended rent control and eviction protections to all units constructed before its effective date, June 13, 1979.
For over a decade, San Francisco retained the ability to amend the ordinance via the same police power it used to enact the law in the first place. However, in 1995, California enacted the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which permanently decontrolled units that had “already been exempt from the residential rent control ordinance of a public entity on or before February 1, 1995, pursuant to a local exemption for newly constructed units”.
In other words, prior to Costa-Hawkins residential rental units built after June 13, 1979 were already exempt under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, which defined “rental unit” to exclude “rental units located in a structure for which a certificate of occupancy was first issued after the effective date of this ordinance”. Following Costa-Hawkins, San Francisco could no longer change this.
Until 2020, there was no statewide eviction control, and San Francisco had always been free to limit (or eliminate) the new construction date for its eviction controls. Effective January 1, 2020, AB 1482 created an additional requirement that a city must make a “binding finding within their local ordinance that the ordinance is more protective than the provisions of this section”.
Effective January 19, 2020, San Francisco Ordinance 296-19 makes such a finding in deleting the local exemption for new construction. San Francisco will no longer exclude from the definition of “rental unit” units built after June 13, 1979. While these units will remain exempt from its price controls, the Rent Ordinance’s eviction controls will now require “just cause” to terminate the tenancy of any San Francisco residential rental unit.
The text of Ordinance 296-19 is available here.
In 2008, San Francisco voters passed Proposition M – amending the San Francisco Rent Ordinance to include “tenant harassment” regulations (implemented as Section 37.10B). A group of petitioners (including landlords, landlord attorneys, the San Francisco Apartment Association and the SF Association of Realtors) filed a facial challenge against its provisions.
That case, Larson v. CCSF, overturned several of its provisions. The court found that the prohibition on continued buyout offers (after a tenant notified the landlord that they weren’t interested) violated free speech rights. Another provision allowing the Rent Board to award damages violated the judicial powers doctrine (by vesting judicial authority in an agency). Other provisions survived: San Francisco could prohibit offers to vacate accompanied by threats or intimidation (as a reasonable time, place and manner restriction on speech). And the Rent Board was permitted to award a reduction of rent based on a quantifiable reduction in housing services.
The full text of Proposition M is available here
Justin A. Goodman of Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, PC will join a panel of attorneys (who represent both tenants and landlords), as well as the Senior Advisor at the Office of the Mayor, to teach a continuing legal education course on the Ellis Act. The course will include preparing for withdrawal of residential property from the housing market, the transactional process leading to termination of tenancy, common defenses, and the lasting effect on the property after ‘going out of business’.
The MCLE course is presented by the Bar Association of San Francisco, and will take place on December 10, 2018 at 12:00pm in the BASF Conference Center, located at 301 Battery Street, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, California.
Tiffany R. Norman, trn Law Associates
Andrew Wiegel, Wiegel Law Group, PLC
Thomas E. Drohan, Staff Attorney Legal Assistance to the Elderly
Justin A. Goodman, Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, PC
Jeff Buckley, Senior Advisor for the Office of the Mayor
The Bar Association of San Francisco has been providing San Francisco legal professionals with networking and pro bono opportunities in order to better serve the community since 1872.
Its mission is to champion equal access to justice and to promote humanity, excellence, and diversity in the legal profession. It provides legal services to disadvantaged and underserved individuals in San Francisco and creates opportunities for legal service in the community, encouraging participation by its members.
It advances professional growth and education, and elevates the standards of integrity, honor, and respect in the practice of law. It also cultivates diversity and equality in the legal profession, provides a collective voice for public advocacy, and pioneers constructive change in society.