SFAA v. CCSF (2022): Court of Appeal Affirms San Francisco’s Eviction Control Authority in Prohibiting Rent Increases that Coerce a Tenant To Vacate

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“Plaintiffs contend the amendment is preempted by Costa Hawkins because it seeks to regulate the rent a landlord may charge on exempt properties. The city contends and the trial court agreed that the amendment at issue here is a valid exercise of the city’s authority to regulate evictions. We agree that the amendment is designed to deter landlords from attempting to avoid local eviction rules by imposing artificially high rents in bad faith, and thus is a reasonable exercise of the city’s authority to regulate the grounds for eviction, which is not preempted. Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgment.”

The Court of Appeals upheld the San Francisco Real Property Court’s denial of the petition of San Francisco Apartment Association (and others) for a writ of mandate, enjoining Ordinance 5-19 – an amendment to the tenant harassment ordinance prohibiting increases for units exempt under Costa-Hawkins, if the increase coerced a tenant to vacate.

Petitioners argued that Costa-Hawkins’ preemptive effect on local price controls displaced local authority to circuitously discourage a landlord from exercising their rights. The panel was particularly focused, however, on the specter of the hypothetical “$1 million dollar a month” rent increase (which does not appear to have ever actually happened). It questioned why a local government would not have the authority to protect tenants from displacement, when the rent increase itself wasn’t the true goal. The ruling undercuts Costa-Hawkins and turns ordinary market transactions into jury questions. Landlords would be wise to obtain market advice from qualified experts – and perhaps even negotiate with tenants – before imposing increases.