Supervisor Kim Proposes Discouraging Evictions Through Vacancy Control


San Francisco Business Times reports that Supervisor Kim is in the process of drafting new legislation that would discourage evictions by imposing rent control on newly vacated units.

Costa-Hawkins already imposes “vacancy control” in the event that a tenancy is terminated following a “notice of rent increase” or a “notice of termination of tenancy” – the former discouraging abusive rent increases designed to obtain vacancy, rather than market rent, and the latter disincentivizing the termination of long-term rent-controlled tenancies. (Legislative intent is unclear on this point, but this language seems to have been to ward off a wave of landlords terminating grandfathered tenancies as Costa-Hawkins was coming on-line in the late 1990s.)

Supervisor Kim’s proposal, on the other hand, is more likely aimed at addressing the increasing number of evictions based on breach of contract and “nuisance behavior”, which skyrocked in the last year for which the Rent Board published data. Her legislation would presumably impose the same kind of “vacancy control” restrictions that Costa-Hawkins itself contemplates.

However, even if her proposed legislation passed, it is not expected to stay on the books for long. Costa-Hawkins was enacted, in part, to prohibit “vacancy control”, where cities would register rental units and impose rental rate restrictions, even when a newly vacated unit was placed on the open market. This deregulation applies, “notwithstanding any other provision of law“.

At least one other law “withstood” this plenary language. The court in Apartment Association of Los Angeles County, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles found that Costa-Hawkins did not repeal provisions of the Ellis Act allowing cities to restrict rental rates of rental units that were re-rented after a landlord “went out of the rental business”. However, the Ellis Act is state law, on equal footing with Costa-Hawkins. It is unlikely that a court would allow municipal law to carve out its own exception in an area already expressly governed by state law.