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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Whose Fault Are Evictions?

Posted By on Wed, Jul 29, 2015 at 12:26 PM

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There's nothing the media loves more than a counter-intuitive argument (n.b. #SlatePitch), and the San Francisco Chronicle's J.K. Dineen came up with a doozy this weekend in an article titled, "Why S.F. evictions are on the rise," in which he argued that a new pro-tenant law is actually increasing evictions in San Francisco. 

Dineen points to a bump in the rate of evictions since a tenant protection law went into effect on March 7 to suggest that the law is actually incentivizing evictions for landlords:

Since March, the number of eviction notices filed per month with the San Francisco Rent Board is up 32 percent compared with the previous three years’ average, while owner move-in evictions are up 131 percent. During that period, the average number of evictions has climbed from 151 per month to more than 200, while the number of owner move-in evictions per month has jumped from 23.7 to 54.7.

The law in question requires landlords to disclose tenant buyouts (the often hefty sums a landlord will pay a tenant in exchange for them vacating an apartment without a fight) and bans condo conversions for ten years in units where a buyout occurred. 

Dineen spoke to attorneys who saw a vague correlation and conjured up a causation:

Attorney Joe Tobener, who represents tenants, said he sees a direct cause and effect between the legislation and the jump in eviction notices, especially in two-unit buildings, which are the top targets for condo conversions. Before the legislation only buildings where evictions had occurred were barred from condo conversions. Now that both evictions and buyouts result in a condo conversion ban, property owners are choosing to save their money and skip the negotiating table. In addition to owner move-ins, the most common types of evictions in San Francisco are for breach of contract and nuisance.
While Dineen kept his argument speculative, the San Francisco Business Time's Jahna Berry threw caution to the wind in an article headlined, "San Francisco's new pro-tenant rules have increased evictions." 

While this argument lands squarely in the "Blame Progressives" wheelhouse, it's not particularly sound. The idea that a few months of data can show us anything significant is a stretch, and since buyouts were not recorded prior to March, all the de facto evictions that were occurring via buyout are excluded from the earlier data.  

East Bay Express journalist Darwin BondGraham put together a graph of San Francisco evictions since 2012, based on the SF Rent Board's annual statistical reports. Evictions have clearly been rising steadily for years, but the outsize importance of one law passed in March 2015 is by no means obvious. 

So why are San Francisco evictions on the rise? Let's give credit where credit is due, and make use of another media favorite: the self-evident point. San Francisco evictions are on the rise because San Francisco landlords are evicting more people. 

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About The Author

Julia Carrie Wong

Julia Carrie Wong's work has appeared in numerous local and national titles including 48hills, Salon, In These Times, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

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