Landlord And Realtor Groups File Lawsuits To Block Laws Intended To Protect Tenants

Several landlord and realtor groups filed two separate lawsuits against the city of San Francisco in Superior Court today to challenge two new laws intended to protect tenants and preserve rental housing.

The two ordinances, both sponsored by Supervisor John Avalos, were passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by Mayor Ed Lee in December. They went into effect on Jan. 25.

One measure bars landlords combining apartment units for 10 years if a tenant has been evicted from a unit under the state’s Ellis Act, which allows owners to withdraw property from the rental market and convert it to other uses, such as condominiums or a single-family home.

The law also prohibits merging of units for five years after a tenant has been evicted for an owner move-in.

A lawsuit filed by the San Francisco Apartment Association, Coalition for Better Housing and the San Francisco Association of Realtors claims that law violates property owners’ rights and is pre-empted by the Ellis Act.

The groups say it punishes people who own a building and want to combine two units into a larger one to accommodate a growing family.

The law “unfairly takes away the right of individuals and families who simply want to create a home for themselves and their family in a building they own,” said Jim Parrinello, a lawyer for the groups.

The second lawsuit, filed by the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, challenges a companion measure that allows renovation and expansion of an estimated 52,000 rental units that have so-called “non-conforming uses.”

Non-conforming units are apartments that do not conform to current city zoning laws regulating population density, but are legal because they existed before the laws were passed.

The new law allows expansion and renovation of such units, so long as the construction remains within the existing envelope of the building. But in a bid to protect tenants, the law prohibits building permits for such expansion for 10 years after a tenant is evicted under the Ellis Act.

The lawsuit claims the measure violates the Ellis Act and the constitutional due process rights of property owners, and that it lacked an environmental review required by state law.

“This legislation punishes families who move into their own buildings,” said institute President Noni Richen.

“It could cause thousands of lawful housing units to sit vacant while the city denies permits for basic upkeep,” Richen said.

Both lawsuits ask for injunctions blocking implementation of the ordinances.

Gabriel Zitrin, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said, “We just received the lawsuits” and said lawyers for the city have no immediate comment.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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