San Francisco Enacts New Eviction Waiting Period to Help Keep Renters Housed

san francisco apartment building for renters

A new law in San Francisco could help prevent thousands of renters from becoming homeless by extending the warning period landlords must give their tenants before attempting to evict them.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the new law on February 1. It requires landlords first to send a 10-day notice to their tenants before they have legal justification to proceed with a forcible entry and detainer, the legal term for an eviction. The law will take effect sometime in March if the Board approves it again and Mayor London Breed signs off.

Supervisor Dean Preston, one of the law’s authors, said the mandate would be the first of its kind in the city. It is meant to help prevent evictions once the state and federal pandemic-related protections finally cease.

“We need to build in a period of time where landlords and tenants resolve the issue without it going to court as an eviction,” Preston said.

But the new law was not enacted without controversy. It was staunchly opposed by the San Francisco Apartment Association (SFAA), which represents more than 3,000 landlords in the city. The Association argued the law was not preempted by state law and is therefore outside the scope of the Board of Supervisors’ authority.

“Eviction law is governed by the state of California, not by the Board of Supervisors,” SFAA executive director Jan New said. “We believe that a lot of times, the Board of Supervisors overreaches their power, and we would like to see that stopped.”

SFAA sued the city last month to try and stop it from enforcing a law passed in 2019 that prevents landlords from essentially harassing their tenants until they move out.

Preston added that the law wouldn’t impact most landlords so long as they act in good faith to keep their tenants housed.

“It’s the landlords who are acting in bad faith and just trying to get out long-term tenants who will be affected by this,” Preston said.

Unending Legal Battles

It should come as no surprise that SFAA would fight back against the new San Francisco ordinance. Apartment associations across the country have been combatting federal and state regulations that provide more tenant protections from eviction.

The most successful challenge thus far came from the National Apartment Association, one of the lead plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case that overturned the federal eviction moratorium last summer.

Other state-level organizations have been fighting against similar protections as well. For example, the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association, which represents landlords outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently sued the city over an ordinance that forces landlords to wait 70 days before asking a tenant to renew.

Ann Arbor’s City Council also voted to ban landlords from performing criminal background checks of potential renters, with few exceptions.

Daniel Cherrin, a spokesperson for the organization, said the ordinances place an undue burden on the city’s landlords.

“Our members contribute significant tax revenue to the city, and many have been part of this community for decades,” Cherrin said. “Yet, the city failed to include the association in the conversations in crafting these ordinances. If the city was more inclusive, we could have worked on an ordinance that addressed everyone’s concerns.”

Eviction Moratoria Was a Real Solution for Tenants

Outside of the courtroom, the federal and state eviction moratoria proved to be a real solution for tenants who fell behind on rent because of the pandemic.

According to a study by The Eviction Lab at Princeton University, the policies helped prevent more than 1.55 million evictions in the six states and 31 cities the Lab covers.

Another study by Duke University found that the policies helped reduce deaths caused by COVID-19 by over 11% during the 11 months that they were in effect. Had the policies been in place at the beginning of the pandemic, infection rates could have dropped by 14.2%, while deaths would have decreased by more than 40%.

One reason the study points to for the considerable difference in results is that the moratoria actually increased the ability of individuals “to abide by social distancing orders and comply with hygiene recommendations.”

“Ensuring that people have access to housing and essential services for water and electricity within their housing is necessary in any adequate government response to the housing precarity created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study concluded.

How You Can Help

The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the U.S. It also showed that aid programs work when agencies and service organizations are provided with sufficient funds and clear guidance on spending aid dollars.

Contact your representatives. Tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness once and for all.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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