Real Estate Groups Sue S.F. Over Eviction Ban

San Francisco Superior Court

Real estate groups Monday sued in San Francisco Superior Court, pictured, to overturn a permanent ban on evictions that Mayor London Breed signed into law Friday. The groups are also seeking a temporary restraining order to immediately suspend the law. Screenshot from Google Maps

Real estate groups Monday sued the City and County of San Francisco to overturn an eviction ban designed to help renters weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plaintiffs argue that the city ordinance “violates constitutional and state law” empowering landlords to evict, and conflicts with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Executive Orders, which have allowed local governments to issue temporary bans on evictions — not permanent ones. The San Francisco Apartment Association, the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, the San Francisco Association of Realtors and Coalition for Better Housing jointly filed the suit in San Francisco Superior Court.

The groups are also seeking a temporary restraining order to suspend the law, said Noni Richen, president of the small property owners group.

The legislation, signed into law June 26, outlaws eviction for nonpayment of rents that were due from March 16 through July 29 — a time period tied to Newsom’s executive order. Tenants can still be evicted for unpaid rents that are due later.

As officials considered the measure this month, Andrew Zacks, the attorney representing the real estate groups, warned that if it were passed, the city would likely face a lawsuit. Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the Presidio and Marina District, was the lone vote against the legislation — out of concern that the city would be sued.

As the Public Press reported last week, Zacks called the legislation “an unconstitutional taking of private property without compensation.” Supervisor Dean Preston, who wrote the legislation, disagreed, citing an earlier law that also limited landlords’ eviction powers and that the courts upheld.

Richen said small-property owners have told her that, as some tenants struggled to pay their full rents in recent months, landlords negotiated with them to temporarily drop the price to something they could afford. This is legal in rent-controlled properties, for which rent levels are tightly regulated. Richen said she had not heard of instances where tenants could pay none of their rents, or landlords were eager to evict.

“It just does not make sense to try to evict good tenants,” she said.

“It may seem a little bit illogical that we would be in on this suit, when I keep telling you that we don’t want to evict people,” Richen said. “But mainly it’s about maintaining legal order, maintaining the same constitutional rights that any other business has.”