Court upholds San Francisco Relocation Assistance
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
February 21, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A state appeals court today upheld
San Francisco's so-called "universal relocation assistance"
The measure, passed by the city's Board of Supervisors in 2005,
requires property owners who are evicting tenants under the state's
Ellis Act to pay each tenant $4,500 in relocation assistance,
regardless of the tenant's income.
There is a cap of $13,500 per household.
A three-judge Court of Appeal panel in San Francisco rejected
arguments in which two residential property owners and an organization
called Small Property Owners of San Francisco argued that the
Ellis Act provides for relocation payments only to low-income
The appeals court said that an amendment to the Ellis Act passed
by the state Legislature in 2003 removed language allowing payments
only to low-income tenants and gave local governments the flexibility
to require aid to all tenants.
Justice Maria Rivera wrote, "We can only conclude the Legislature
meant what it said."
The plaintiffs, landowners Jackie Pieri and Lavinia Turner and
the property owners group, argued that the San Francisco measure
made it prohibitively expensive for landlords to withdraw property
from the rental market, in violation of the Ellis Act.
The Ellis Act, enacted by the Legislature in 1985, provides that
local governments cannot force property owners to stay in the
rental business, except in cases of certain types of residential
hotel units. The law also allows local governments to pass measures
to mitigate the impact of evictions on tenants.
The appeals court overturned a decision in which San Francisco
Superior Court Judge James Warren last year ruled in favor of
the property owners.
Andrew Zacks, a lawyer for the property owners, said his clients
will ask the appeals court to reconsider the case and will appeal
to the state Supreme Court if necessary. Zacks said, "We
don't believe that requiring property owners to make large payments
to tenants is consistent with the statute, which is designed to
enable landowners to get out of the rental market."
City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, "Today's ruling is an
important win for San Francisco tenants and vindication for our
argument that San Francisco correctly interpreted state law in
enacting its universal relocation assistance program."
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said, "Our law
is a reasonable step that provides a basic level of protection
for tenants who are subject to the increasing epidemic of Ellis
The appeals panel said the San Francisco measure did not "on
its face" violate the Ellis Act, meaning that the text of
ordinance did not conflict with the law.
But the panel said that individual property owners might be able
to argue in future cases that the measure's requirements were
prohibitively costly in a particular situation. Zacks said, "We're
happy they left that open," but said it would be a burden
for individual property owners to file lawsuits against the city
to challenge the application of the measure in individual situations.
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