creators.com opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
Deb Saunders
Debra J. Saunders
23 Oct 2014
The Most Boring California Election Ever

Most years, California offers up supersize election stories — an embarrassment of riches for the … Read More.

21 Oct 2014
Spare Me the Sermon on Seizing Sermons

If you believe Houston Mayor Annise Parker, then you have to believe that when lawyers for her city … Read More.

19 Oct 2014
Jerry Brown: Caucus of 1

I know Republicans who voted for Jerry Brown in 2010. They thought he'd be like Richard Nixon going to China … Read More.

SF Rent Ordinance: Like a Bomb You Don't Hear Till It Hits

Comment

San Francisco is a cauldron of rights, unless you own a home.

Buy a property here and you might as well paint a target on your back. That's what Dan and Maria Levin discovered after they bought a two-unit North Beach home in 2008. They moved in to the upstairs one-bedroom apartment and told the downstairs tenant that they eventually planned to use the downstairs apartment for friends and family. (The state Ellis Act allows property owners to evict tenants without cause if they plan to take the property off the rental market.)

Five years later, the Levins served a notice of termination of tenancy and paid their tenant $2,600 — the first half of a city-mandated relocation payment, with the second half due when the tenant moved out 120 days later. The tenant claimed a disability, which entitled her to a one-year extension and an extra $3,500.

Dan Levin told me the couple knew the rules and expected to pay off the tenant. They were OK with that. But the couple didn't expect what happened next.

In the spring, by a 9-2 vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance that "enhanced" the amount landlords would have to pay so it would compensate tenants for renting a comparable place for two years at market rates. Mayor Ed Lee didn't sign it, but with a veto-proof majority, it went into effect in June, even for cases already in the works. Factor in city rent control and the new ordinance can mean a big chunk of change. Suddenly, the Levins had to pay their tenant $118,000 to leave.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, a Bill Clinton appointee, found the ordinance unconstitutional. Breyer wrote that city law "requires an enormous payout untethered in both nature and amount to the social harm actually caused by the property owner's action." That is, the city wrongly is asking a handful of landowners to shoulder an unfair burden of the cost of an on-fire housing market.

No lie. The new San Francisco ordinance makes getting evicted akin to winning the lottery. There's nothing to stop the recipient from using the windfall funds for recreation — or as a down payment on a property in a city that recognizes property rights. And without any needs test, Breyer wrote, "the ironic result" of the law is that "those tenants who can afford to pay the highest current monthly rents are entitled to a correspondingly higher payout amount." Two tenants who moved in to another building in 1997 and paid $8,500 per month in rent are now entitled to a payout of more than $220,000.

And then there's the fact that these huge new fees apply essentially retroactively.

"I have talked to many people about this law, especially non-lawyers, from all sides of the spectrum, and I haven't found one that thinks it's reasonable," said J. David Breemer, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the Levins pro bono.

Supervisor David Campos, who sponsored the ordinance, disagrees — and he's a Harvard Law School grad. When you consider "what landlords are making in this market," he said, the ordinance "makes sense. I believe that it's reasonable." Evicted tenants will have to spend money on housing elsewhere. To Campos, the issue is "not just how much money (the Levins are) paying but also how much money are they making in the sale of the property." Except they aren't planning to sell the property now.

The Levins' relocation payment, Campos added, presents a "most extreme case." Better to look at "a typical case." OK. The city controller's office computed a payout of $45,000 for a $900-per-month apartment. That's a lot of money to pay someone to move.

Breyer doesn't disagree that San Francisco has a housing problem. He just doesn't think it's fair to make the Levins pay six figures to atone for a market that is unaffordable for a host of reasons not of their making.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera will appeal Breyer's decision. Campos argues that the ordinance is not retroactive, as it applies only to uncompleted and future evictions. Breemer would counter that the ordinance upset the "legitimate expectations" of property owners by levying an "exorbitant" cost without proper notice.

It came like a bomb you couldn't hear until after it landed.

I asked Levin about his politics. "I'm a lifelong Democrat myself," he told me. "My wife is, too. We vote that way." It bothers the couple that there's no means-testing for tenants, that people with six-figure incomes enjoy a windfall that small-property owners can ill afford.

City Hall drove these Democrats into the loving arms of the usually conservative property rights crowd. Levin told me he doesn't think it's political; it's "a constitutional issue." Don't be so naive. In San Francisco, everything is political, especially the U.S. Constitution.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com. To find out more about Debra J. Saunders and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM



Comments

0 Comments | Post Comment
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right:  
Creators.com comments policy
More
Debra J. Saunders
Oct. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
28 29 30 1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31 1
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Authorís Podcast
Marc Dion
Marc DionUpdated 27 Oct 2014
Deb Saunders
Debra J. SaundersUpdated 26 Oct 2014
Steve Chapman
Steve ChapmanUpdated 26 Oct 2014

30 Dec 2012 Romney at the Bat

19 Apr 2007 A Massacre, Up Close and Banal

3 May 2012 Stark Raving Congressman