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Judge expels eviction protection for San Francisco teachers

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A hard lesson

Although the city has labored to shield San Francisco teachers and students from the specter of eviction, a state judge just brought the gavel down on their latest effort.

In the spring of this year, city lawmakers unanimously passed an ordinance making teachers and kids almost eviction-proof in San Francisco, at least during the school year itself. The law barred "owner move-in, condominium conversion, removal of rental unit, capital improvement, and substantial rehabilitation" evictions for teachers, as well as for students.

(Evictions for seismic upgrade construction were still legal, as were at-fault evictions like lease violations or failure to pay rent. Anything else had to wait until summer.)

Since San Francisco teacher salaries start at about $4,383/month, and since a one bedroom apartment in the city averages at least $3,400/month even with modest declines over the summer, this seemed like a law everyone could get behind.

Except landlords. They hated it. And they sued, in the form of two local landlord advocacy groups and noted landlords’ attorney Andrew Zacks.

"The ordinance is invalid because it is preempted by state laws governing landlord-tenant notification.," read the suit filed June 10. "Plaintiffs’ members who have already initiated terminations may be forced to re-initiate terminations unless relief is granted."

On Wednesday, Superior Court Justice Ronald Quidachay concurred and threw out the whole law, finding fault with the city’s legal reasoning:

"The ordinance only applies if one of the occupants is in a certain class defined in the ordinance, a circumstance the landlord may only learn after serving a notice," the decision points out. "Because state statutes also fully occupy the field of the procedures to terminate a tenancy, the ordinance is preempted and invalid on its face.

"The City compares the limitation provided to owner move-in limitations if tenants fit certain categories, such as senior or catastrophically disabled. However, these conditions are a complete bar to recovery regardless of how much notice is given." (Whereas just being a teacher isn’t, as the court reasons.)

"The Court is cognizant of the desire to prevent disruption of the educational process. [But] that concern must be addressed some other way."

Rough news if you’re a teacher, a welcome break if you’re a landlord. The city could always appeal, of course. Quidachay used to have a bit of a reputation for how often his decisions were tossed. (Which does not necessarily reflect on his qualifications or performance as a jurist.)

Quidachay, California’s first Filipino judge, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in 1983 (yes, Brown was appointing judges 33 years ago, wrap your brain around that), recently earned some ire from tenant advocates and love from landlords by squashing the city’s attempt to hike fees on Ellis Act evictions.

But despite the gnashing of teeth his court occasionally causes activists, Quidachay began his legal career at a non-profit that provides legal help for San Francisco’s poor.