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SF voters guarantee lawyers for evicted tenants

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Proposition F passes with more than 55 percent of the vote

Activists And Tenants Protest Rising Evictions In San Francisco Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tuesday’s California primary election brought good news for renters and tenant activists, and potential headaches for budget hawks as voters approved Proposition F, a new law that will provide a lawyer for every SF tenant facing possible eviction.

According to the proposition’s text:

This measure would require the City to establish, fund and run a program to provide legal representation for all residential tenants in San Francisco whose landlords are attempting to evict them from where they live.

The measure would require the City to provide a lawyer for a tenant within 30 days after the tenant receives an eviction notice or a lawsuit seeking eviction. The lawyer would provide legal representation to the tenant until the notice is withdrawn or the lawsuit is resolved.

For obvious reasons, Proposition F was popular with tenant advocacy groups. The San Francisco Tenants’ Union even added the phrase “Yes On Prop F” to the name of its Twitter account for the duration of the campaign.

Critics argued that the prop was a well-intentioned but poorly written measure that overextended the city without guaranteeing enough benefit to renters.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in a March editorial:

There’s no income test, meaning a high-income renter can tap into the idea, which provides an attorney from start to finish in a legal fight. It also establishes a right to legal representation on the city books, a major expansion of government duties with unforeseeable consequences.

[...] The right to counsel also would apply to tenants who are abusive to others or destructive to property — and you would be forced to cover their legal fees.

Despite those critiques, voters backed the measure with some 55.41 percent of the vote, or 83,581 out of 150,423 votes cast for Tuesday, according to the SF Department of Elections.

Ahead of the vote, SF City Controller Ben Rosenfield testified that it’s difficult to estimate the cost of the legal program but that it is “ is likely to be significant,” adding that early calculations come out to some “between approximately $4.2 million and approximately $5.6 million annually, and this amount would be likely to grow in future years.”

Sources like the San Francisco Rent Board and Tenants Together both estimate that eviction attempts are slightly down recent years, although they disagree on how many people face evictions in the city. But almost every source agrees that evictions climb when rents and property values are on the rise.