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Mission District lawmaker wants to make it harder to buy out renters

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Supervisor Hillary Ronen alleges that landlords skirt the law by using buyout offers as de facto evictions

A mural on the side of a Victorian building depicting birdhouses in twisted shapes.
Andrew Schoultz and Aaron Noble’s now-defunct Mission mural about the fleeting nature of housing.
Via Shutterstock

Rather than evicting tenants, many landlords simply offer cash in exchange for moving out of a home voluntarily. But these arrangements may themselves become a form of tenant abuse, intimidation, and de facto eviction, according to SF lawmaker Hillary Ronen, who now wants to crack down on tenant buyouts.

Ronen announced Monday that at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting—where she represents the city’s ninth district, comprised chiefly of the Mission—she will introduce new legislation further regulating buyouts.

“Every tenant I know lives in fear of a knock on the door when the landlord tells you that he or she wants you out,” said Ronen, adding that sometimes property owners will use the threat of potential eviction as a lever to get tenants to accept a lump sum of money instead.

The new rules would require that landlords offering buyouts apprise tenants of their rights and give notice 45 days before making the offer. They would also have to report buyouts to the San Francisco Rent Board, which now doesn’t always keep tabs on such arrangements.

Former Supervisor David Campos—for whom Ronen served as an aide—created buyout rules in 2014, but she says that there are loopholes in the existing laws that still allow for abuse.

According to the Rent Board’s annual buyout agreement report for 2018, the board received 962 pre-buyout negotiations disclosure forms that year. The board also received notice of 379 buyout agreements.

The Mission had the most negotiations and the most buyouts on file for 2018 (155 and 44, respectively). The Tenderloin had the second highest rate of declarations, 104, with the Haight close behind at 103.

The San Francisco Apartment Association noted in 2016 that the existing rules “only count buyouts that are voluntarily reported by landlords.” The property-owners lobby predicted that, on average, SF landlords pay about $7 million in combined buyout deals annually, citing examples ranging from a mere $1,750 up to in excess of $300,000.

(Note that the latter figure was for three tenants instead of just one.)

The San Francisco Tenant’s Union advises renters not to take buyout offers, but notes that many will for fear of potential eviction if they pass on the money up front.