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SF lawmaker wants indefinite eviction ban over COVID-19

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Supervisor Dean Preston takes a page from Oakland with permanent—but limited—renter shield

A sign in the parking lot of an apartment complex reminds renters that “Rent is due on the 1st.” Shutterstock

Although San Francisco renters can’t be evicted right now if they fail to pay rent on account of the ongoing public health emergency, tenants will remain on the hook for rent owed during the shelter-in-place order. When next month’s bills are due, the result could be a renaissance in evictions.

Anticipating “a wave of displacement” in the near future, San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston announced plans to introduce legislation barring COVID-19-related evictions for the longterm.

Under the terms of new rules to be revealed at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, renters would still owe back rent, but landlords could never remove the tenants over debts specifically related to the novel coronavirus shutdown.

“You can’t get blood from a stone,” said Preston, a former tenants’ attorney, at a video press conference, adding, “This crisis and the non-payment of rent right now is not going to go away next month” and that the terms of the current eviction ban only put off larger problems.

In March, San Francisco introduced an eviction ban for renters with money woes related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Under that moratorium, renters had 30 days to come up with rent owed, but could file for as many as six 30-day extensions, during which time a landlord could not evict over that back rent.

Preston’s new proposal is similar to legislation that passed in Oakland last month, which also bans such evictions in perpetuity. The new rules would also bar late fees on these late rents, something SF’s current rent moratorium neglects.

Madelyn McMillian, a San Francisco renter in a building owned by Veritas, the city’s largest landlord, joined Preston, saying that her neighbors are “almost making themselves sick” with worry about how to pay rent and that the shelter-in-place order has taken the power to earn out of the hands of renters.

Landlords would still be able evict tenants on other grounds. Renters owe their landlord the full amount of any rent debt they accrue during this period, even if it’s impossible for property owners to enforce those debts through the eviction process.

That strange tension stems from the fact that Gov. Gavin Newsom has authorized cities to suspend evictions during the current emergency, but not to freeze rents altogether. Since state laws oversees residential leases, cities almost certainly can’t enact non-payment rules themselves.

Preston called the longer term eviction ban “the strongest anti-eviction protections we can provide” right now. Several SF lawmakers lobbying Newsom for more aggressive renter protections as the entire state continues to shelter in place, so far to no avail.

Asked whether any further state action seems likely, Preston criticized Newsom’s past renter protections, calling them “underwhelming” and saying, “My hope is his prior orders were the first steps toward something bigger,” including mortgage protections for property owners.