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SF renter evictions have plummeted amid the pandemic

Protestors rally in SF to stop evictions.
Tiny Gray-Garcia a.k.a. Poverty Skola, left, delivers a slam-poetry style speech at a rally against evictions in front of City Hall on Jan. 4, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Government measures to keep renters from being kicked out during the pandemic have slowed what had been predicted to be a gusher of evictions, as notices posted during the Covid era have been a fraction of what they were during normal years, according to new figures from the Rent Board.

“We’re in unusual times,” said Scott Weaver, an attorney at the Eviction Defense Collaborative who had earlier predicted an avalanche of evictions for nonpayment.

A report submitted to the Board of Supervisors last week showed 876 nonpayment eviction notices filed during the 12 months ending Feb. 28, up from 645 the previous year. However, that’s still less than half the rate at which such notices were filed before the pandemic. Eviction lawsuits have also plummeted, with the court reporting half the number seen in typical years, Weaver said.

The past two years’ numbers are lower than at any time during the past 20 years.

In August, the state imposed a moratorium on evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent in cases of Covid-related hardship. California has also provided Covid-linked rental assistance. San Francisco already had renter protections in place prior to the pandemic—a 2019 law expanded rent protections that previously had only applied to units built before 1979.

View of houses and apartments from Kite Hill
View of houses and apartments from Kite Hill on November 8, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. | Photo by Camille Cohen/The Standard

A recent local ordinance has narrowed the reasons a tenant could be evicted to violence, threats of violence, or health and safety issues. And statewide eviction protections are to remain in place through June 30, 2022.

Charley Goss, with the San Francisco Apartment Association, a landlord group, said that even in cases where it might be possible to evict a tenant, landlords have avoided that route.

“It costs a ton of money. It’s a huge stressor. Some cases are high-profile. You could get protested. It’s not something people want to do,” he said, adding that this has meant an even higher incentive to work matters out.

“I think we tried to meet the situation of what was going on, and help members be compassionate, ethical and prepared,” he said.

Notwithstanding, landlords continue to attempt certain types of evictions. Eviction notices for creating a nuisance were 452 during the 12 months ending Feb. 28, up 25 percent from both 2021 and 2020, while eviction notices for breach of a rental agreement were up 60 percent to 161. 

That was fewer than in previous years.

However, Leah Simon-Weisberg, an adjunct professor at UC Hastings who also represents tenants groups, said she would have liked these numbers to be lower.

“What stands out is that the largest number of notices are for nuisances. That’s exceptional,” she said. “The moratorium has been effective. That’s definitely the takeaway. But what we have to ask ourselves is, ‘In what way do we need to keep components of this moratorium?’”