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Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano Are the Batman and Robin of Ellis Act Reforms

But are they fighting the wrong super-villain?

An artist's conception of Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano

An artist's conception of Mark Leno and Tom Ammiano

Bam. Pow. It's a team up that could only happen in a comic book—or in Sacramento. State Senator Mark Leno and Assemblymember Tom Ammiano—often times ideological rivals—are both working towards the same goal: limiting the impact of the Ellis Act on San Francisco.

Recently, the duo introduced two separate measures to curb what they consider to be the abuse of the act, a state law that allows residential property owners to evict tenants in the process of taking a building off the rental market. But are they fighting the real super-villain? Is the Ellis Act the Bane or the Talia al Ghul of the housing affordability crisis? 

Leno's bill, introduced with the support of mayor Ed Lee, would place prevent landlords from invoking the Ellis Act within five years of buying a building. In a statement, Leno said that, "The original spirit of California’s Ellis Act was to allow legitimate landlords a way out of the rental business, but in recent years speculators have been buying up properties in San Francisco with no intention to become landlords but to instead use a loophole in the Ellis Act to evict longtime residents just to turn a profit." His bill would apply only to San Francisco.

By contrast, Ammiano's bill would allow cities or counties anywhere in the state to enact moratoriums on Ellis Act evictions on the vote of the Board of Supervisors or public. It would also hide no-fault evictions from tenants' credit histories. In his own statement, Ammiano said, "Experience shows you can't build your way out of an affordable housing crisis. We have to do what we can to preserve what affordable housing we have. This is one piece of that effort."

The progress of the bills is available online here and here through the legislature's website. Similar measures, including one by Leno to introduce a five-year waiting period, have failed in the past.

As we argued last month, the bills may be an insufficient—if not distracting—response to the housing affordability crisis. According to data that the Examiner complied from the city's Rent Board and Assessor-Recorder's office, from 2012-2013, only 6.6% of total evictions in the city invoked the Ellis Act, and those 113 cases are a sharp drop from past numbers. Perhaps more tellingly, in only 32 cases did landlords invoke the act within two years of purchasing a property—which means a five-year holding period would have affected at most 113 and at least 32 cases in total from 2012 to 2013. Though the human costs in specific cases may be real, given the massive imbalance in supply and demand in the city's housing stock, these numbers seem to indicate that even if the Ellis Act were to be changed—a difficult prospect in Sacramento—that the impact on overall housing would be minimal.

Will our heroes manage to overcome the real estate lobby? Will Ed Lee finally reveal himself as the Penguin? Will anyone still return our phone calls after this picture goes public? Tune in next week. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. 

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