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San Francisco landlords lose lawsuit

This article, a version of which was originally published in Next City, is republished with permission

By Jared Brey, Next City, August 7, 2020

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law in June that implemented a permanent ban on evicting tenants for rent payments they miss because of the pandemic, as Next City noted at the time. Soon after, landlords sued the city, saying the law was an unconstitutional taking of their property. But a judge ruled this week that the law “is a ‘permissible exercise’ of the city’s power,” according to a report from the Courthouse News Service. The property owners that filed the suit say they’re trying to protect their rights.

“My clients are fighting for the very principle that when a landlord rents a property, the tenant has to pay rent or the tenant has to move,” Andrew Zacks, an attorney for the landlords, told Courthouse News Service. “That’s the hallmark of what a landlord-tenant relationship is. San Francisco is trying to upend that … Most landlords don’t want to evict and would much rather work something out with tenants, but tenants don’t have an incentive to work anything out.”

Many landlord lawsuits lean on the notion of constitutional “takings,” the idea that a policy deprives property owners of so much value that it violates their basic right to ownership. Landlords sued on those grounds after New York expanded its rent control laws last year, as Next City reported. Eviction moratoriums have sparked property-owner lawsuits in other states as well, including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, and Kentucky, according to The Real Deal. And San Francisco’s more permanent policy does not free tenants from having to pay rent back, as the Courthouse News Service noted. But it “takes eviction off the table,” as Supervisor Dean Preston, who sponsored the law, put it, according to the report. Superior Court Judge Charles F. Haines found that it was not an overreach, though the property owners plan to appeal, the report says.

“The ordinance does not compel any uncompensated physical occupation of property or otherwise give rise to a facial taking of property, and as a reasonable exercise of the police power to promote public welfare it does not facially violate the Contracts Clauses of the federal or California constitutions,” Haines wrote in his ruling.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter explor­ing scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more afford­able and more environ­mental­ly sus­tain­able. Subscribe to the twice-weekly Backyard newsletter.

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