Developments may be able to demolish multiple units under just cause 37.9(a)(15). Just cause 37.9(a)(15) has been used to evict many tenants in developments such as Trinity Properties and Park Merced. Other evictions are anticipated using this just cause unless the law is changed. It is particularly important in these cases of demolition of multiple units to organize as tenants.
Tenants have a right to a 60 day written notice for tenancies of at least a year (otherwise a 30 day notice) and for demolitions of a single unit there are relocation payments. A landlord must first get the required permits or their ability to do the eviction legally is significantly impaired. After the demolition of a single unit, the initial rent of a replacement tenant is limited (to the rent of the terminated tenancy except for annual rent increases) for 5 years after the termination of the previous tenancy.
The Planning Commission may hold a “Discretionary Review” of building permits regarding a demolition upon request. Most mergers of rental units require a mandatory discretionary review. Housing that is not affordable or not sound do not require a public hearing. Generally if the cost to upgrade the unit(s) to safe and habitable standards costs more than 50% of the cost to replace the existing unit(s) at the same size, it would be deemed “unsound.” Tenants who face eviction due to such mergers may be able to contest the issuance of such permits.
Tenants should request a Block Book Notice from the Planning Department if they think the landlord might be requesting any permits that could affect them. This will give advance warning to tenants of the permit application for which the tenant can request a discretionary review.
Mergers occur when a landlord combines two or more units into one larger unit (the lost unit is technically a demolition). They often occur when a landlord combines the units for personal use. Besides creating a larger, more desirable home, the landlord can sometimes evict a longtime tenant. To merge units, a landlord must first have a just cause to evict, assuming the unit is under rent control and then, in most cases, must obtain permits from the Planning Department for the necessary construction.
To effect a merger, landlords may try to evict tenants in two units for the purposes of an “owner move in.” If the landlord is already living in the building, he or she may try to evict tenants in another unit. Generally, an owner move-in eviction will not be allowed for such a merger unless the landlord obtains permits to physically merge the two units, as opposed to claiming they simply want to use two separate units. On other occasions, landlords may seek to evict tenants under San Francisco Rent Ordinance Section 37.9(a)(10) for removal of a single unit from “all housing use.” Most mergers, however, seek to maintain the tenant’s unit as a housing use, (e.g., as part of a larger apartment) and the eviction can be fought this way.
The Planning Commission will review the merger application based on:
- Consistency with San Francisco Planning Code Section 101.1 (General Plan Priorities)
- Objective and Policies of the Residence Element Plan
- Discretionary Review Criteria:
- Whether removal of unit will be detrimental to the supply of housing and whether or not any hardships imposed by displacement of tenants will be mitigated (e.g., relocation payments).
- Whether removal of the unit will bring the building closer to the prevailing dwelling unit density in the neighborhood.
- Whether removal of unit will correct design or functional deficiencies.
- Whether removal is necessary to preserve landmark status.
- Whether the units are intended for owner-occupancy.
The main argument tenants have is that the merger will remove affordable housing from the rental housing stock. To win at the Planning Commission, it helps to organize and politicize the case. If you lose there you can appeal to the Board of Permit Appeals. In both cases, organizing is very important, especially if you can organize neighbors (who may not care about the evictions but are concerned that the replacement building will adversely impact their views, the neighborhood character, etc.).
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