CAA discusses Ellis Act, San Francisco on NPR program


During an NPR talk show last week, the California Apartment Association shared its perspective on a controversial law that’s allowed an uptick in San Francisco evictions.

On Thursday, Nov. 21, AirTalk with Larry Mantle focused on the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to quit being landlords, take apartments off the rental market and either move in or sell them.

In San Francisco, where much multifamily housing is under rent control, selling a property at market value can make more financial sense than continuing to rent it out. In some cases, the Ellis Act can rescue a property owner from financial ruin.

“The state Ellis Act basically tells cities and counties that they cannot compel an owner to continue to offer housing for rent – especially if they just can’t afford to do so,” Debra Carlton, senior vice president of public affairs for CAA, said on KPCC in Southern California. “So it’s certainly a safety valve in those strict rent control communities.”

With emotions running high, especially when longtime residents face eviction, some want to change how the Ellis Act applies to San Francisco. This includes David Campos, a county supervisor who took part in the live NPR discussion.

Carlton responded that San Francisco does not have the authority to change how the Ellis Act applies in its own jurisdiction.

The City’s situation — with sky-high prices and low vacancies — boils down to supply and demand, she said.

“It seems to me like you’re chasing your tail when you’re not really focusing on the production of housing,” Carlton said.

Although San Francisco has only put forward 120 units in the past couple of years, she said thousands more are expected to come online soon.

“I really think that will soften the burden of what’s going on,” Carlton said.

If San Francisco interferes with the Ellis Act, however, it would likely shift from building houses to building a legal defense against lawsuits.

“It just doesn’t appear to be a really good use of your resources,” she said, “when we need to find a way to build some new housing there.”