By Janani Ramachandran

Deadline: January 21, 2021 –

Renters all over California are losing their homes under the state’s Ellis Act, when landlords evict long-term tenants – usually in rent-controlled areas, and even if they’re paying their rent on time – in order to convert these properties into condos or even Airbnb vacation rentals. Thousands of tenants have suffered.

There’s an existing statewide eviction moratorium, AB 3088, and a proposed new moratorium, AB 15, but neither protects tenants against Ellis Act evictions. Most tenants who have been evicted under Ellis have lived in their homes for decades. Many are elderly, immigrants, have disabilities, or are survivors of abuse. It is unfair to ask these tenants to leave their homes when they’ve done nothing wrong, in the midst of a global pandemic while statewide stay-at-home orders are still in place. These tenants will have little to no chance to locate new affordable housing in their neighborhoods and may become homeless – and over 10,000 nationwide COVID-19 related deaths have been specifically attributed to evictions that occurred during the pandemic.

Oakland and San Francisco, who know their hands are tied, have called on the State Legislature to take immediate action. Call your legislator today to ask for (1) an immediate moratorium on Ellis Act evictions, and (2) long-term reform of a 5-year holding period that will keep speculators from buying a property for the purpose of immediately flipping it by evicting existing tenants.

 What You Can Do:

1) Call your state legislators NOW. The deadline for them to pass a new bill is January 31.

Find your local assemblymember here.

  • Rob Bonta: email; District: 510-286-1670; Capitol: 916-319-2018
  • Buffy Wicks: email; District: 510-286-1400; Capitol: 916-319-2015
  • Rebecca Bauer-Kahan: email; Capitol (handles legislative calls): 916-319-2016; District: 925-328-1515
  • Bill Quirk: email; Capitol: 916-319-2020; District 510-583-8818
  • Timothy Grayson: email; Capitol: 916-319-2014; District: 925-521-1511

What to Say:

My name is _____, I live in (assemblymember’s name) district and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I am calling to urge _____ to protect tenants in California. The Ellis Act is being used to evict tenants, including low-income, elderly, or disabled people, even if they’re paying rent. It’s not fair to ask people to leave their homes, for no fault of their own, in the middle of a pandemic while a statewide stay-at-home order is in place. I’m asking ____ to support legislation imposing a moratorium on Ellis Act evictions, and also imposing a 5-year holding period and civil penalties for violators.

2) Tell Assemblymember David Chiu to include the Ellis Act in the Eviction Moratorium

Assemblymember David Chiu is the author of AB 15, which will expand the current statewide eviction moratorium, and has the most power to amend his bill to include the Ellis Act in the moratorium. Call Chiu at (916) 319-2017.

 What to say: 

My name is ______ and I am calling to urge Assemblymember Chiu to include the Ellis Act in California’s Eviction Moratorium. The Ellis Act is being used to evict tenants, including low-income, elderly, or disabled people, even if they’re paying rent. It’s not fair to ask people to leave their homes, for no fault of their own, in the middle of a pandemic while a statewide stay-at-home order is in place. Over 10,000 COVID-deaths have been linked to evictions. Assemblymember Chiu must place a moratorium on Ellis Evictions and work to permanently reform the Ellis Act to keep families housed.

Background: 

In 1985, California passed the Ellis Act, allowing landlords to “withdraw a property from the rental market” by evicting existing tenants, which enabled speculators and other profit-motivated landlords to displace long-term tenants. Since that time, landlords have often used the Act to evict tenants to sell the building at a higher property value, or convert the unit into condominiums or Airbnb rentals. From 1994 to 2020 alone, over 27,000 rent-controlled units have been taken off the market due to the Ellis Act, displacing over 60,000 residents in Los Angeles and over 5,400 households in San Francisco.

The current COVID-19 tenant protections in AB 3088 and the proposed language of AB 15 continue to allow Ellis Act evictions – in fact, Ellis Act evictions are one of the only ways landlords can evict tenants during the pandemic. Eviction threats and actual evictions based on the Act are rising, including in areas like Sonoma County, which has historically not had a problem with Ellis Act evictions because they don’t have a “just cause ordinance.” Eviction defense lawyers report anecdotally that some landlords are threatening tenants with Ellis Act evictions, since it’s one of the only ways to evict rent-controlled tenants who currently unable to pay rent and replace them with tenants willing to pay higher rents. Landlords are taking advantage of the reality that it is extremely difficult to mount a successful affirmative defense to Ellis Act evictions.

Allowing Ellis Act evictions to proceed during the pandemic is also a public safety catastrophe: over 10,000 nationwide COVID-19 related deaths have been specifically attributed to evictions that occurred during the pandemic.

The Tenderloin Housing Clinic is currently working with 252 people in San Francisco facing Ellis Act evictions. They include long-term tenants, elderly people, people with disabilities, limited-English speakers, and survivors of abuse. These tenants, many who are likely to be immunocompromised, are being asked to leave their homes while statewide stay-at-home orders are still in place, in the midst of a pandemic. Not only is the emotional and physical toll of moving especially pronounced during the pandemic, but these tenants will have little to no chance of locating affordable housing in their neighborhoods post-eviction.

Local jurisdictions are hesitant to legislate around Ellis and offer greater protections to tenants, because of landlords’ successful challenges to such protections in the past. The Oakland City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have passed unanimous resolutions asking the Governor for an immediate moratorium on Ellis Act evictions during the pandemic, and asking the State Legislature for longer-term reform of the law. We agree: 2021 must be the year we reform the Ellis Act and protect our most vulnerable tenants. Thus, we call on the State Legislature to do three things:

1) Impose a Moratorium on Ellis Act Evictions during COVID-19, until 90 days after the statewide stay-at-home order is lifted.

2) Require a 5-year holding period before a building purchaser may invoke the Ellis Act, and enact penalties for violators: This would stop speculators from buying buildings and then immediately “taking the property out of the rental business” for purposes of their own financial gain. For landlords who do “flip” the property in less than five years, the state should enact a provision that imposes civil penalties on landlords by amending Civil Code 1940.2.

Janani Ramachandran is a social justice lawyer based in Oakland. She is a champion of bold, creative policy ideas necessary to bring equity and justice for all Californians.

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