A Personal Synopsis on the San Francisco Housing Crisis: Fleeing the Blast Radius of the Silicon Valley Tech Boom
So I thought I'd share an interesting tidbit regarding my personal experience relating to what has apparently developed into part of the quintessential "San Francisco Experience"... I speak of course of illegal tenant evictions. I'll start with a little backstory:
About 8 months ago, our landlord, a nice Argentinian man who had owned our lovely three-story Victorian walk-up on the edge of the Mission and Noe Valley for decades, put the property on the market. The building itself is over 140 years old, and thus was rent controlled, in accordance with SF law, which states that all building erected prior to 1970 are to be. Our landlord actually ended up pulled the property from the market. However, he had apparently entered into a binding agreement of some shape or form, and long story short, at the threat of suit, our landlord was eventually bought out.
Our new landlord immediately made it unequivocally clear that she would be a royal pain in the ass to deal with, consistent with the SF eviction lore I had heard whispers of prior. My roommate made a call, largely out of courtesy, to introduce herself to our new landlord. The landlord answered the phone with a tirade of invective that quite literally could have served as a textbook example for verbal harassment. She immediately brought up eviction proceedings, lawsuits, and changes she was planning to make. She started her reign of terror by noisily ripping out the beautiful wooden moulding in the hallway of our common stairwell at odd hours of the day in order to replace it with... a plain white coat of paint. She closed off the courtyard and demanded us move anything we had in storage, under the threat of eviction. She illegally amended the terms to our lease. She claimed absurd violations of the lease agreement that just in no way happened. She forgot to pay water bills and electricity bills for common areas, and entering our apartment without prior notice or authorization. After doing a bit more research, we found she had 3 aliases and 16 LLCs in order to manage 8 properties she owned, and that she had recently illegally evicted a 91-year-old tenant from one of her other buildings. She made it clear that at every turn, she would attempt to make our lives as difficult as possible until we moved out.
And then she sent us unlawful tenant lawsuit, claiming that as we had not complied with her prior instructions (we had), we were illegally occupying the apartment (despite her cashing our rent checks well after the date of a haphazardly thrown together three day "cease or quit" notice).
Map of San Francisco Evictions via The Bold Italic Some of you who don't have intimate knowledge of the San Francisco housing market historically or the increasingly turbulent state it's currently in may be asking yourself, "how the f*** is this possible?" Let me explain a bit.
-SF is a 7 mile by 7 mile city. It is the second most dense urban area in the US next to New York City, which is largely skewed by the fact that the west part of the city (the Sunset and Richmond districts) are much less populated than the northern and central districts. What does this mean? No many people can live in SF - there are only about 775,000 housing units in existence in the entire city. And there's not a ton of space to build on either.
-It has always been notoriously difficult to find housing in SF. Legends of 30-year-tenants with $200/month rent controlled apartments are the shock and awe of everyone new to the city, and the apartment hunting process, which must be conducted entirely through Craigslist, can be stressful at best and extremely costly financially at its worst.
-The economy in the SF Bay Area has erupted, largely due to the resurgence in profitability of web and mobile based internet and technology startups. While SF is small, the Bay Area, home to over 7 million people, is not. Some may be surprised to learn that SF isn't even the biggest city in the Bay, San Jose is. Most of the larger tech companies, however, don't reside in San Francisco, but instead in the South Bay (Google in Mt. View; Apple in Cupertino; Facebook in Menlo Park; the list goes on).
-As these companies grow in size and hire new employees, it seems that all of them understandably want to live in the city and commute to work in the South Bay (made easy by transport provided by the companies). The generous salaries offered to employees at these companies has in turn led to a surge in the market price of apartments in the city, and has led to the pricing-out of the lower class, and is starting to price out the middle class. -
This has made real estate extremely volatile and hyper-inflated, and has led to the entrance of slumlord-type landlords with an evict-renovate-resell plan into the market. These cumulative conditions have led to many landlords resorting to less than savory tactics, and the emergence of lawyers willing to help them, in order to evict their tenants and lease the buildings out at a higher rate.
Unfortunately, most of the tenants targeted in these illegal evictions are seniors, low income, or minimally educated, meaning that they often flinch at the scare tactics. As we had been planning to move out anyways (I will be moving to London in a week), we didn't care much, but decided to retain a lawyer to assure we received our security deposit, didn't have to pay the landlord's court costs, hopefully recoup some sort of inconvenience settlement, and for general peace of mind. He confirmed that the manner in which they had tried to evict us was in fact, completely illegal, and that we would almost certainly win the case.
My best advice I can give to someone who finds themselves in a similar situation is not to panic. And talk to a lawyer (if you can't afford one, there are many free services available to people in SF for just these circumstances).