For rent sale

Tenancies in common are depleting San Francisco's rental-housing stock

Luz Moran, 75, fingers through a shoebox full of certified envelopes from her landlord's attorney, squinting at the English words. She's sitting on a red couch in the living room of her modest Mission District apartment, her feet barely touching the floor.

"This is another check he sent me, look," she mutters in Spanish, pointing out two checks amounting to $3,752.85. The money was sent along with an Ellis Act eviction notice, the first half of the $7,500 in relocation benefits city law requires be given to elderly or disabled tenants who are removed through the state law (if the tenant is not elderly or disabled, the landlord only needs to provide them with $4,500).

"I don't know what we will do. Other apartments are expensive, and we can't afford them," Moran says. The money is barely enough to cover moving costs and the first month's rent at another place, she says, adding, "I don't think this landlord is dying because of lack of money."

The eviction was not her landlord's first attempt to move Moran, along with her 92-year-old mother and her son, from their two-bedroom apartment. In May 2006 he offered to sell them the unit for a discounted rate of $310,000, which was out of the family's price range. Then he suggested a buyout agreement so they would leave voluntarily, but said he couldn't offer much more than the Ellis Act's required compensation. After the initial attempt to subdivide the building and all other negotiations failed, the landlord finally issued the eviction. He now wants to sell the units as tenancy in common apartments. But the Morans — and some other tenants in the building — are refusing to cash his checks.

"Because if we accept the money, it says that we are willing to leave here," Moran says.

The word eviction brings back bad memories for many residents of San Francisco, where the number of people thrown out of their homes numbered 2,878 in 1999. Then, at the height of the dot-com era, long-term renters were booted to make room for higher-paying tenants and out-of-towners prepared to buy six-figure homes.

But Moran's story highlights two new additions to the renter woes that fill the San Francisco Tenants Union these days: landlord buyouts and a surge in TIC homeownership. With San Francisco's housing prices on a seemingly perpetual upswing, it's no wonder TIC ownership has increased twelvefold in the past decade. In 1996, 55 TIC units were sold through the San Francisco Multiple Listing Service, and in 2006 that number rose to 650, according to Realtor groups.

At first glance, it looks as if this trend should answer the prayers of middle-class families while avoiding an increase in no-fault tenant evictions. The city's total evictions have been going down since 2001, hovering around 1,500 since 2003. But over the past five years Ellis Act petitions have slowly picked up, then petered off again, according to Rent Board data. And Ted Gullicksen, office coordinator at the Tenants Union, says these numbers don't take into account relocation as a result of unregistered buyouts and threats, which can often lead to TIC ownership.

Each weekday at the Tenants Union dozens of renters shuffle through the doors, plop into mismatched chairs, and wait for hours to spill their complaints and legal paperwork onto the desk of a volunteer counselor.

"We're pretty busy here at the Tenants Union," Gullicksen says on a Friday afternoon during counseling hours. "It's pretty close to what it was during the worst of the dot-com years."

Gullicksen reports an increase in the number of threats and buyouts of tenants in the past year. He attributes that to 2006 legislation passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors prohibiting the conversion of buildings after the eviction of elderly or disabled tenants or multiple units.