Do we have any recourse for being evicted from an illegally-zoned unit?
February 25, 2013 1:37 PM Subscribe
I and several other tenants across three different Live/Work loft properties in San Francisco were recently informed that the new building owner discovered discrepancies in the zoning of our building, and that we are essentially being evicted.
posted by wubbie to law & government (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've been living in a 1-BR Live/Work loft in San Francisco for 9 years without issue. The building was purchased by a new company a few months ago. We received a letter from them last week saying that during a pre-purchase inspection tour with the SF Planning Department, they discovered that the original owners had illegally subdivided many of the larger lofts into smaller 1-BR units (there were 36 units allowed in each building, they have about 45.)
And about 10 years ago, San Francisco put a moratorium on new Live/Work lofts, so because there is no way to make the units legal, they must be reverted back to larger units, and we have to leave.
My wife and I spoke to a volunteer (who is also an attorney) at the SF Tenant's Union, and he said that the building owners are required to the pay the tenants ~$5,100 each for relocation, and have the right to reoccupy the unit after remodeling for the same rental rate (plus a maximum increase of 1.9%.) That sounded pretty great to us! $10k and in a few months we get a bigger place for the same rent?
Apparently too good to be true: this morning we stopped by the SF Rent Board to ensure there were no loopholes. Unfortunately, the counselor there said that because our building was built after 1979 (!) that it was not governed by the Rent Board, and thereby IS exempt from the above ordinances (37.9C, 37.9A). Buildings built after 1979 are governed by State Law, which is minimally protective to tenants and offers no such provisions.
So unless there is some counter-loophole available, my question is (and I know YANAL) do the tenants of the three affected properties (I would imagine ~30-50 families) who are facing eviction have the basis for a civil class action lawsuit against the original building owners for not disclosing to us that the units we were renting from them were illegal, and could result in our incontestable eviction at any moment? And if so, would a lawsuit even be worthwhile given its expense and heartache?
As an aside, I found a letter from the San Francisco Planning Department through an online database about this property. It is dated December 2012 (a few months ago) and one of the lines reads:
"To the best of our knowledge, do our records show any unresolved zoning violations or complaints? Answer: No, our records do not show any violations or complaints." The letter is signed by Scott Sanchez, Zoning Administrator for the SF Planning Department.
It just seems curious to me that after 10 years and upon a recent review in December, they have had no record or knowledge of these quite obvious violations on record.
It certainly is a convenient method for the new building owners (Bennett Lofts / Essex Property) to evict everyone from the 1-BR units, make them larger, then rent them out to startups or wealthier families for 3x the rent, but because the building is not ~35 years old or older, the residents have no recourse whatsoever. Somehow I don't think a negative Yelp! review is going to be much of a burden on their conscience.