Proposed CA bill would reform Ellis Act, require 5-year holding period

Photo of speakers
Top, left to right: Dan Kalb, Leah Simon-Weisberg, Rigel Robinson. Bottom, left to right: Carroll Fife, Terry Taplin

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Under a bill being considered by California lawmakers, landlords would need to own a property for at least five consecutive years before they can invoke the Ellis Act to evict sitting tenants from the property.

AB 854 would reform the 36-year-old Ellis Act, a state law that gives landlords the right to remove their units from the rental market, therefore evicting all tenants “without just cause,” according to a Berkeley City Council report from March.

Several East Bay officials announced their support for AB 854 on Tuesday during a press conference hosted by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a tenant advocacy group. On March 30, the City Council voted unanimously to support the bill.

Councilmember Rigel Robinson said during the press conference that AB 854 is a “simple fix” meant to prevent the abuse of the Ellis Act and would have “no effect” on longtime, small landlords.

From 1986 to 2018, more than 450 units in Berkeley have been taken off the market by invoking the Ellis Act, according to the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board’s summary of Ellis Act evictions.

Councilmember Terry Taplin spoke about his own experiences with displacement and emphasized the need for Ellis Act reform.

“Several years ago, I lost my apartment in Berkeley and, after a brief period of homelessness, was forced to live separately from my husband,” Taplin said at the press conference. “We need Ellis Act reform to ensure that no tenant has to endure the trauma of arbitrary displacement purely for private profit.”

Leah Simon-Weisberg, chair of the Rent Stabilization Board, said during the press conference that the bill prevents speculators from “gobbling up properties,” not just during the pandemic but also in the future.

Krista Gulbransen, executive director of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, or BPOA, voiced her concerns regarding the bill.

“We have always strongly felt that if someone no longer wants to run a business, whether it’s a rental business or any other business, they have a right to get out of the business if they want to,” Gulbransen said. “The reality is, when someone exits a business, it does impact customers.”

Gulbransen added in an email that the number of restaurants, retail stores, nonprofit organizations and small businesses that have gone out of business annually exceeds the number of rental owners who have gone out of business in the past 33 years, citing the Rent Stabilization Board’s summary.

Mark Tarses, president of BPOA, raised questions about the implications of requiring a five-year holding period for those who inherit a house with a current tenant but do not want to be a landlord. He also expressed concerns about government overreach.

“Do we want to live in a society where the government can tell somebody, ‘You can’t go out of business, you’re providing an essential service,’” Tarses said. “Do we want to live in a society where the government has that kind of power?”

Contact Iris Kwok at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @iriskkwok.