Evictions for Profit: The Ellis Act
The wiki description of California Government Code 12.75, known as the Ellis Act, named after the San Diego state senator who introduced it in 1985, sounds innocuous enough: “The Ellis Act is a California state law that allows landlords to evict residential tenants in order to ‘go out of the rental business,’ in spite of desires by local governments to compel them to continue providing housing.”
The law was supposed to provide an orderly, equitable exit path for landlords and tenants alike. But in the past 15 years, particularly in affluent cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Ellis Act has been abused like a laboratory bunny. And – big surprise – it’s not tenants who are taking advantage.
The intent of the Ellis Act wasn’t to displace renters so landlords could enjoy greater incomes; it was to provide safeguards and guidelines for the transition process. But during hot real estate markets, when property values are rising, landlords convert their former apartment rentals, including rent-controlled units, into expensive condominiums. Or they sell it to a developer to tear down and subsequently cram as many single-family dwellings on the footprint as physics will allow.
Worse, the most promiscuous users of the Ellis Act aren’t the mom-and-pop landlords who want to get out of the rat race and move to Florida; it’s those same developers, most of whom own the property for a year or less before evicting society’s most vulnerable from rent-controlled apartments. The elderly; disabled veterans; single mothers.
Since 2003, more than 20,000 rent-controlled units in Los Angeles have vanished thanks to Ellis Act evictions.
Even if you’ve not yet been evicted under the Ellis Act, and even if you own your home, the proliferation of profit-driven evictions is cause for alarm. The affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles is largely because of Ellis Act abuses. And the homeless crisis in Los Angeles is in part because of the affordable housing crisis. So, yes, we should all be concerned.
To get a visceral sense of the correlation between Ellis Act evictions and the dearth of affordable rental units, look at this live map, created by the Coalition for Economic Survival as part of their anti-eviction mapping project. This map doesn’t show evictions for 2017 or evictions of small business owners, hundreds of whom have had their storefront taken away from them so the building could be turned into luxury housing.
What it does show is that we have a problem. Repealing the Ellis Act would be a solution.