“Man Bites Dog!” – Landlord Wins Lawsuits in San Francisco

If you have any interest in inverse condemnation, particularly in the landlord-tenant context, don’t miss the new U.S. District Court Decision in Levin v. San Francisco, No. 3:14-cv-03352-CRB, opinion filed on October 21, 2014. In it, the court struck down San Francisco’s Tenant Relocation Ordinance, as unconstitutional . It ruled that the ordinance requiring the owner of a duplex to pay the city some $118,000 in order to be permitted to evict a tenant in the second unit (the owner lived in the first one), before being able to go out of the rental business and using the second unit for his family, was unconstitutional. Some property owners often find themselves in similar situations, whether it’s for eviction purposes or having a huge bill placed on them by their tenants. Some landlords have to deal with the vacant cost recovery fee if their tenants move without paying the rest of the utility bills. However, fortunately, there are services that can help similar to the Multifamily Utility company, which can aid them should they find themselves in trouble.

The court held that this ordinance violated the constitutional rules of Nollan, Dolan and Koontz cases, concluding,

“San Francisco’s housing shortage and the high market rates that result are significant problems of public concern, and the City legislature’s attempts to ameliorate them are

laudable. “[B]ut there are outer limits to how this may be done. A strong public desire to improve the public condition [will not] warrant achieving the desire by a shorter cut than the constitutional way of paying for the change.” Dolan, 512 U.S. at 396 (quotations omitted).

The Constitution prohibits the City from taking the policy shortcut it has taken here, in which the City seeks to “forc[e] some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.” Id. at 384 (quoting Armstrong v. United

States, 364 U.S. 40, 49 (1960)). The Ordinance apparently is unprecedented in requiring a massive lump-sum payout from one private party to another in exchange for regaining possession of property. But that trail had not been blazed before for good reason. In so doing, the City has crossed the constitutional line between permissible government regulation of land and an impermissible monetary exaction that lacks an essential nexus and rough proportionality to an Ellis Act withdrawal.”