The Ellis Act (California Government Code Chapter 12.75) 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 Ellis Act prohibits local entities, such as cities, from having rent control ordinances that prevent owners of housing from evicting tenants to the extent that the landlord is required to continue providing housing. The Act does not limit ordinances that control landlords who continue renting; for example, an ordinance can prevent a landlord from evicting a tenant and then renting to another tenant.
To take advantage of the Ellis Act, a landlord must terminate all residential tenancies and withdraw all "accommodations" (which roughly means all "residential rental units"), so the landlord cannot, for instance, terminate the tenancies of rental units with lower, rent-controlled rents while maintaining the market rate tenancies.
Local entities are permitted to place various restrictions on the landlord's ability to go out of business. For instance, cities can require that landlords file a "notice of intent to withdraw", providing the city with information about the tenancy (like the names of tenants, dates of commencement and rental rates). Cities can require the payment of relocation assistance "to mitigate any adverse impact on persons displaced". It can further require that the termination date of the tenancies be extended, from the standard 120 days, to a full year from the commencement of the withdrawal process, where tenants claim to be at least 62 years old or disabled.
The city may also impose restrictions against the future rental use of the property. It can require that, if the landlord offers the withdrawn units for lease within ten years of withdrawal, he/she must first offer the unit to the displaced tenant(s), and, if he/she offers the unit within the first five years, he/she must offer it to the displaced tenant(s) at their former rental rate.
Examples of implementation
Implementing statutes vary by city, so there are different requirements in each jurisdiction:
- San Francisco requires compensation, which increases along with CPI, and which, as of 2016, was $5,894 per tenant (plus an additional $3,929.74 per disabled/elderly tenant), capped at $17,683.86 per unit. A pair of efforts by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos in 2014 and 2015, to increase this relocation payment to provide for two years of market rate subsidy to displaced tenants, was found to be "unreasonable" and preempted by the Ellis Act. An amendment to the Ellis Act for San Francisco County was proposed in 2014 in the California State Legislature, SB1439  If enacted, SB 1439 would require property owners who have filed an Ellis eviction to wait five years before doing so with another building. The measure did not pass.
- Santa Monica requires an owner get a re-occupation permit before the building can be used for any purpose following Ellis Act evictions.
- Los Angeles applies rent control provisions to units built on the same property up to five years later.
Where withdrawn residential units can no longer be rented, Ellis Act-invoking property owners often sell apartments as individual tenancy-in-common ("TIC") units. Some cities, such as San Francisco, impose strict restrictions on withdrawn property (e.g., preventing condominium conversion or the adding of "accessory dwelling units"). However, a 2016 decision by the First District Court of Appeals upheld a challenge against San Francisco's ordinance preventing post-Ellis "mergers" of units, finding that state law occupies the field of substantive eviction controls for owners attempting to withdraw units from the residential rental market, suggesting that the Ellis Act may impose a limit on post-withdrawal "penalties" that seek to disincentivize use of this state law right.
The Ellis Act is named after Republican State Senator (1981-1988) James "Jim" L. Ellis, a former representative of San Diego. It "was adopted by the California Legislature in 1985 after the California Supreme Court ruled that landlords do not have the right to evict tenants to go out of the business of being a landlord". That case was Nash v. City of Santa Monica (1984) 37 Cal.3d 97.
Criticism and Response
Tenant groups in San Francisco and Los Angeles claim that California landlords commonly misuse the Ellis Act "to bypass rent control" and cash-in during peak housing market periods by managing rent-stabilized properties to vacancy, after which they might demolish buildings to build pricey condominiums, retenant newly vacated units at top-market rents, or resell buildings at much higher prices than they bought once they are no longer value-encumbered by the presence of long-term, rent-stabilized tenants.
The Ellis Act has been the focus of many tenants rights groups other anti-eviction movements in San Francisco. On November 2014, Proposition G was proposed to add a tax on real estate speculation in order to slow down the number of no-fault evictions caused by the Ellis Act. Groups have argued that the rising number of evictions due to the Ellis Act is contributing to the Gentrification of San Francisco.
- "California Government Code Chapter 12.75".
- "Bill Text - SB-1439 Residential real property: withdrawal of accommodations".
- Melody Gutierrez (30 May 2014). "S.F. Ellis Act reform bill passes in state Senate". SFGate.
- "California Legislative Information". California Legislative Information. CA Government. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
- "Tenants Together : Landlords busted by city task force". Archived from the original on 2010-12-01.
- "Rent Control Of Replacement Units Upheld".
- "Beyond Chron - New Study Calls for Ellis Act Reform - Beyond Chron". Beyond Chron.
- "Evicted Residents Vow To Keep Eye On Building".
- Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. "Ellis Act Evictions - Anti-Eviction Mapping Project".
- Southern California Public Radio. "Ellis Act evictions in LA on the rise". Southern California Public Radio.
- San Francisco Elections Office, "San Francisco Ballot Simplification Committee Digest for Proposition G," archived September 9, 2014