Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
How a California state law has helped convert many rental properties into condos.
The Ellis Act is a state law in California that allows property owners to get out of the business of being landlords. Citing the law, they can evict tenants – including those who've never missed a rent check – to change the use of a building without selling it to a new owner. Frequently, the law is used to convert rental properties to condos. And, tenant advocacy groups claim, it's wielded to undermine rent-control restrictions in cities like San Francisco that are rapidly becoming unaffordable to precisely the people rent control is designed to protect.
In San Francisco, "Ellis evictions" have been on the rise, prompting protests particularly in neighborhoods like Nob Hill, the Castro and the Mission. The law has been on the books since 1985. But use of it has grown more common as a second tech boom in the Bay Area has pushed up the cost of living and the demand for luxury housing.
To illustrate the cumulative effect of all these evictions – in addition to impacting individual families, they also remove affordable rental housing from the market – the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project produced the below time-lapse animation. It spans Ellis Act evictions in San Francisco between 1997 and September of this year. The size of the bubbles corresponds with the number of units displaced with each eviction.