The real estate downturn may have caused prices to dip, but it has not stopped the waved of Ellis Act evictions hitting North Beach. Today, community leaders will hold a noontime rally to save the tenants of 152-162 Jasper Place – a six-unit building that is the latest casualty of mass speculation. Eight long-term Chinese tenants who range between the ages of 69 to 89 live on the property, including a World War II veteran and the Vice President of Community Tenants’ Association. One occupant has already moved out, and another committed suicide after getting the eviction notice (his mother still lives there, but has lost 40 pounds since her son’s death.) But what’s noteworthy is not just the human cost of these evictions. The Ellis Act has uprooted thousands of tenants, but 152-162 Jasper Place is a prime example as to why it must be reformed, if not repealed entirely.

Sponsored in 1986 by State Senator Jim Ellis (R-San Diego), the Ellis Act is a state law that gives landlords the unfettered right to evict an entire building of tenants to “go out of business.” It has been amended over time – for example, we can thank John Burton for why the seniors at Jasper Place got a one-year eviction notice (rather than 120 days) – but changes have been minimal. Even a bill to limit the Ellis Act to landlords who owned the property for more than five years died in the State Senate two years ago, because the realtors killed it.

The Jasper case is a perfect example of why we need at least five years before landlords can invoke the Ellis Act. The owners bought the property in November 2007, and served all tenants with eviction notices within a year. Meanwhile, they let the units deteriorate – Housing Inspection reports show damaged ceilings, leaking pipes, no heat, mildew and other code violations – and liens were put on the property due to a failure to make repairs. This was not an old landlord who wants to take possession in order to live there, after years of dealing with tenants. This is real estate speculation, just to flip the property.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who is scheduled to attend today’s rally, has re-introduced the legislation to limit Ellis evictions to owners who have had the property for five years.

Ellis Act defenders claim that it’s a way to “create” homeownership. But commercial real estate listings show the Jasper Place as being marketed for speculators. A flyer by TRI Real Estate Services calls the six-unit building a “TIC opportunity for investor / developer.” Who would occupy these units after they’re sold? Could they be illegally rented out again?

The TRI flyer also advertises the units (which are being offered for $300,000 each) as having street parking – but “potential to add parking.” Does this mean the new owners would try to convert some of the rental units into garages? Fortunately, Supervisor David Chiu – who will also be at the rally today – has proposed legislation to address this issue.

During the dot-com boom, low-income tenants were evicted en masse by speculators who hoped to make a quick buck. During the “real estate bubble,” Ellis Act evictions went on unabated. Now as we’re hitting hard times, how many more tenants will be displaced?

It will take politicians in Sacramento who are willing to stand up to this kind of greed.