Ellis Act Evictions in Berkeley

The Ellis Act allows landlords in California to evict tenants from a housing unit in order to 'go out of business,' which means that the landlord intends to stop renting those units entirely. Many landlords find articles online about the Ellis Act and think that this will be a good way to avoid some of Berkeley's difficult tenant protections, but unfortunately, this is not the case. This post talks a little about why an Ellis Act eviction can be difficult, and why you need experienced help. 

The first thing to remember about evictions in Berkeley, or anywhere in Alameda or San Francisco counties, is that the landlord has to do everything right to secure an actual eviction. Close enough is not good enough anywhere by the Bay, and so eviction processes that have more steps are more dangerous. 

The second thing to remember is that messing up an eviction, including an Ellis Act eviction, can expose you to serious liability. There are law firms and lawyers who've made excellent livings suing landlords who tried to do complicated evictions themselves. 

So, turning to the actual process, the Berkeley Rent Board issues forms that you must use when giving a tenant notice of your intent to pursue an Ellis Act eviction. You should get these forms directly from the Rent Board, or from an experienced law firm, of course, because older versions that circulate online won't work. A form that's basically the same as the required form will get your case dismissed, even if all the other rules were followed. 

These forms also need to be filled out correctly and served on the tenants correctly, and there are strict timelines for when service needs to be complete and when deposits need to be paid to the Rent Board. It's best to have a sum set aside for this before you begin. At the time of writing, the sum due to a tenant subject to an Ellis Act eviction can vary from $5,000 to roughly $13,000, and failure to pay the right amount to the Rent Board at the right time will torpedo your case. We recommend placing enough money to cover the full sum for each tenant into trust with your lawyer, so that he or she can pay the sums immediately when they come due. 

Last but not least, you want to calendar exactly when you'll file for an unlawful detainer. Under Ellis, you have to give tenants a set period of time before moving to evict them, at least 120 days. Ideally, you should coordinate with your attorney to make sure that the complaint for eviction happens the day after the time limit for moving out runs. Evictions are a slow process, especially in places like Berkeley or Oakland, and the sooner you start, the sooner you'll finish. 

Bear in mind as well that even a successful Ellis Act eviction obliges you to let the original tenant know if you re-rent the property within the statutory limit, and this is where a lot of law firms make their money. The law will presume what's called bad faith on the part of a landlord if a property is re-rented quickly, or if both Berkeley and the tenant aren't alerted properly. 

Hopefully this post conveys some of the complexity of an Ellis Act eviction. The best route, and often the cheapest, is to hire an experienced firm like Verbeck Law to handle your tenant issues. Often, we can find a way to avoid using Ellis altogether, and can find another solution that's faster and easier. If you're thinking of getting started on an eviction, consider contacting us today.