San Francisco Prevails Over Landlords

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge sided with San Francisco in a lawsuit challenging a law that makes it more difficult for landlords to buy out tenants’ leases.
     The San Francisco Apartment Association, a landlord group, claimed that Ordinance No. 255-14 violates landlords’ rights to free speech, equal protection and due process. It requires landlords who want to buy out a lease provide the tenant with a disclosure form.
     The landlords claimed the city ordinance restricted tenants and landlords from negotiating voluntary buyout agreements by “(1) making the negotiation process prohibitively burdensome for landlords and (2) further penalizing those landlords who do tolerate the burdensome process, by restricting their property rights even when they have fully complied with the law.”
     But after a September hearing , U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled for the city.
     She ruled that “nothing in the ordinance either forbids particular speech or speech activities, thereby imposing a true restraint on future speech, or conditions speech or speech activities upon the unbridled discretion of government officials.”
     “Whatever particular relationship a tenant may have with his/her landlord, it cannot transform a conversation between a landlord and a tenant concerning a possible buyout into something other than a discussion proposing a commercial transaction.”
     Hamilton found the ordinance does not impose “any meaningful delay in the landlord’s ability to engage in buyout negotiations,” and added that “a limit on a landlord’s ability to convert a rental unit into a condominium plainly does not interfere with” the landlord’s ability “to ‘settle disputes in good faith’ or to ‘contract for lawful purposes.'”
     She also rejected the association’s claim that the ordinance violates its right to equal protection.
     “The court finds that the complaint fails to plead facts showing that landlords and tenants are similarly situated with regard to the challenged provisions, but were treated differently with no legitimate government purpose,” Hamilton wrote.
     She found that the association offers “no reason to conclude that the amount of the buyout is more sensitive or private than other information routinely submitted to the government and made publicly accessible.”
     “In short, plaintiffs have alleged no facts showing that landlords have a legally protected privacy interest or a reasonable expectation of privacy in the certification that they have provided the tenants with the required notice of rights, or in the transactional information related to the buyout of a tenant.”
     The judge said amending the complaint would be “futile,” and dismissed it with prejudice.
     Neither side responded to request for comment on Friday afternoon.

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