How "Serial Evictees" Game A System Meant To Protect Renters From Abuse

There’s nothing we dislike more than people who scam a system put in place to protect vulnerable consumers from abuse, but the sad fact is that they do exist. SF Weekly has an article that tracks the exploits of a serial evictee, a “renter” who leases apartments with no intention of paying rent, and then games the system in order to stay rent free for as long as possible.

Depending on the vigilance of the landlord, a seasoned serial evictee like Getzow can get away with a minimum of 45 days and sometimes up to a year of free rent. The actual number of serial evictees operating in San Francisco is difficult to track, but some attorneys who specialize in representing landlords estimate there are between 20 and 100.

Landlord attorney Clifford Fried of Wiegel and Fried says these types of tenants know they’re unlikely to be punished for withholding rent. “You can go into a store and steal a loaf of bread and do a year in jail,” he says, “but you can steal months of rent from a landlord and never do any time in jail. It’s a great crime to commit because there are no penalties.”

The evictees are well versed in the ins and outs of the San Francisco eviction process. They take advantage of the all the programs and aid that the city provides to its residents who are facing eviction. Of course, they’re only a small percentage of the renters that seek help:

Carolyn Gold directs the San Francisco Volunteer Legal Services Program, which manages a group of 10 volunteer attorneys who help tenants in the 30 or so eviction cases that come through Superior Court each week. She says she sees very few serial evictees like Getzow. “In fact, what we see more of is serial evictors, landlords who continually come up with ruses for one eviction after another,” she says. “There are lots of tenants who have gotten themselves into a tight spot for one reason or another — they’re elderly, they have medical conditions, lost jobs — things that are beyond their control. I see it every day, and it’s very, very sad.”

The serial evictee profiled in the story, however, is an especially nasty one. His last run in with a landlord ended in charges for assault:

According to police, Getzow came into the Holy Grail on Feb. 10 at about 1:30 a.m. complaining about noise and attempting to goad O’Reilly into a fight. O’Reilly refused and tried to get Getzow to leave. Bartender Patricia Herlihy was so alarmed at Getzow’s behavior that she began taking photographs of him with a digital camera. Getzow approached her and shoved or pushed the camera into her face, SFPD Sergeant Neville Gittens says.

Herlihy was taken to the hospital, Gittens says, though the police report contains no information about the extent of her injuries. Getzow retreated to a nearby crepe restaurant, where he was still in such an agitated state when the police arrived that it took several officers to restrain him, the report says.

How Renters Work the System to Live for Free in One of America’s Most Expensive Cities [SFWeekly]