April 16, 2020

San Francisco Expands Use of Hotels for Vulnerable Populations During Pandemic

Holland & Knight Alert
Stacie Andra Goeddel

Two separate actions were taken by the City of San Francisco on April 14, 2020, to expand the use of hotel rooms for vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 crisis. The Board of Supervisors approved an emergency ordinance requiring Mayor London Breed to contract for an additional 6,250 hotel rooms in a two-week period, urging exercise of the Mayor's authority to commandeer property if contracts for such rooms cannot be signed within that period. On that same day, Mayor Breed announced a new prohibition on removing guests that quarantine or isolate at a hotel if they meet certain criteria.

Emergency Ordinance: "Limiting COVID-19 Impacts Through Safe Shelter Options"

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in a unanimous vote at its April 14 regular meeting, enacted an emergency ordinance (Ordinance) requiring the City of San Francisco to secure 8,250 hotel rooms to use as safe shelter options for vulnerable populations in San Francisco. The Ordinance requires the City to enter into occupancy service agreements for the use of hotels and motels as temporary quarantine facilities for homeless persons, people released from local hospitals with COVID-19 exposure or infection, and frontline healthcare workers. The 8,000-plus rooms must be secured in less than two weeks, not later than April 26, 2020, with 7,000 rooms dedicated to homeless persons and the other 1,250 rooms dedicated to recently discharged or diverted hospital patients and frontline workers. The Board of Supervisors was prompted to bring the Ordinance to a vote due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at MSC South, San Francisco's largest homeless shelter, that sickened more than 90 residents and staff.

The cost of the 8,000-plus rooms is estimated by the San Francisco Budget and Legislative Analyst (BLA) to be more than $58 million per month, which would cover room rates, food service of three meals per day, personal care supplies, periodic deep cleaning by biohazard companies and 24/7 security coverage. The room rate costs are based on an average nightly room rate of $110 based on a weighted average of the seven hotels that the City already has under contract. Staff for on-site management of the hotels is estimated to be an additional $1.6 million per month. The BLA estimates that, if deemed eligible, up to 93.75 percent of such costs may be reimbursed to the City by federal and state agencies.

To facilitate the quick execution of additional occupancy agreements by the April 26 deadline, the emergency ordinance waives the requirement that occupancy service agreements be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Previously the Mayor's Office had advised that it was working to secure 7,000 rooms for COVID-19 purposes; however, the Ordinance creates a mandate that the City achieve that goal. As of April 12, 2020, the City had contracted for 2,000 hotel rooms and moved approximately 800 homeless individuals into those contracted rooms. The Ordinance further provides that if the City is unable to procure the required 8,250 hotel rooms by April 26 through negotiated occupancy service agreements, Mayor Breed is urged to use her authority to commandeer property as needed to reach the required room count, essentially creating a two-week deadline for the City to achieve its original goal of contracting for 7,000 rooms to house San Francisco's homeless population.

The emergency ordinance will become effective immediately upon enactment and remain in effect for 60 days. If Mayor Breed attempts to veto the ordinance, the Board of Supervisors may enact the ordinance by a vote to override the veto.

10th Supplement to Mayoral Proclamation

Also on April 14, Mayor Breed issued a 10th Supplement to the original local emergency Mayoral Proclamation (Order) she issued on Feb. 25, 2020, prohibiting hotels from removing guests using the hotel for isolation or quarantine. The Order went into effect on April 15 and will remain in effect until the local emergency is terminated by Mayor Breed. The Order specifies that hotels may not remove any guest staying in a hotel room if the following occur: 1) the guest requests to continue occupying the unit, 2) the guest is in isolation or quarantine voluntarily or by order due to actual or potential exposure to COVID-19, and 3) the guest agrees to pay the hotel for the hotel room at the comparable rate as other hotel rooms. The Order does allow a guest protected under the Order to be removed if the guest engages in unlawful behavior or fails to comply with the San Francisco Health Officer's social distancing requirements.

The Order provides that isolating individuals who have been exposed, exhibit symptoms or have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus is crucial in controlling the spread of the virus, that hotel rooms are ideal for that purpose and that it is in the public interest to prohibit hotels from removing such protected guests.

The Order does address certain concerns of hotels. If a hotel is intending to close and there are protected guests in the hotel, the hotel may contact the San Francisco Department of Public Health to develop a plan to transfer the protected guests to another suitable location. More importantly, if a protected guest cannot be removed from a hotel room, the Order makes clear that such room will not lose its designation for transient use and the guest will not gain tenant's rights under Chapter 37 of the San Francisco Administrative Code.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that the situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving and that the subject matter discussed in these publications may change on a daily basis. Please contact your responsible Holland & Knight lawyer or the author of this alert for timely advice.

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.

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