Tenants’ Rights Attorney on the San Francisco Housing Crisis

It has been the subject of local discussions for some time and concerns about the San Francisco’s housing crisis are now being talked about on a national level. As a San Francisco tenant’s law firm, The Brod Firm knows that for many the crisis is much more than coffee-talk, it is their life. This reality makes our work protecting the legal right of San Francisco’s renters even more critical. We encourage San Francisco tenants to assert their rights and believe doing so is crucial to helping renters survive the housing crisis and making the market work for renters.

The Crisis Gains National Attention
This month, Time Magazine focused on the affordability crisis in San Francisco where housing is more costly than anyplace else in the nation. Mayor Ed Lee recently reiterated a vow to provide the affordable housing the city needs, including below-market rate units for lower income renters. Lee’s latest solution involves cutting the red tape that complicates the cumbersome review process for new housing projects and giving priority to projects that include low-income options.

Proposed Solutions
Of course, it seems like each lawmaker and interest group has a different proposal for fixing the housing crisis. Time’s coverage focused on seven plans, some fairly easy to agree upon while others are more controversial:

  • Build – The lack of inventory is certainly a part of the problem. In January, Lee’s annual “State of the City” address included plans to build or rehabilitate 30,000 homes by 2020, with one-third deemed “permanently affordable.” The proposal works out to 5,000 homes a year. In contrast, only 260 housing units were completed in 2011.
  • Eviction payments – Early this month, City Supervisor David Campos proposed requiring landlords who evict tenants from rent-controlled units to help with the increased rental expenses, making the landlord pay the difference between the old rent and the going market rate for two years. As one would expect, landlord groups oppose this measure.
  • Density incentives – One proposal, by City Supervisor Scott Weiner, would raise density limits for projects with 20% or more affordable units and eliminate limits on properties with 100% affordable units. Increased density means more income for the landlords and developers.
  • Legalize “in-law” units – Proposed legislation would make illegal “in-law” units, typically converted garages that are livable but not up to code, into legitimate housing. There are tens of thousands of these units and they have much lower rents than other units, but legalization often faces opposition from neighboring homeowners who don’t want single-family homes in their area changed to two-family units.
  • Engage businesses – Residents’ anger has often focused on businesses that bring in higher-wage workers, encouraging the development of high-dollar, luxury condos. Some companies are taking a different path though, such as Twitter which has used its legal staff to help locals facing eviction on a pro bono basis.
  • Halt buyouts – Currently, developers building projects with 10+ units must price 12% below market rate or pay an opt-out fee. Some have called for eliminating the opt-out option.
  • Protect existing housing stock – City leaders are working to keep residents of rent-controlled units in place and make it more difficult to remove housing from the market.

The Importance of Fighting for the Rights of Tenants
It is easy to feel intimidated by a landlord or development company, especially if you are a lower-income renter. We believe that advocating on behalf of tenants and holding landlords to their legal responsibilities is another key part of resolving the housing crisis. In addition to its well-known rent control provisions, the San Francisco Rent Ordinance contains a number of rules constraining the ability of a landlord to evict a tenant. The Ordinance also sets forth procedures a landlord must follow when evicting a tenant, including in cases where the company intends to pull the unit from the housing market.

If you believe you are being wrongfully evicted or if your landlord is violating your right to a habitable home, call our San Francisco tenants’ rights attorney. Do not assume your case is too small to justify legal intervention. Your rights matter and failing to fight for them may exacerbate our city’s housing crisis. Further, in many cases, the Rent Ordinance provides for the recovery of attorney’s fees if a tenant files and wins a civil suit. Wrongful eviction cases may also entitle a tenant to treble damages, meaning you can recover three times your actual monetary damages if you win a case based on the Rent Ordinance’s wrongful eviction provisions.

See Related Blog Posts:
A Quick Guide to Tenants’ Rights Under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance
Understanding Ellis Act Evictions