A Quick Guide to Tenants’ Rights Under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance

sanfran.jpg In 1979, the City of San Francisco was facing a housing crisis. The Board of Supervisors and the Mayor enacted the San Francisco Rent Ordinance (the “Ordinance”) in an effort to alleviate the crisis. Today, the Ordinance (now available online) continues to protect the rights of tenants and ensure the availability of affordable housing. It applies to the approximately 170,000 rental units located in San Francisco buildings that were built prior to June 13, 1979. The Ordinance is one of the many tools that our San Francisco tenants’ law firm uses to help our tenant clients.

Rent Control
Rent control is one of the most important elements of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. Under the Ordinance, Landlords may only raise the rent for existing tenants by a specific amount each year, an amount determined by a formula tied to the consumer price index. This year (March 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014), the maximum amount a landlord can raise a tenant’s rent is 1.9%, the same figure that applied to the prior twelve month span. A landlord must give thirty days’ notice before a rent increase.

Protection from Eviction
Another key part of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance is the Evictions Section which limits the ability of a landlord to evict a tenant. In order to evict a tenant, a landlord must be able to cite just cause. There are fifteen listed forms of just cause, including causes based on the tenant’s acts (ex. habitually late payment or non-payment of rent, regularly creating a nuisance that interferes with other the rights of other tenants) or the landlord’s acts/plans (ex. planning to move in to the unit or have a family member move in, planning major renovations that require the unit be empty). Each cause has specific, often detailed contours, and some require that the landlord compensate the tenant or provide relocation assistance. The Ordinance also provides specific rules governing the eviction process.

Additional Protections
There are a number of other protections given to tenants under the Ordinance as interpreted by the Rent Board. All units must have working heating capable of maintaining a temperature of at least 68⁰F. Landlords must provide just cause for taking away certain parking or storage space and give the tenant a corresponding reduction in rent. Tenants have a right to privacy, including notice before the landlord enters the property. The Tenant Harassment provision provides broad rights to a safe rental unit maintained in accordance with state, county, and local laws. Additionally, that provision prevents a tenant from unlawful discrimination, a rule that also prevents a landlord from refusing allow children in the unit. Many of the protections provided by the Ordinance are also required under state law and the provisions make specific reference to the rights of tenants under California law.

Securing Your Rights Under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance
Our San Francisco Rent Ordinance attorney knows that legal protections are only truly meaningful if they can be enforced. The Rent Board administrates rent control and can conduct hearings on disputes relating to the adjustment of rents. The Ordinance also provides tenants with the right to file a civil lawsuit when a landlord violates its provisions. Notably, the civil action provisions provide for the recovery of attorney’s fees, meaning a tenant who files and wins a civil suit is entitled to have the landlord pay his/her attorney’s fees and other legal costs. Wrongful eviction cases can entitle a tenant to treble damages, allowing tenants to recover three times their actual monetary damages.

Attorney Greg Brod has experience protecting the rights of renters in Northern California. This includes specific experience helping tenants secure the rights guaranteed by the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. Do not allow your landlord to violate your legal rights and do not assume your case is too small to justify legal intervention. You have rights and your rights deserve to be protected. Call to schedule a free consultation.

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(Photo by Leonardo Pallotta)

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