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San Francisco beefs up renter protections

The laws bar landlords from raising rent above 33% of a tenant's income and allow tenants to add roommates other than family to help pay rent. Two-thirds of the city's residents are renters.

June 24, 2009|Julie Anne Strack

SAN FRANCISCO — Responding to the continuing recession, San Francisco passed legislation Tuesday that advocates for landlords and renters said add some of the state's strongest tenant protections to the city's rent-control law.

Supervisor Chris Daly introduced the legislation in March, saying that the downturn has left more of the city's renters in danger of eviction. The new laws limit rent increases and allow tenants to add roommates to help cover costs.

"This legislation makes sense given current economic conditions," Daly said after the ordinances were passed by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. "These times are unprecedented. If the legislation is unprecedented, it is legislation for unprecedented times."

The legislation bars landlords from increasing rent above 33% of a tenant's income and allows tenants to add roommates other than family members to help pay rent, even if their leases forbid it. The laws also limit banked-rent increases, in which allowed annual rent increases are saved up and imposed all at once.

About two-thirds of the city's residents are renters, and about 88% of its units are subject to rent control.

Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together, and Eric Wiegers, deputy director of the California Apartment Assn., which represents property owners, said the provisions give San Francisco some of the strongest rent-control laws in California.

"San Francisco is way up there on the list in terms of passing legislation that is friendly to renters," Wiegers said. "I don't think anyone is going to argue with that."

He said he did not believe that any other city has passed provisions to limit rent increases beyond a certain percentage of a tenant's income.

The San Francisco Tenants Union has seen about 25% more tenants seeking help because they may face eviction for nonpayment during the last six months, said Ted Gullicksen, the union's director.

Tenants' rights advocates hailed the legislation and said they hope that other cities will pass similar laws.

"The law is really innovative and hopefully precedent-setting," said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. "We've heard about bailouts, but renters have been left out of that discussion. It sends a strong signal across the country that renters need a bailout too."

Many property owners oppose the legislation because they say it will put added strain on landlords, who are already struggling with higher costs and vacancy rates. Landlords may be forced to stall building repairs and cut amenities for renters, said Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartments Assn.

New said the association may sue the city over the provision that caps rent at a third of a tenant's income. Daly said the city could defend that provision and the others.

Other California cities, including Los Angeles and Richmond, recently passed legislation to protect renters from eviction during foreclosure proceedings on their buildings.

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julie.strack@latimes.com

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