Awaiting Final Vote for Rent Ordinance

by Alexa Tondreau on June 6, 2006

UPDATE: The Board of Supervisors approved this legislation 7-4, with Bevan Dufty, Michela Alioto-Pier, Sean Elsbernd, and Fiona Ma.

The Board of Supervisors will vote today on a tenant protection ordinance that, if passed, would make it much more difficult for landlords to unjustly sever the services provided with a rental unit. The ordinance was designed by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi from District 5 in response to complaints made by renters who had no recourse under the law. On May 25th the Board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee gave the recommendation that it move forward after nearly an hour of public comment recalling landlord abuse. Now in order for the ordinance to pass in front of the full Board, six of the eleven members must approve the ordinance. Eight affirmative votes would protect it from veto by the Mayor. As of Monday evening, Mirkarimi seemed optimistic. “We have at least six votes,” he said, “but it’s unclear right now if we’ll get eight.”

One hurtle might be what Mirkarimi views as the negative campaign against the ordinance being made by property owners’ groups who view it as excessive regulation and a threat to property rights.

David Fix, President of the Small Owners of San Francisco, suggested in emails sent to the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor that at least an amendment should be made excluding small owner occupied buildings. He felt that if the most common “just cause” required by the ordinance was in fact the use of the property by its owner, then this group should be excluded from the outset.

Mirkarimi felt that “the attack seems to be exaggerated,” and that those disparaging the ordinance were “inflating what the legislation will actually do.”

As it currently reads, the residential rent ordinance does not specifically require that a landlord provide “just cause” when severing common area services that are included with a rental until. Most commonly these services include parking spaces, laundry facilities, storage units, and access to lobbies, yards and patios.

The ordinance would clarify the existing law and require “just cause” when a landlord removes any of these services from the renter’s use.

One vote of support will come from Supervisor Chris Daly who represents District 5. In a statement he said, “While not the biggest tenant issue we’ve addressed this year, this one is important, because some landlords are taking away common space/parking and others services from tenants to attempt to force them out.”

The assumption is that some services, if they are permanently eliminated from a rental, would create an uninhabitable living situation for certain renters. For example, if access to onsite laundry is terminated, an elderly resident physically unable to travel to a local laundry facility would be effectively forced to move.

Renters can apply to San Francisco’s rent board for a reduction of rent, but the service itself may be of greater worth. “There is a real value to these amenities,” Daly said, “so that when they are taken away, it is, in effect, a violation of rent control.”

Property owners regard the ordinance as threatening what little authority they have over the rent controlled housing market in San Francisco. The official website for the Small Property Owners of San Francisco displays dozens of testimonials from landlords who feel they suffer under the weight of current housing law, unable to remain competitive in the market or to exercise any real jurisdiction over property that is in many cases their economic livelihood.

It is clear that this rent ordinance means a great deal to renters and landlords both as they are heatedly engage in this ongoing struggle for reform and protection. The Board will vote today and determine which group will win this small, but important victory.

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