Proposal to Democratize Rent Board Clears Rules Committee

by Jeremy Elprin on June 22, 2004

San Francisco tenants are one step away from greater representation in City Hall after the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee unanimously approved a proposal to restructure the Rent Board Commission on Monday.

With three votes to none, the Rules Committee agreed to forward the proposal – which would give tenants a majority of the seats on a seven-member board and would give Supervisors four of the seven appointments and power to reject any of the mayor’s appointments – to the full Board of Supervisors.

Currently, the mayor gets to appoint all five of the Rent Board Commissioners, and tenants, though they represent two-thirds of the city, receive a minority of the seats. The proposal, which was sponsored by Supervisor Chris Daly following the April Tenant Congress on Rent Board Reform, would create two more seats on the Rent Board and a total of five seats reserved for renters and two for property owners.

The legislation to give tenants greater rent-board representation is a charter amendment that would be put before the voters in November. For the charter amendment to appear on the ballot, six Supervisors must approve the legislation, a feat that has left many housing activists both optimistic and apprehensive.

Although the largest hurdles have yet to come, the approval by the Rules Committee represents an important victory. Housing activists were particularly encouraged by Supervisor Sophie Maxwell’s vote in favor of the proposal.

“The (Supervisor) Maxwell vote was very significant,” said Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union. “We’re pretty optimistic right now that we’ll get the six necessary votes from the Board of Supervisors to put this on the ballot. In my opinion, chances are good.”

Gullicksen stressed the importance of giving representation on the Rent Board back to “the people who should have power.”

“The Rent Board is charged with being the regulatory agency that ensures that tenants are not victimized by property owners,” Gullicksen said. “But they (the commissioners) have abdicated that duty for the most part. . This will return the Board to the people who should be on it and make it a fair agency instead of the rent-increase processing mill that it has been.”

At the hearing yesterday, representatives of the Small Property Owners Association expressed the concern that a tenant-majority Board would lead to consistent bias against landlords. Many lauded the current Rent Board and said they’ve experienced few problems with it.

Tenants, on the other hand, lined up to list the myriad problems they’ve had with the landlord-dominated Rent Board. Some cited specific horror stories from Park Merced, while others described unfair pass-through charges that the Rent Board willfully ignored.

The Board of Supervisors has initiated ballot initiatives reforming the Planning Commission, Board of Permit Appeals, and Police Commission in recent years. The Rent Board reform would be the latest attempt to ensure that people directly affected by public bodies get fair representation on the board.

The full Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the Rent Board reform measure next Tuesday.

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