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  • SF Examiner - By Dean Preston and Matt Haney

New tenant protections in effect

The new year brings new protections for renters in San Francisco, as well as brewing battles to keep more people securely in their homes.

Since the passage of the Rent Ordinance in 1979—the governing law that establishes what rights tenants have, how much landlords can raise your rent, and how and when you can be evicted—many San Francisco tenants have benefitted from some of the strongest rights in the state.

Yet despite these local laws, unfair state laws like the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins have allowed unscrupulous landlords to sidestep San Francisco protections. Thousands of tenants have been evicted or face the threat of eviction, and SF tenants face the highest rents in the nation, forcing many low-income residents and people of color to leave at alarming rates.

And until this year, your rights as a tenant have been arbitrarily based on what year your building was built. If the building was constructed after 1979, you had no protection from the provisions of local or state law before this month.

That has all changed in 2020 with two new huge expansions of tenant protections. Both are a result of years of tenant advocacy.

The first law is the biggest expansion of the SF Rent Ordinance in the past 20 years and protects ALL SF renters in the private market against arbitrary evictions. The Universal Eviction Protection ordinance authored by Supervisor Haney says that a landlord cannot evict you unless they prove one of 16 reasons, called “just causes” like nonpayment of rent or breach of lease. Prior to the new law, only tenants in older buildings benefitted from this critical due process—meaning more than 35,000 tenants could have been evicted for no reason!

Haney’s new law also extends other benefits to tenants in newer buildings: it protects against various types of tenant harassment, like a landlord failing to exercise due diligence in completing repairs or coercing a tenant to vacate; and guarantees a relocation payment for certain “no-fault” evictions.

The bottom line: regardless of when your building was built, you have protections against an eviction. Contact the Rent Board immediately if you have received a notice related to an eviction.

The second new law, the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 is the first time the state is regulating the amount your rent can be increased. The new anti-rent gouging law, authored by Assemblymember David Chiu, says: if your building was built more than 15 years ago (with more buildings being covered every year), your rent can only go up 5 percent plus local inflation. As a practical matter, this will immediately prevent rent-gouging for tenants in properties built before 2005.

Similar to eviction protections, up until this year only tenants in buildings built before 1979 benefitted from a cap on rent increases. With this new law, thousands more tenants are protected. And, the law is retroactive: if your rent was increased by more than 9% between March 15, 2019 and January 1, 2020, then your rent should have reverted to the maximum allowable rent at the beginning of the year.

If you were subjected to a large increase since March of last year, or you’re facing a rent increase right now, contact the SF Rent Board to learn more about your rights!

The fight doesn’t end here. In 2020, there are battles brewing at the state and local level that will be game-changers for renters. Statewide, advocates are collecting signatures for the Rental Affordability Act of 2020. The law would amend the state Costa-Hawkins law to give SF and other cities the ability to further limit rent increases, and also limit how much landlords can increase rents in between tenants (so that when you move out, the next tenant isn’t charged double or triple the rent).

Here in San Francisco, we are fighting to fully fund Prop F, the Universal Tenant Right to Counsel Measure, to make sure we provide anyone facing eviction the right to legal counsel. Supervisor Preston has a hearing on the full implementation of the Right to Counsel on Monday, February 24th at City Hall.

In addition, we are exploring how to extend rent control protections to Midtown residents, prevent mass displacement on Treasure Island, protect tenants in Veritas buildings, cap rent contributions for formerly homeless households in permanent supportive housing, and create more deeply-affordable housing.

Let’s get to work!

Dean Preston is the supervisor for District 5. Matt Haney is the supervisor for District 6.

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