Wednesday, March 04, 2009

They're Going To Kick Me Out of The Club For This

Apparently Supervisor Daly is proposing a few reforms to San Francisco's Rent Ordinance. But I think Chris Daly is going too far. Oh wait, that's nothing new.

I'm a big fan of it. I live under it. I help people who should be protected by it. I hope someday to have to deal with it as a landlord (go figure). I definitely do not want to see it invalidated or eliminated. In my opinion, given the conditions that exist in San Francisco (and many other large metropolitan areas) it gives renters some way of dealing with landlords on a somewhat even footing.

Now, any time something new gets added to the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, the landlords howl like money has been taken from their pocket. While that might be true, its money that was never in there pocket in the first, place only money which possibly could have been.

But back to my point.

Supervisor Daly has proposed the following:
1. Giving tenants greater rights to add roommates.
2. Limiting the "banked" rental increases.
3. Preventing landlords from raising rents to more than one-third a tenant's income.

Now, of these, only one of them really is needed. The other two are just too extreme. As it is right now, landlords often play a game with long-term tenants who have a history of having roommates. At a certain point, the more unscrupulous ones will stop allowing replacement roommates, or at the very least make it unreasonably burdensome to bring in a replacement roommate.

(Just as a side note, I'm currently litigating a case because after almost 6 years of haivng roommates, the landlord has decided to make it almost impossible to replace a roommate for my client. He has thus far managed to use every excuse imagineable.)

As for the other two, I think that they are mistakes. Currently, the San Francisco Rent Ordinance allows landlords to withhold rental increases. Most years the increase is well below 5 per cent. However, the landlord is able to use the accumulated rental increases all at one time. Under Daly's plan, a landlord would only be able to "bank" so many of the rental increases. Under the current proposal, the total number of "banked" increases would be limited to 8 per cent.

(As a side note, I can just see my future trying to do the math on that and its not pretty.)

The way it stands now is that landlords are limited in their ability to raise rent to what they think the market will bear in return for the promise that they can raise it somewhat to keep pace with inflation. Taking away that right, turns the Rent Ordinance into something punitive. It will only serve to increase the elimination of the landlords renting the two to four unit buildings. Instead, they will probably be more influenced to go the TIC/Condo route. This will take even more rental units out of the market. More units out of the market, the higher the rents will go.

The final proposal is just ridiculou. It may even be violative of the Costa-Hawkins law. Costa-Hawkins is the name of a law which was passed a while ago. First, it preempted local municipalities abilities to create new rent control laws. Second, it made it so that rent controls which were allowed to remain in effect were what is known as vacancy decontrol laws. This means that it limited increases while a tenancy is in effect but that it could not set limits to what rents were contracted at.

The problem with enacting Supervisor Daly's second and third proposals is that it will give the landlord's attorneys another go round at San Francisco's Rent Ordinance. The way that the appellate courts and Supreme Court of California has been viewing tenant's rights is not exactly a good thing for those who want Rent Control in San Francisco to continue. At the very least, it is going to cost San Francisco a lot to try and defend it. My guess would be that even if it were upheld, its implementation would be stayed by the court until the litigation ended. And that could literally take years.

The other side of the coin is that it simplyt not fair. Many landlords in this city are decent people trying to get a return on their investment. This is complicated by the fact that the economy stinks right now. Taking away their ability to make reasonable return in the name economic expediency is wrong.

Landlors can be scum. Tenants need help. Imposing such draconian measures on landlords in the name "protecting" tenants is wrong. At some point, protecting the weak goes too far and turns into oppression for another group.

Besides, I really don't want to Andrew Zacks' law firm getting another chance to eliminate San Francisco's Rent Ordinance.

How about some other ideas to improve the quality of life for San Francisco's renters.

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