Some tenants face monthslong waits for Rent Board case review 

click to enlarge Tenants facing evictions or unlawful rent hikes could see monthslong wait times to have their case reviewed due to a heavy workload for the San Francisco Rent Board. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2013 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • mike koozmin/2013 S.f. Examiner file photo
  • Tenants facing evictions or unlawful rent hikes could see monthslong wait times to have their case reviewed due to a heavy workload for the San Francisco Rent Board.

Tenants fighting unlawful rent hikes or an eviction face up to a three-month wait to have their cases heard by San Francisco's Rent Board as its workload has soared amid the housing crisis.

While such priority cases for the board may have a two- to three-month wait for review, other cases may see a five- to six-month backlog, according to Delene Wolfe, executive director of the Rent Board, which provides counseling and redress for tenants over unlawful rent increases and evictions.

Priority cases include instances when "there is a very large rent increase where tenants can be displaced while they are waiting for a decision of the administrative law judge," Wolfe told members of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee on Monday.

Wolfe said the level of service being provided to renters these days is "unacceptable."

"I don't like to get up before you and say we are not providing good service," she told the committee.

Tenant petitions over a range of issues have increased from 940 two years ago to 1,126 during the current fiscal year that ends June 30. Eviction notices in The City have steadily increased from 1,421 in fiscal year 2011-12 to 1,934 in fiscal year 2012-13 and 2,062 in the current fiscal year.

As elected officials attempt to address the soaring evictions, rising rents and other housing issues, Rent Board members say their workload has been impacted by 11 laws adopted in the past year, with others expected as the real estate market remains strong.

Laws include increased compensation for those evicted under the Ellis Act, which allows a landowner to take the building out of the rental market, permission to build new in-law units in the Castro, preference for Ellis Act tenants in The City's below-market-rate housing programs and tenant hardship applications.

"Basically, you guys are killing us," Wolfe told the committee of the new laws. "Not without very good cause, mind you."

Mayor Ed Lee's budget proposal, which is under review by the committee, includes the addition of one counselor and one administrative judge to help alleviate the backlog.

Wolfe also noted that for the first time in six years, the Rent Board fee for tenants and landlords will likely increase from its current $29, which funds the department's operations. Half of the fee can be passed on to the tenant. A fee amount would be set later in July.

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