Supervisors to consider law targeting tenant harassment 

Rents are through the roof in The City, and evictions have soared. But something less publicized and more difficult to measure — tenant harassment — is also on the rise.

From repeated aggressive buyout offers to lock-outs, tenants and their advocates claim the red-hot real estate market has increased harassment by landlords as they try to force tenants out of rent-controlled units in order to charge market rates.

The City’s housing situation and rising market rates have focused national media attention on what some say is an affordability crisis. Fingers are pointing at the flourishing technology industry, creating palpable tension between tech workers and longtime residents.

Currently, if a tenant is harassed the only recourse is to file a civil lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court. But under legislation supported Monday by the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee, tenants would be able to file complaints with the Rent Board. The complaint would trigger a review by an administrative law judge who would hear from both sides. The judge would provide a summary of the testimony to the Rent Board, which would decide whether to hand the case over to the city attorney or the district attorney for legal action. The full board will vote today on the legislation.

It is yet another piece of legislation meant to address the impacts of the housing affordability crisis at the request of tenants and their advocates, who remain a significant voting base.

“It is the best of times for some folks, but for the vast majority of us it’s been a challenge to be able to stay in San Francisco,” said Supervisor David Campos, who introduced the legislation. He said it would “send a very clear message to landlords that this kind of harassment is not going to be tolerated in San Francisco.”

The effectiveness of such a law will perhaps be best gauged in hindsight, after the real estate market cools.

But Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said he was “proud” of the work the legislative body has been doing.

“We have an affordability crisis in San Francisco,” Chiu said. “We need to do all we can to bring forward different policy suggestions.”

Last week, the board unanimously approved legislation introduced by Chiu that gives tenants evicted under the Ellis Act priority for city-subsidized below-market-rate housing units. Today, the board is also expected to approve legislation from Supervisor John Avalos that prohibits property owners from merging housing units for 10 years after an eviction. Another piece of Avalos’ legislation would legalize about 50,000 housing units that don’t conform to current density zoning codes. It would also ensure they remain part of the housing stock and can undergo repairs.

click to enlarge housing
  • Mike Koozmin/the S.F. Examiner
  • The Board of Supervisors is considering new legislation to prevent tenant harassment.
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