Rent tax proposed to hinder hikes; voters may decide 

As the tech industry’s resurgence gives rise to new ideas about stricter controls on apartment prices in San Francisco, tenant advocates are considering a November ballot measure to discourage rent increases through a proposed high-rent tax.

Although the idea is in its preliminary stages, Ted Gullicksen, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, said it would work like a semivoluntary cap. For example, a $2,000-per-month two-bedroom apartment would not be taxed, but if the rent rose to $2,100, the landlord might have to pay a 10 percent tax on the additional revenue — and so forth.

Gullicksen said the measure could provide another layer of protection against landlords who find a way around The City’s existing eviction controls by buying their tenants out of their units. Because property owners are able to increase rents once a unit is empty, it’s often lucrative for landlords to offer some tenants a one-time payout to voluntarily leave, so strict rent controls — which are applied to individuals living in units built before 1978 — will be lifted.

Such buyouts are likely to become more widespread, Gullicksen said, as housing becomes more valuable and landlords try to get around additional restrictions that arose during boom periods such as the dot-com bubble of the 1990s. The high-rent tax could be a first step in discouraging such buyouts and holding down prices, he said.

“It could make it illogical to raise rents,” Gullicksen said.

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