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News + PoliticsThe Agenda, Sept. 21-27: The fate of tenant protections

The Agenda, Sept. 21-27: The fate of tenant protections

Key legislation comes before the supes. Plus: developer subsidies and Mission development controls

You like slow, crowded buses? Then you'll love the mayor's transportation fee
You like slow, crowded buses? Then you’ll love the mayor’s transportation fee

By Tim Redmond

SEPTEMBER 21, 2015 – A major expansion of the city’s tenant-protection laws comes before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday/22 and there appear to be six votes in favor. But Sup. Scott Wiener will try to amend out a critical part of the law, and that will put Sup. Julie Christensen, who is in a tight re-election race in a tenant-heavy district, on the hot seat.

The measure would make it harder for landlords to evict tenants over minor and easily corrected breaches of a lease, would prevent evictions that are based entirely on a unit not being legally zoned for housing, and would prevent landlords from using owner-move-in evictions as a way to get rid of a tenant and raise the rent.

It would also allow tenants to add more roommates, as long as they didn’t exceed the legal occupancy levels of an apartment or flat, without facing eviction. That’s more important today than ever, since more and more people are looking to take on additional renters to help cover the insane prices of housing.

The landlords don’t like any of the changes, but even Wiener, who often sides with the apartment owners, went along with most of the proposals at the Land Use Committee. He tried to sideline the roommate provision, though, saying that it would take control of rental units away from the owners.

His effort to delete that part of the bill failed when Sup. Malia Cohen joined the measure’s sponsor, Sup. Jane Kim, in voting to send the entire package to the full board with a positive recommendation.

Wiener asked that the legislation be split and will seek a vote on the roommate provision at the board.

If Cohen sticks to the position she took in committee, and the other five supervisors who generally vote on the progressive side go along, Kim will have a majority. So it might make political sense for Christensen to vote in favor, too, since the landlords will already have lost. However, she has collected thousands of dollars in campaign money from rea-estate interests, so it will be interesting to see if she goes along with Wiener in his attempt to gut the roommate provision.

The meeting starts at 2pm in the Board Chambers at City Hall.


I’m pretty used to watching bad policy at City Hall – there’s been so much of it in the past few years. But every once in a while, I run into something that has me tearing out what little is left of my hair – and right now, it’s the Transportation Sustainability Fee.

This goes back to the era right after Prop. 13, when the city was scrambling to figure out how the hell to fund Muni in a city where highrise office buildings were popping up everywhere, adding to the need for transit – but property taxes were essentially frozen.

The idea was to charge office developers a fee to reflect the cost of buying new buses, hiring drivers, and all the other things that are needed to keep a transit system running for a growing population. Studies were done, and they concluded that every square foot of new office space meant Muni needed about $9 in new revenue.

That was too steep for the pro-development mayor at the time, Dianne Feinstein, so the city settled for $5. The fee has gone up a few times, but now it’s being overhauled: Legislation that comes before the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/21 would shift the spending element (money for bike lanes and other transportation systems beyond Muni) and the revenue element (residential developers would now have to pay, just like office developers).

But the fee is radically low, so low that it pretty much guarantees that Muni will continue to perform below what this city desperately needs. It amounts to a billion-dollar subsidy for developers.

But I seem to be the only one talking about this. I wonder what the committee members will do – and if anyone will testify about the notion that growth should pay for growth, and if new buildings cost the rest of us more than they bring in to the city, maybe we don’t need them.


The voters will weigh in on a moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission Nov. 3, but in the meantime, the Planning Commission is talking about a milder version. The commission will discuss Thursday/24 a six-month interim controls plan that would require additional review for any market-rate project of more than five units.

The planning staff is suggesting that major projects undergo conditional-use approval, which would slow them down, while allowing

staff to analyze affordable housing needs, assess sites for affordable housing production, and stem the loss of existing income protected units while maintaining PDR capacity in PDR zoned lands and preserving vital community resources. More specifically, the interim controls would allow time for the City to determine if permanent zoning changes could be formulated to accelerate affordable housing goals and for the Mission Action Plan 2020 process to complete a package of comprehensive, permanent solutions.

It’s a much shorter-term proposal – six months is nothing in the land of SF planning – but it could lead to a longer set of new zoning rules.

Of course, if it passes, the opponents of the Mission Moratorium (Prop. I) will insist that the problem has been solved.

But at least all of the activism around the attack on the Mission is getting attention.


The Community College Board will be discussing in closed session the fate of 33 Gough St Thursday/24, and of course the issue is money: Should the cash-strapped school maximize the return it can get on this piece of property (by leasing it long term for market-rate housing) – or should a piece of public property be set aside for badly needed affordable housing, even if that means the school gets less out of the deal? And whatever happens, should part of the package be space for the college?

From what I’ve been told, it’s unlikely the board will make any sort of decision this week, but the process is underway and at some point soon the elected members are going to have to set policy.

Also on the closed-session agenda: The so-far unproductive negotiations with the teachers’s union and the union representing classified employees. I wonder what the staff is going to tell the board.



Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. No – it sounds terrible and said person sounds like someone I would never want to meet – this is the new SF greed monster

  2. Ok, so “bedroom”: (er, no ‘closets’)
    “Planning Code Interpretations for the Eastern Neighborhoods
    further clarifies the definition of bedroom as any room which meets all of the following criteria …
    (1) Contains at least 70 square feet, exclusive of closets, bathrooms, or similar spaces;
    (2) Has at least one window opening to an area which leads either to a street or rear yard
    space; and,
    (3) Is clearly labeled as a “bedroom” on submitted plans.”


  3. It’s easy enough to install a hanging rail, a few shelves and call it a closet.

    Or buy an armoire.

    I’ve seen tenants use living rooms and dining rooms as bedrooms.

  4. Property taxes are more than sufficient given the high property values here. Unfortunately much of it gets wasted.

    We have a spending problem and not a revenue problem. The city spends more per capita than any other major US city.

    Muni fails because of a high cost structure and restrictive work practices. The voters are reluctant to pay more in taxes to fund Muni until Muni is fixed.

  5. The “Manhattanization” era of high rise offices paid both the impact fees as well as generated new property taxes yet disinvesment in Muni decreased as load on Muni increased over those years. Property Taxes are insufficient.

  6. To be fair, not all tenants pay $688/. Tenants who recently rented a 2BR and pay $4000/, that’s $2k each! They may want to cut their rent in half and have the BF/GF move in and save.

    But then, I just got my water bill, and 8 units were theirs (the BF-care-giver seems to be here an awful lot, so thats three) (and, yes, I have separate meters but utilities are ‘covered’) (remember, thats when utilities were cheap – the 80s). Anyway, so my share of the cost is actually $140. “Two” people; their usage has approx doubled YTY.

    So if extra boarders are using extra services, it only makes sense that they pay their ‘fair’ share. Count in H2O, Recology, PGE, twice the frig, stove & DW; and I don’t know what $$ to put on it. But since they’re each saving $1000, seems like $100 from the two new people ($4200/mth) is the least to ask.

  7. I thought the tenant protection laws applied only to rent-controlled units. If a unit is covered under rent control, why do tenants need to take on roommates to cover The insane price of housing”?

  8. Ah, yes. I thought Kim sounded too straightforward to be true.

    Is it one of the reqs for a “bedroom” that it have a closet as well as window? I wonder what the meaning of the words are that she is using.

  9. My understanding is that the code allows two occupants for every room that is usable as a bedroom. That would include living rooms and dining rooms as long as they met the other requirements of a bedroom e.g. having a window.

    So yes, in theory a 5-room flat could have 8 occupants under Kim’s change, as long as the square footage rule was also satisfied

  10. I don’t know your situation, but I’m curious what you think about this.

    A guy recently said (bragged?) to me how he pays $1600/ for an apt; rents out a room for $1300/, rents out two garages included in his rent, and it pays for himself and he’s money in his pocket each month. And he was trying to make like he was a civic example to be emulated.

    What say you? Sound good?

  11. Ok, I’m confused (or maybe I’m not).
    The legis sez that two conditions apply: the lessor of (i) 2 to a studio, 3 to a 1BR, 4 to a …, or (ii) whats allowable under state +/or local bldg code regs.

    Now iirc, bldg code sez 1 person per 140 sqft plus one for each additional 70 sqft. So, for a … I dunno, half dozen or so to a studio – you know, like that eviction in the Mission recently and those immigrants had to go to the Mission Hotel and wanted their old gig back.

    So this legis seems to back off from that, while still cramming a bunch more people that I’d ever again like to live with; but … things now-a-days.

  12. The low fault eviction thing is useless. No tenant juries are going to evict someone for hanging a towel out the window. What concerns me is the adding roommates at will. I have to pay for water so this just adds more costs to me without any increase in revenue. It also opens up that below market tenants can basically pass on their cheap rents to their friends by adding them on the lease. That may be illegal by state law but SF doesn’t always follow state law.

  13. Yes, the extra roommate thing is hazardous. If you rent a 2-BR home to a single person and state in the lease that there can be no more than one person living there, this change would allow up to 6 people to live there (2 in each bedroom and another 2 in the living room. If there is a dining room then 8 people could live there.

    It is a charter for rent gouging.

  14. OMI’s are not being outlawed by this legislation. What this change does do is ensure that once a unit has been OMI’ed, it will never again be rented out.

    I am not clear how that helps tenants.

  15. Oh no. This is a MAJOR change in tenant ‘protections’. It might make sense to outlaw evictions from an illegal (“undocumented”) in-law. But then it should also be prohibited for tenants to sue to claw back all that past paid rent. But, oh no, we don’t do Fair in Our Fair City.

    Similarly, if its ok for tenants to add roommates beyond the # stipulated on the lease, it seems fair that the prop owner should share a portion of that income. Otherwise, all it does is make things cheaper for the original tenants and pump up costs for the owner. But I guess ‘sharing’ goes beyond ‘fair’ in Our Fair City.

    Mayor Lee ought to veto this and send it back to the BOS in order to level the playing field. Otherwise, how does one expect people to shoulder the responsibility of leasing units?

  16. Most of the stuff in the tenant protection ordinance (with the BIG exception of outlawing OMI’s and letting tenants add roommates to teh Master Lease) is already covered in a standard Lease. This just appears to be grandstanding from the usual suspects

  17. “This goes back to the era right after Prop. 13, when the city was scrambling to figure out how the hell to fund Muni in a city where highrise office buildings were popping up everywhere, adding to the need for transit – but property taxes were essentially frozen.”

    It sure is too bad that those new buildings don’t result in collection of new property tax revenue.

    Oh, wait – they do. A crapload of it, in fact. What’s the issue here again?

  18. “That’s more important today than ever, since more and more people are looking to take on additional renters to help cover the insane prices of housing.”

    You mean like by using Airbnb? Good point.

Comments are closed.

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