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Rent Control, Rent Board

Most San Francisco tenants enjoy the benefits of rent control, which keeps their rents affordable while they live in their apartment. Under rent control, a landlord can only raise the rent a certain small percentage each year. Below is a quick guide to the ordinance that governs rent control and the city agency, and the Rent Board, which oversees the enforcement of that ordinance.

Rent Control is a San Francisco law that was passed in San Francisco in June 1979. It is similar to laws passed in many locations throughout the country in the 70s to protect renters from unaffordable rent increases and to provide just cause eviction protections. Simply put, this means that under the City's rent control ordinance, a landlord can only raise the rent a certain percentage each year (set by the Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, more popularly known as the "Rent Board"), and s/he can only evict a tenant for one of the 14 just causes allowed under this law.

Those causes include non-payment of rent, habitual late payment of rent and being a nuisance. For more information on rent increases and just causes, see our "Eviction" section. There is no vacancy control in San Francisco so when a tenant moves out, a landlord can unfortunately raise the rent to market value.

Basically, all buildings built before June, 1979 are covered under rent control. If you live in a building that was built before June 1979 you should be covered--unless the building was condo-converted. Or you live in a single-family dwelling that you moved into after  January 1, 1996. Condo-converted buildings are not covered under rent control unless the original owner who did the condo conversion still owns it. However, if you moved into the condo before January 1, 1996, you are still covered.

Tenants who rent single-family houses, which used to be under rent control, are no longer under the price control portion of rent control. However, as with condos, if you moved in before January 1, 1996, then you can only receive the allowable yearly rent increase. Both condos and single-family dwellings are protected by just cause eviction protections, provided they were built before 1979. If you live in a single-family dwelling and there is an in-law unit attached to it, or a garage or basement apartment (whether or not this unit is legal), then your building is considered to have two units and you are fully protected under rent control.

If you're not sure when your building was constructed, call the Assessor's Office (554-5596) or check online here and type in address. Then click "show parcel information" and another window will ask you to type in the address again. A window to the right should give you the date the place was built.

Other units that are not covered by rent control include:

1. Units or rooms in hospitals, convents, monasteries, extended care facilities, asylums, residential care facilities for the aged, and school dorms.
2. Live/work lofts.
3. Units that have undergone "substantial rehabilitation." The unit must be older than 50 years and be condemned or not qualify for a certificate of occupancy. Landlord must file with the Rent Board.
4. Units or rooms in nonprofit cooperatives, owned and controlled by a majority of the residents.
5. Dwelling units solely owned by a nonprofit benefit corporation, the majority of whose board members are residents of the dwelling unit and where the bylaws require that rent increases be approved by a majority of the residents.
6. Units in project-based, government-assisted or regulated housing (e.g., HUD or SF Housing Authority).
The Rent Board, the body charged with enforcing the Rent Ordinance and in dealing with tenant and landlord complaints pursuant to the law, is composed of five commissioners appointed by the Mayor: two tenant advocates, two landlord advocates and one neutral. There are also five alternates to fill in for these folks when needed. These commissioners formulate the everyday policy of the board as well as hear appeals on cases that tenants and landlords file.

On a day-to-day basis, the Rent Board has counselors available to answer questions on the phone (9 am-4 pm). You can reach a counselor at (415) 252-4602. Counselors cannot give advice and usually refer tenants to the Housing Rights Committee or another tenant group in the City. But they can give you the basic facts or recommend a petition for you to file to address your complaint.

There are several petitions that tenants can file with the Rent Board, including:

If you received a service (garage space, laundry, etc.) when you moved in and it's suddenly  taken away, you can file for a reduction in rent to compensate you for the loss of that service. If you get a rent increase and don't think it's fair because needed repairs haven't been done, you can file within 60 days to ask the Rent Board to deny the landlord the right to that increase.

If you receive an eviction notice that is not based on just cause or is not delivered or written up properly, then you can file this petition.

If a landlord suddenly wants you to pay for PG&E or water and you never paid for it before or s/he wants to increase your share, this might be the petition for you.

For a rent increase above the allowable percentage, you will want to file this. The Rent Board can also check your rent and make sure it's the right amount based on your initial rent and the allowable increases during your tenancy. Useful for determining if banked increases are  correct.
rents too high

For more information, you can call us or stop into our housing rights clinic, Monday-Thursday, 1-5pm, 415-703-8644.

Some Quick Tips:

All buildings with more than one unit that was built before June 1979 should be covered under rent control and just-cause eviction protections.

Condo-converted apartments (built before 79) are not under rent control if the owner who condo-converted it has sold it to someone else and that new person is renting it out.

Single-family dwellings built before 79 are under rent control if there is a separate unit (illegal or legal) being rented. It can be behind the house, in the basement, garage or even attic. As long as the tenants in it have a separate lease from those in the house.

The Rent Board is the city agency that enforces the Rent Ordinance, which set up rent control/just cause protections. It can be reached at 415-252-4602 until 4pm every weekday.

There are number of petitions a rent-controlled tenant can file with the Rent Board, including decrease in services, illegal rent increase, alleged wronful eviction and failure to maintain and repair.