Posted Oct 13, 2014

What Renters Need to Know About Rent Control in San Francisco

San Francisco, California, is a modern, vibrant city with much to offer its residents. However, when you set out to find an apartment to call home, you may find the rental prices off-putting. Before you throw your hands up in defeat and resign yourself to living elsewhere, there’s good news. San Francisco has rent control, which means that you may have a good chance of keeping your rental payment manageable.

Rent Control in San Francisco

What Is Rent Control?

In San Francisco, landlords are not allowed to raise rental rates or serve eviction notices on a whim. Instead, the government regulates rental rate increases, helping to keep rates within certain limits, and only allow evictions when landlords can prove just cause. Renter rights regarding rent control can help you hold on to more of your hard-earned cash, with some exceptions:

  • Age of the property: If you’re hoping to keep rental price increases to a minimum, you’ll want to choose an older property over one that is shiny and new. Only properties built before 1979 are included in San Francisco rent control regulations. If you have your heart set on a rent-controlled apartment, look for rental ads that advertise this as a feature, ask the landlord about rent control before you head out for a tour, or visit the San Francisco Planning Department’s property information page to learn the date the property was built.
  • Property Category: Apartment dwellers typically benefit from rent control, while those in single-family homes do not. Likewise, if you find a condominium to rent that has your name written all over it, you may be very happy there, but you’ll have to live without rent control.

Does Rent Control Mean My Rent Will Never Increase?

An apartment with no rent increases is every renter’s dream, but rent control doesn’t provide that. Owners of rent-controlled properties are allowed to raise rents each year if they see fit, but they have to stick to the percentage of increase the law allows for that given year.

For example, for 2013 to 2014, landlords were allowed to increase rents by 1.9 percent. For 2011 to 2012, they were allowed a rent increase of 0.5 percent. The amount is set annually and stays in effect from March of the current year through February of the next year. Allowed increase amounts are based on inflation in the Bay Area.

Rules

In addition to the set rate increases, there are some other rent control rules landlords have to follow. For starters, your landlord can’t increase your rent more than once in a 12-month period. If your landlord applies a rent increase, the date he or she applies it is called your anniversary date. Your landlord cannot increase your rent a second time until your anniversary date comes around again. No matter when your landlord raises your rent, he or she has to give you 30 days notice.

Your landlord isn’t required to raise your rent at all. No matter which way inflation swings, your landlord can keep you happily paying the same amount for the length of your lease. However, they can also stockpile the allowed increases and apply them all at once.

For example, if your landlord saves up annual rent increases of 1 percent, over a period of 4 years, he or she could then choose to raise your rent by the whole 4 percent. If the landlord has cumulative rent increase amounts of 10 percent or more, he or she has to give you 60 days notice before requiring a larger rent check.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to the single-family/condominium rule. First, if a landlord evicts a tenant from a single-family home in a no-fault eviction and you move into the vacant rental, you are entitled to rent control protection based on San Francisco law.

Likewise, if the single-family home you choose to rent had housing code violations in the 6-month period before you rented it, it may be protected by rent control laws. Condominiums that are still owned by the party responsible for dividing them fall under rent control laws as well.

Improvements and Operational Costs

Sometimes San Francisco landlords pass the costs of improving and operating rental buildings on to tenants in the form of rent increases in addition to those mandated by law. However, landlords typically have to seek permission from the Rental Board to apply such increases.

Ellis Act

Renters also have some protection when it comes to the Ellis Act. This state law allows landlords to serve eviction notices on tenants when they intend to stop renting their properties out. However, landlords have to take all of their units off the market, rather than just one or a few. This stipulation may help prevent evictions for the purpose of getting around rent control rules.
Still have questions about rent control? Share them in the comments or tweet them to us @Lovely.

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Rent Control in San Francisco

Photo Credit: Alex Proimos

Jordan Leonard

About

Jordan is the Social Media Manager at Lovely. She loves pugs, chocolate ice cream, and helping renters find their dream apartment.

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Comments

2 responses to “What Renters Need to Know About Rent Control in San Francisco”

  1. Betty says:

    Hi,

    Great article! I was wondering if you knew the answer to this question – if 2 people are originally on a lease for an apartment under rent control, and 1 person wants to leave the lease, is the apartment unit still rent controlled? i.e. Is it still rent controlled the same if at least 1 of the original leaseholders stays on the lease? I know if both original leaseholders leave the lease, then the landlord has the right to increase the lease to any price they want. However, what if 1 person leaves the lease and 1 person stays on?

    Thanks!

    • Thanks for the positive feedback, Betty! That’s a great question. We would recommend getting in touch with a lawyer or renter’s rights organization near you, since laws differ depending on where you live.

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