Rent Control Loophole Closed

By Nuala Sawyer : sfweekly – excerpt

Until this week, it was perfectly legal for new landlords to pass on their property taxes and debt services to rent-controlled tenants.

It’s been a bad month for Veritas. The massive real-estate corporation — which owns more than 250 apartment buildings citywide — was the subject of a ruthless City Hall hearing on May 16, where dozens of tenants took the mic to complain about squalid living conditions, unexplained rent increases, and never-ending construction. Sup. Jeff Sheehy, who called the hearing out of concern over the company’s business practices, called Veritas unethical for making “people’s lives unlivable.”

If you’re into Schadenfreude, it was highly entertaining to watch Veritas’ representatives squirm on the stand. But the hearing ended without any clear calls to action, essentially offering little more than a public finger-wagging at a company that’s been pushing rent-controlled tenants out through sneaky, barely-legal tactics for years.

This week, Sup. Sandra Fewer took the admonishments a step further. On Tuesday, she introduced legislation to the Board of Supervisors that would block one of Veritas’ sneakiest legal loopholes: passing on debt services and property taxes from newly-purchased buildings to the tenants who live there. In a rare show of solidarity, the Board approved the legislation unanimously, without a single amendment.

The legislation targets “operational and maintenance pass-throughs,” called O&Ms in tenant-rights circles. Under current law, large-scale property owners can use these pass-throughs to legally raise someone’s rent, even if they live in a rent-controlled unit. Each increase is reviewed (and nearly always approved) by the city’s Rent Board, and often adds around $70 to $200 to someone’s monthly rent… (more)

 

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Strangest thing: Some agreement in SF housing debate

Special by Joel Engardio : sfexaminer – excerpt

Not-so-odd Couple: SPUR director Christine Johnson, left, and Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods president George Wooding are supposed to represent opposite sides of the housing debate, but they agree on more issues than anyone expected.

In the simple version of San Francisco’s housing crisis, two giant generations are fighting over limited space in a peninsula city that isn’t configured to fit both.

Baby boomers bought up scarce housing decades ago, created their own piece of paradise and worked to preserve low-density neighborhoods by resisting new development. Now, there’s no room for millennials, who want to reshape San Francisco into a denser and less car-centric city.

The boomers won’t yield quietly.

“Neighborhood character is the hill I will die on,” said George Wooding, 61, president of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods. “As more height and density becomes the norm, we’ll start to look like the row houses of St. Petersburg, Russia. There is a beauty to San Francisco worth saving.”

But millennials see preservation as a losing prospect…

Wooding and Johnson lead very different constituencies in the debate over what San Francisco should look like and who should live here. Yet, their personal views are less simplistic than their public roles suggest…

“We want the same thing — a city that’s livable and comfortable — but we have different ways to get there,” Wooding said…

CARROTS OR STICKS?

San Francisco has an unknown number of vacant units that add to the housing crunch. Some people fear renting out empty space in their homes. Strict tenant protections can make it difficult to reclaim the unit when the owner needs it for an aging parent or adult child.

Wooding supports giving skittish homeowners an incentive to rent to longer-term tenants and not just Airbnb tourists.

“I believe in rent control, and we can create a new option just for those empty units: a three-year contract with an escape clause at the end,” Wooding said. “There is great potential in older people sharing their larger homes.”

Johnson said a tax abatement program would be the right carrot to encourage people to open their homes to renters. She also backs a stick approach that would tax vacant units… (more) 

CLARIFICATION BY GEORGE WOODING: “Yet Wooding, who lives on the Westside, remained firmly opposed to new construction that encroaches on single family housing, RH-2 and RH-3 housing.”