San Francisco is famous for many things, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Silicon Valley, and exorbitant rents. So, finding a property under rent control in San Francisco can make life much easier. However, it isn’t all that easy to do, especially if you aren’t aware of the rules and regulations. First, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the same rules apply as in other cities, like New York or Los Angeles. Though there are definitely similarities, quite a few differences exist, too.


Understanding rent control in San Francisco

Properties that fall under rent control in San Francisco are subject to the Rent Control Ordinance. This ordinance lays out the rights and obligations of both tenants and landlords.

The ordinance was passed after a housing shortage crisis in 1979. Rents had already become very expensive and tenants were forced to move out because they couldn’t afford to pay. However, they couldn’t find alternative housing that was deemed safe, decent, and sanitary at a price they could afford.

Thus, Ordinance no. 181-79 was adopted that prohibited most increases in rent for 60 days. It was then amended repeatedly. The ordinance now regulates how much landlords can increase the rent by every year. Note that the rent can be increased only for certain properties and in specific cases. The figure is adjusted annually in March by the San Francisco Rent Board.

man standing with his arms crossed on a field in Alamo Square

Even if the landlord carries out capital improvements to the building, the law limits the owner from passing on all the costs to the tenant. Tenants also have the right to file a request with the Rent Board to have their rent lowered if the landlord hasn’t provided the services required by law. This ordinance also lays out the rules pertaining to the eviction of a tenant.


Which properties are subject to rent control in San Francisco?

The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act limits the reach of rent control in San Francisco. Thus, according to this act, properties built after 1979 are not subject to rent control. This law was passed in 1995 in an effort to stimulate more housing development.

This law also introduced vacancy decontrol, which means that a landlord can increase the rent to whatever they want once a tenant has moved out of the apartment. However, once a tenant moves back into the apartment, the landlord is once again limited in terms of how much they can increase the rent.Blueground offers fully-furnished, equipped and serviced apartments in some of the world's most sought after cities.Furthermore, subsidized housing isn’t subject to rent control in San Francisco. Other exceptions include residential hotels if you have fewer than 32 days of uninterrupted tenancy, dormitories, monasteries, nunneries, and hospitals. Single-family homes aren’t subject to rent control either. However, there are certain exceptions.

If you move into a property that was empty because the previous tenant was evicted, you might benefit from rent control. The same applies to a dwelling with housing code violations that weren’t fixed for a minimum of six months before the property became vacant.


How does rent control in San Francisco work?

Rent control in San Francisco places limitations on a landlord’s ability to increase the rent. Rents can be increased every year, but the amount is dictated by the law. This figure is calculated based on the Bay Area Consumer Price Index, which is a measure of inflation.

A landlord may also pass on any increases in gas and electricity costs when they are responsible for paying them. They can also pass on certain operating and maintenance costs, as well as capital improvement expenses. This is only after receiving approval from the Rent Board. Landlords may also include part of the fee they pay to the Rent Board.

Rent control in San Francisco doesn’t stop at the rent, though. There are also conditions regarding tenant eviction. Most importantly, you can’t be evicted just because the landlord wants to raise the rent, for example.

woman happily walking down an alley in San Francisco

The landlord has to have just cause to evict you. Sixteen such causes are detailed in the ordinance, but some of them include:

  • Problems with payment of rent, including tardy payments, non-payment, and frequently bounced checks
  • Not correcting any breaches of the terms and conditions of the rental agreement after having been notified in writing
  • Refusal of the tenant to provide the landlord access to the property after receiving a notice to stop their behavior
  • Selling a property that has been turned into a condo
  • Demolishing the property, or no longer offering it for rent

In certain situations, if you are evicted, the landlord has to cover your relocation costs. Some landlords, though, will evict a tenant citing “just cause” even when that isn’t really the case.

If you suspect your landlord is trying to push you out so they can raise the rent, you do have rights. You can always file a complaint with the Rent Board or seek the services of an attorney. However, before you take this step, make sure that your landlord is really violating the law.

One way you can avoid the headache of an unscrupulous landlord is to use a company like Blueground. They have some lovely apartments available for rent in the best areas of San Francisco. All the properties are beautifully decorated, as well as fully furnished and equipped. When it comes to rent control, monthly rent is priced out transparently at contract signing and calculated based on your intended length of stay (from as little as one month to twelve-plus months).

San Francisco furnished apartment with corner view from bedroom

More importantly, you’ll never have to deal with a landlord that’s harassing you or trying to evict you just because of a rent increase. There are plenty of other San Francisco-specific apartment portals where you can look for great options.

Plus, rent control in San Francisco often results in properties that haven’t been properly maintained due to narrow profit margins. This is why quite a few of these apartments only just barely make the “decent” grade. The owners do just enough to keep them out of trouble with the law, but never more than that.

Rent control in San Francisco can certainly help keep the costs down and make it easier to live in this expensive city. However, when looking for such an apartment, it’s wise to keep your expectations low in terms of finding one, but also regarding the state the property might be in. Regardless, you must remember that you have rights as a tenant, even in a rent-controlled apartment, no matter what a landlord might say.

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