Robert and I went down to Mission Street to attend the Brown Bag Lunch Talk at Building Inspection last month because the subject was about legalizing illegal units. I dont have any myself, but the topic keeps coming up on SPURs list of ways to increase housing. I have never grasped the logic of how housing could be increased by making legal what is, by definition, already being inhabited. Why would you do something that would trigger reassessment of your building? They tell me its actually an incentive to build extra units. Right now zoning is the overriding qualification for legalizing illegal units. If youre in an RH-2 and you want to legalize a third unit, forget about it. Then theres the parking requirement of an additional space within the building. No parking in your building now? Doesnt matter. The new unit must have a parking space. Then you have to face building and planning requirements for ceiling height, room area, light, ventilation and emergency escape/rescue openings. It's pretty obvious that unless the laws change for zoning, parking and building codes, legalization is definitely out of the reach of most of us.
Three kinds of blight have appeared on the ivy topiary trees at the top of my front stairs. My sister-in-law pointed them out to me as we were saying our good-byes after Thanksgiving dinner. The next day I dutifully took some clippings (in plastic bags) to Matt at Sloat Garden Center. He said the blight is on the trees because they are on my porch, which means they are exposed to all the fumes and dirt from the city streets but they dont receive the normal cleansing from rain and wind. Anyhow, by the time I got out of there I had purchased a range of foul smelling products guaranteed to be lethal to caterpillars, whiteflies, and aphids as well as a systemic something-or-other. Kiss thirty bucks good-bye.
I couldnt be more disappointed. The new rent ordinance regulation on raising rents of absentee tenants (Section 1.21) isnt working out as well as I hoped. This is the one that says the tenant of record (master tenant) of a rent-controlled unit must use it as his or her principal residencelike it should be the place they return to as their home. Carrie, the master tenant in question, has definitely moved to Atlanta. I have a feeling that Donna, the tenant who is left, will fight to the death to prove otherwise. Even hiring a gumshoe in Atlanta to get proof of her residency may not work because the Rent Board does not give the landlord any authority to subpoena records. OK, maybe if Carrie bought a home, I could track a homeowners exemption, but what are the chances of that? The disappointing truth is that the examples of evidence listed in the rule such as federal income taxes, electric bills, drivers licenses and payments on property taxes are simply not public records. Bummer.
Its winter and my usual fears about the tenants misusing their fireplaces are mounting like the Christmas catalogues. I never should have had the fireplaces restored so they would work as wood-burning units. I was attempting to upgrade the units but the potential of fire has plagued me ever since. I am especially concerned about the upcoming package-opening and wreath-hanging time. Each fireplace will hold one presto-log or its equivalent size in wood. Visualize a stack of wood chopped by a leprechaun and thats the scene. A rash gesture like tossing holiday wrappings into the small opening of the fireplace or, God forbid, stuffing in some dried-out pine boughs would send flames shooting up the mantle quick as a wink. Ive circulated my annual letter on fireplace safety but I ask you, how carefully do twenty-something tenants read landlord letters?
My friend Arthur and I go to a lot of community meetings. I drive. One of the things we hear most often is how angry people are over the routine pilfering of their recycling boxes. The apparent toleration of this petty crime undermines the whole idea of recycling, and it denigrates the trouble we take to sort our garbage and put it out before the truck arrives. The garbage gurus just dont get itthat we feel like patsies. People really want to recycle. They are also resentful about the rate hikes Norcal is demanding in order to implement increased recycling. Year after year, however, they do nothing to go after the pilferers. Arthur thinks that since the stolen recyclables end up at the recycling redemption sites, Norcal doesnt carethe material will be recycled anyway. If thats so, its even more galling. Property owners are asked to subsidize the thieves, subsidize the commercial recycler and then subsidize the garbage company to make up for their loss of recycling materials. I suspect theres a big dose of political correctness involved, tooespecially in the Haight where the recycling center in Golden Gate Park is a sacred cow.
As weve learned from the flak over the off-leash dog policy recently floated by Rec and Park, San Franciscans will go to the mat for their pets (in spite of possible flea bites). Nevertheless, maintaining a no-pets rule has always been one of the lease restrictions small property owners have considered legal. Not so fast. A law was passed a few years ago exempting service dogs (for blind, deaf and otherwise disabled people), which is understandable. Part of the ruling also exempted dogs being trained to be a service dog, and this has proven to be a huge loophole. In the event you are asked to accept someones pooch (non-service variety) against your better judgment, consider a case that came up recently at the Rent Board in which an owner was willing to break his no-pets rule for a $100 per month rent hike for increased services. Besides thinking the charge was too high, the Rent Board commissioners looked askance at an owner who would be willing to break his rules for money. Lesson? If you have a no-pets rule, stick to it.
Heard of the Sixty Percent Rule? From the San Francisco-based Web site, Craigslist, comes the following postingFellow accommodation seekers: Its time to start educating the landlord community that the rental environment has changed. From now on, rather than walking away from their overpriced apartments, lets start offering them rents at approximately 60 percent of the asking price. Having looked at over 20 apartments in the past month, I have found many landlord and rental agents only too willing to cut the price by anything from 20 to 40 percent. As Bette Davis said, Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy ride.
A long time rental property owner who reserves the right to remain anonymous on the grounds that her tenants might gang up on her writes Lilys Diary. The opinions are hers and do not necessarily represent those of the SFAA or the SF Apartment Magazine. © Copyright 2001.