Rent Board Redux

Trading Spaces

written by The San Francisco Rent Board

There’s a lot of gray area when it comes to primary residences.

Editor’s Note: The following San Francisco Rent Board cases are real, though they have been edited for space and clarity. They have been selected to highlight some of the more interesting cases that the board reviewed at its recent commission meetings. For full rent board agendas and minutes, please visit sfrb.org.

2200 Block of Pacific Avenue

The ALJ found that the subject unit was not the tenant’s principal place of residence at the time the petition was filed, nor was it the principal place of the tenant’s minor son, and therefore the rent limitations set forth in Rent Ordinance Section 37.3 are not applicable. The tenants appeal, arguing that they are allowed to have more than one residence; that a tenant may be temporarily absent for educational purposes; that illegally obtained hearsay evidence cannot support findings of fact; and that the action is barred by laches.

The tenant asked that the case be reconsidered. She said that she has lived in the unit for almost 30 years, and that it has been almost six years since she has been away because her son was in school in Santa Cruz. She said that the rule for temporary absences does not have a time limit.

She told the Board that having previously been served with a 1.21 petition, she asked the previous property manager if it would happen again and was told that it would not. She said that moving to Santa Cruz was critical for her, and clients won’t hire her; and she was planning to be in Santa Cruz only temporarily. She said that she wants another opportunity to present her case.

A friend of the tenant spoke next and said he has been friends with the tenant for 30 years. He said that the master tenant never considered moving to Santa Cruz full time, and that she only enrolled her son in school in Santa Cruz to do the best for her son; for her to have to wait another year to go to school when he was young didn’t make sense for this education-oriented family. He said that the tenant kept in contact with the building manager and was assured by the manager that she was not going to pursue a 1.21 petition; she has been gone temporarily, and within six months will be back permanently. He said that the landlord should have given her time to cure and that it doesn’t seem fair of the new owner to do this; and after 30 years of paying rent, that time shouldn’t be thrown away.

The tenant’s minor son said that he was in his senior year in high school in Santa Cruz, and that he was perhaps the best to speak on the issue. He said that his mother only made the sacrifice for him, and they didn’t find a suitable school in San Francisco. He told the Board that he and his mother were in San Francisco almost every weekend in elementary and middle school, and he has been playing in iconic music venues in San Francisco; both he and his mother are San Franciscans and he wanted to explain what San Francisco means to them.

The landlord’s petition under Rules and Regulations Section 1.21 was granted. The ALJ found that the subject unit was not the tenant’s principal place of residence at the time the petition was filed, nor was it the principal place of the tenant’s minor son, and therefore the rent limitations set forth in Rent Ordinance Section 37.3 are not applicable. The tenant appeals, arguing that they are allowed to have more than one residence; that a tenant may be temporarily absent for educational purposes; that illegally obtained hearsay evidence cannot support findings of fact; and that the action is barred by laches.

Decision: MSC: To deny the appeal (5-0).

1700 Block of Union Street

The tenant’s petition for an unlawful rent increase was granted. The ALJ found that the tenant’s lawful base rent is $2,058.84 and that the landlords are liable for rent overpayments in the amount of $5,597.42 for the period of July 1, 2016 to November 30, 2019. One landlord appeals, contending that she should be the only person to represent the three landlords because her landlord parents are elderly and have dementia; that her landlord mother who appeared at hearing by telephone did not understand the proceedings; and that none of the landlords received the notice of hearing, and she submits a Declaration of Non-Receipt of Notice of Hearing.

The tenant asked the tenant commissioners to uphold their ruling. He stated that the landlords said that they didn’t receive notice of the hearing and lack capacity to hear, but their assertions are contrary to the evidence. He told the Board that he texted the landlords the day before he filed the petition. He said that after the landlords received the petition, one landlord asked him to meet, and that at no point did it appear that the landlord lacked competency. He said that the landlords’ daughter told him that he should have no more negotiations with her father, but that this was the first time in 14 years that he had ever heard of his landlords’ daughter. He also said that she misused attorney letterhead to appear as if she had an attorney.

One of the landlords said that the case started in September when she asked the tenant to pay a pet fee, because the tenant snuck two cats that she didn’t know about. She said that the tenant had a roommate who told her that the cats were urinating on the hardwood floors. She said the tenant went to the Rent Board saying the rent increase was excessive, but the cats were scratching the walls. She said that his unit is the same size as others, but has always had the lowest rent of all and that she is appealing because there are a lot of errors.

The tenant’s ex-wife told the Board that not a lot of places allow cats. She said their tenancy began in February 2006 with their cat Elektra at a monthly rate of $1,850. She said that she was a Russian immigrant and didn’t speak English well. She said that her name was not on the lease because she wasn’t working at the time and her ex-husband didn’t want her to be responsible for the rent. She said that her ex-husband felt it was not fair that he did not pay the same amount as other tenants, and so he signed a new lease in February 2010. She said that the landlord was aware that they had a cat. She said that the landlords did not dispute the letters and text messages that were presented at the hearing.

The other landlord said that the tenant called his wife to say that his rent was too high; the tenant was using that to his advantage. He said they gave him a break, and records show that he was not overpaying rent—the tenant’s rent was one of the lowest; now he’s using that against them and that’s unfair. He said that they have records to prove it, and the tenant is trying to put he and his wife in a squeeze.

Decision: To deny the appeal (3-2)

To learn more about the San Francisco Rent Board, call 415-252-4602 or go to sfrb.org.

The information contained in this article is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem.