SF Apartment : May 2018


Pruned-Back Petitions

by The San Francisco Rent Board

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 January and February commission meetings. For full rent board agendas and minutes, please visit sfrb.org.

500 Block of 14th Avenue

The tenant’s petition for decreased housing services and unlawful rent increase was denied. The administrative law judge found that twice-annual pruning of garden trees and ivy, and exclusive use of the backyard and garden were not housing services included in the tenant’s base rent; that the tenant failed to prove that the lack of twice-annual tree pruning constituted a substantial decrease in housing services; and that the tenant did not meet her burden of proving that the inability to use the fireplace for 38 days between requesting cleaning and the chimney being cleaned constituted a substantial decrease in housing services.

The ALJ made no determination regarding any claims the tenant may have under state law according to the tenant’s claim that the tenant and former landlord had a binding agreement prohibiting the landlord from increasing the rent. The tenant appeals on the basis that the banked 27-year rent increase is illegal and the sudden revoked private use of the back garden to now be a common space for the building are long time precedent-setting binding agreements.

Decision: To deny the appeal, 3-2

900 Block of Post Street

The tenants’ petition alleging an unlawful rent increase under the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act was granted. The ALJ found that on the date of service of the notice of rent increase, the subtenant no longer permanently resided in the unit. The ALJ further found that the landlord failed to meet his burden of proving that when the notice of rent increase was served, the original tenant no longer permanently resided in the subject unit, and therefore was not entitled to impose a rent increase.

On appeal, the landlord’s attorney argued that the petitioner (the subtenant) lacked standing to file the petition because he was not a tenant of the subject unit at the time he filed the petition. The attorney stated that the petitioner falsely claimed he was still living in the unit, but then admitted on cross examination that he was not living in the unit, and testified that his father, the original tenant, was living in Yemen and not living in the unit.
Coincidentally, in the same meeting, the same landlord was facing an appeal for another unit in the same building on the same floor. The tenant in this unit petitioned the board alleging a substantial decrease in housing services. It was denied. The ALJ found that the work to abate the Department of Public Health and Department of Building Inspection Notices of Violation was done within a reasonable time after the landlord received notice of the lead paint dust, mold, and paint condition problems.

On appeal, the tenant argued that the landlord first had notice of the decreased housing services in December 2016, that he did not prevent the landlord from completing earlier work or deny access to the unit, and that the work was not done in a reasonable time. The tenant also raises a new claim regarding mold.

Decision: In the case of the Costa-Hawkins Rent Increase, the appeal was denied, 4-1. In the case of the decrease of housing services, the appeal was denied 5-0.

3200 Block of 23rd Street

The tenants’ petition for decreased housing services was granted in part and denied in part. The landlords were found liable to the tenants in the amount of $2,947.50 for loss of use of the deck. But the ALJ also found that the tenants failed to meet their burden of proving that bike room access was a housing service, and that the tenants failed to prove that any of the changes in the terms of the tenancy or changes in the configuration or conditions of the restored unit constituted a substantial decrease in housing services.

The tenant argued that the tenant’s chronic conditions and disability affected her ability to file the petition in a timely manner; that eviction from the bike parking room was not addressed; that there was a reduction in number of rooms which caused a loss in the right to a potential third and fourth roommate and reduced the value of the unit; and that the loss of use of the bathtub and loss of air quality and ventilation were not considered.

Rent board commissioners first put forth a measure to accept the appeal on the grounds that losing a room is a decrease in services and that loss of the use of the bike room was a decrease in services, but the measure did not have enough support to pass.

One of the tenants told the board she was disappointed to hear the denial of her appeal, as the second bedroom was a valuable resource as a guest room and for possible expansion of family, and because she and the other tenant often sleep separately. The other tenant in the unit stated that if removal of a room with a closet and a door from the apartment doesn’t constitute a decrease in services, then he did not know what does. He said that the board was in error and that was shameful.

Decision: To deny the appeal, 3-2.

4000 Block of California Street

The tenant’s application requesting deferral of a capital improvement passthrough on the basis of financial hardship was granted. The ALJ granted the deferral of the rent increase beginning on July 1, 2017, the month after the hardship application was filed on June 22, 2017.

The tenant appealed, arguing that he was so physically incapacitated that he was unable to file the application for hardship when the capital improvement passthrough was imposed on December 1, 2015; that his representative assisted him with filing for hardship immediately after learning of the tenant’s right to do so; and that the board should grant the deferral of the rent increase back to December 1, 2015.

The tenant also explained that the appeal was filed five days late due to the tenant’s representative being out of town and not having received the decision until after the 15-day deadline to appeal had elapsed. The board unanimously found good cause for the late filing of the appeal.

Decision: To accept the appeal and remand the case to the ALJ to consider the tenant’s request to retroactively grant the hardship deferral back to the date of December 1, 2015, when the capital improvement rent increase was imposed, based on the particular facts of this case, 3-2.

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