Surreal Estate Q&A #1: San Francisco Permissible Rent Increases

I’ve got a quick question regarding rent control policies in San Francisco. I have a single family home that is rent controlled. My landlord wants to raise the rent 4% (above standard rent control increase, I believe). Additionally, the tenant before me was evicted which I believe has some impact on this policy. Can you provide any insight as to his rights?

~ Kate (San Francisco, CA)

First, I see a red flag with “a single family home that is rent controlled”. This is certainly possible, but it is rare. The general rule is that single family houses are exempt from rent control by state law (i.e., Costa-Hawkins).

This is the current link for allowable rent increases in San Francisco. SF Rent Increases. The current annual increase is 1%, and 4% is obviously greater than 1%. However, this is only relevant if the house is rent-controlled. Otherwise, market-rate increases are permissible.

As for the eviction in the previous tenancy, section 37.3(d)(1)(A) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance says: “The owner’s right to establish subsequent rental rates under this paragraph shall not apply to a dwelling or unit where the preceding tenancy has been terminated by the owner by notice pursuant to California Civil Code Section 1946 or has been terminated upon a change in the terms of the tenancy noticed pursuant to California Civil Code Section 827: in such instances, the rent increase limitation provisions of Chapter 37 shall continue to apply for the duration of the new tenancy in that dwelling or unit.”

“Eviction” is a little vague. Actually, so is “tenant”. The issue is not merely if the previous tenant was evicted, but whether the entire previous “tenancy” (i.e., this had to be everyone, not just your former housemate) was terminated and whether that termination was based on a “non-fault” “just cause” for eviction, under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance.

To clarify: If a landlord evicted all of the previous tenants because they, e.g., didn’t pay rent or breached their lease, they would have used a Cal. Code Civ. Proc., §1161 “eviction” notice (not a Cal. Civ., §827 or §1946 notice), and this doesn’t make a difference to your situation. On the other hand, if the previous tenancy was terminated because the owner wanted to conduct capital improvements or rehabilitation work or reside their as their permanent place of occupancy (i.e., an “owner move-in”), they would have used a Cal Civ., §1946.1 notice to terminate the tenancy.

You can call the rent board (see the section “Find Your Local Rent Board” under the “Resources” section of the menu), which should have information about recorded, non-fault “notices of termination of tenancy”. Unfortunately, without such a termination, it sounds like the unit probably isn’t rent-controlled, so 4% is actually a deal.