Ordinance 32-22: San Francisco Tenant Association Ordinance


San Francisco now regulates “tenant associations”, dictating the procedures to create and maintain one, as well as the obligations of landlords to participate in meetings.

For buildings with five or more rental units, tenants who obtain approval from at least half of the occupied units may provide their landlord with a petition to create a tenant association. The association must hold regular meetings open to all building residents, and the tenant members must elect officers.

Tenants may invite guests and distribute literature for the purpose of organizing activities. The purpose of the association is for landlords and tenants to confer with each other in good faith regarding housing conditions, community life, landlord-tenant relations, and other issues of common interest or concern. A landlord’s failure to comply with the requirements of the tenant association ordinance is a basis for a Rent Board petition for a substantial decrease in housing services.

The City adopted the tenant association ordinance, finding that “effective communications among tenants and between tenants and landlords is important to the ongoing vitality of the community”. However, San Francisco increasingly treats residential rentals as a business, not a relationship. It also established a Rent Board four decades ago, which is charged with identifying reductions in housing services and then awarding actual reductions in the rent, in dollars and cents.

To now say that it is also a reduction in housing services to refusal to physically sit down in a meeting so tenants can air grievances landlords about “community life” and “other issues of common interest or concern” essentially manufactures a rent reduction out of thin air. (Admittedly, these are vague categories that might include bona fide “housing issues”, but a landlord could essentially be ordered to reduce rent because the dogs of two of his tenants aren’t friends or everyone snubbed Janice by going to Claudia’s house party instead.)

It is generally advisable for landlords to promptly and reasonably address tenant concerns before they arise to the level of actionable claims, but to mandate participation in an association four times a year is unnecessary. This may be just one more solution looking for a problem.

The text of Ordinance 32-22 can be found here.