Surreal Estate Q&A #4: Deregulation of Mixed-Use Property

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“I have a building with a retail space on the bottom and a single apartment on top in San Francisco. The renter has been there for years, and I haven’t increased the rent yet. These days, his rent is well below market rate. I’m wondering if I can increase his rent, and by how much. ~ Michael”

Thank you for your question. First of all, if his initial term lease has expired, you can always increase the rent by at least the annual allowable rent increase, as published by the San Francisco Rent Board. And if you haven’t done this for a few years, you can actually “bank” past year’s allowable increases and impose them all at once. (You lose out on the equivalent of rent increase “compound interest” by waiting, but you don’t actually forfeit your allowable increase by waiting.)

That said, I think your question is directed more toward whether the dwelling unit is rent controlled. My first follow up question would be whether the building was constructed after 1979. However, the profile of this building (one commercial, one residential) sounds like it is probably not “new construction”.

So the only real issue here is Costa-Hawkins deregulates this kind of unit. The language of Section 1954.52(a)(3) deregulates a dwelling unit that “is alienable separate from the title to any other dwelling unit . . .”. The building is multi-unit, but because only one of the units is a dwelling unit, the entire building is technically “separately alienable” from other “dwelling units”.

That said, I would want to double check zoning and make sure that there was never any residential use of the downstairs space, to avoid the imputing of “residential use” to a non-residential unit, as was the case in the recent decision, Burien, LLC v. Wiley.