Daly introduces rule changes to aid struggling tenants

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By Rebecca Bowe

As the economic downturn deepens, millions in state and federal funds have been allocated to struggling homeowners who are falling behind on mortgage payments. Today, Supervisor Chris Daly will ask the Board of Supervisors to extend a life raft to another group of people who are worried about losing the roofs over their heads: tenants.

"Homeowners aren't the only ones struggling with the financial crisis. Most San Franciscans are renters,” Daly points out. “It's about time we do something to help tenants who are losing their homes. In this crisis, it is not appropriate for landlords to be raising rents that tenants can't afford."

Toward that end, Daly will introduce a “renters economic relief package” at today’s board meeting, which proposes several amendments to the city’s rent-control law. The three changes are designed to ease some of the pain for San Francisco renters, who face the pressure of rising rents even as the economy continues to slide. In 2009, the Board of Realtors projects a 7 percent rent increase for vacant units, a measure that's looked to as a barometer for how the rental market is behaving, according to Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

The first rule change would suspend any new rent increases that would cause a tenant’s rent to exceed 33 percent of his or her income, by making it easier for a tenant to apply for hardship in order to prevent this level of rent increase.

The second would make it easier for tenants to add roommates in order to lessen each person’s share of the monthly payment, by bringing the occupancy limit into line with San Francisco housing code provisions rather than the arbitrary limits imposed by landlords.

Daly’s third proposal would tweak an existing law that allows landlords to "bank" annual rent increases, imposing them all at once, which can result in sudden rent increases of 20 percent or more. The new provision would limit these banked rent increases to no more than 8 percent in any one year.

Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union voiced support for the proposed rule changes. "Tenants are having a very difficult time coping with declining income and the city's overly-inflated rents," he notes.