Peskin Pushing Ahead With Proposal to Expand Rent Control

New developments like this one at Eighth and Harrison streets in San Francisco could be affected by Supervisor Aaron Peskin's proposal to expand rent control. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

If you rent in a newer San Francisco building — anything built since 1979 — your landlords can raise your rent as much as they want. Supervisor Aaron Peskin says that means even people who can afford one of San Francisco’s expensive new apartments may eventually be priced out.

“All of the big buildings that are being built today are not subject to rent control,” says Peskin. “And, even if you’re paying top dollar, the next year, your rent can be raised another thousand dollars a month.  It’s not equitable.”

A 1995 state law bars cities from expanding their rent-control laws. But Peskin, moving forward with a proposal he made during his campaign for the District 3 seat on the Board of Supervisors, is exploring ways to expand rent control to newer buildings in the city.

Peskin says the situation in the city today “is not equitable. We have people who are in rent-control buildings and people who are not in rent-control buildings.”

Peskin, who was sworn in as a supervisor last week, says he will ask the City Attorney’s Office to study an idea he thinks will get around the state ban on extending rent control. He wants to explore the possibility of imposing controls on new developments for which the city has granted some “added benefit,” such as adjustments in zoning to allow bigger or taller buildings than have previously existed at the sites.

“What we’re proposing is that … those new units be subject to rent control,” Peskin says.

It’s unclear how many projects would be affected by the proposal, but Peskin estimated that as many as 30,000 units could become rent-controlled under his proposal.

Tim Iglesias, a University of San Francisco law professor who specializes in housing law, says the City Attorney’s Office may well be receptive to Peskin’s proposal. But even so, it will face some serious pushback from the housing industry.

“And if it does get passed, I would immediately expect that they would bring a lawsuit to stop it,” Iglesias said.

The San Francisco Apartment Association endorsed Peskin, who’s a landlord himself, even though his platform included expanded rent control. Janan New, the group’s executive director, says it’s too soon to say whether it will file suit.

But, she says, Peskin should ask the city controller to consider the economic downside to his proposal “and what potential chilling effect that that would send to potential investors that want to come to San Francisco to do the right thing to build affordable housing.”

Peskin says owners of new buildings are making plenty from the high rents they’re already charging. As for people who can afford what look like sky-high rents now, he says, they may be in for a shock when it’s time to renew their leases.

Peskin says he wants to get out ahead of what could be a future wave of displacement.

Peskin Pushing Ahead With Proposal to Expand Rent Control 16 December,2015Stephanie Martin Taylor

  • Scott Walla

    Those of us still in post 1979 units are still screwed.

    • shawn_non_anonymous

      Yes, but he proposes to keep you at the current level of screwed rather than having you get double-screwed.

      I think landlords should instead be taxed on the amount of rent above a standard level such that they receive less revenue per added dollar over that amount. The taxes should fund housing vouchers for those that qualify for below market housing. This provides a means test and incentive to build market rate units below the “luxury” threshold.

      • Scott Walla

        That would be great but what’s to prevent a landlord from increasing it to a much higher amount in preparation for rent control changes coming down the road?

        • shawn_non_anonymous

          I’m not understanding your question. If landlords increase rent under my tax scheme, they pay more in tax per dollar over a specified amount. Nothing prevents the landlord from doing that, but when they do, the subsidy pool for middle and lower income households increases because more tax is payed into the pool.

          The current rent control scheme is bad on many levels, not the least of which is encourages people to never move out of their current home. That hurts the overall economy and forces growing families to leave the Bay Area altogether. When the family grows, it should be able to find a larger home without having to triple it’s monthly payment. Today, a couple in a small two bedroom with one kid that needs below-market housing may have to leave the city if they have a second child. We need a way for them to means test and qualify for a subsidy rather than be locked into a single apartment.

  • Josh Thayer

    Rent control: There ought to be a means test to qualify – those who are below a certain net worth and below a certain yearly income only – yearly qualification required. No more subsidies for rent by private property owners. Private property owners should get market rate while the qualified rent controlled tenant receives a monthly stipend from city hall paid for by all SF tax payers. It is time to reel in the abuse: for example those who make 6 figures yet retain a rent controlled apartment while purchasing vacation properties elsewhere and those subletting their apartments for more than the rent they pay under rent control. The abuse is shameful and widespread. This policy change will likely add tens of thousands of units to the market as many sit empty as a direct result of the broken system currently in place.

    • Landstander

      Means testing comes with a lot of overhead. But yes, the current system is ripe for abuse and there is something wrong when someone pays 50% of market rate rent while earning 150% of median income. But unless means testing can be standardized at the state level and made more efficient, I would oppose adding yet another form of means testing and all of the bureaucracy that goes with it.

  • Landstander

    Rent control should be expanded… and loosened. The allowable rent increases are generally so tiny that it might as well be a rent freeze. There is a need for rent stabilization in our boom/bust city. If rents can double in the course of a year, it threatens community stability and the stability of the workforce. So, don’t allow rents to double, but also don’t coddle renters with low-rent-for-life. Something like a 15% annual cap would provide the needed stability while still allowing rents to normalize closer to market rates over time.

    • RickRollington

      That’s nutty. 15% is a huge increase, especially since nobody is getting 15% raises every year. Our country is being held hostage by the rentier class. We should have more public housing, not more power in the hands of private property speculators.

      • Landstander

        Maybe 15% is a bit huge. Maybe 10%, maybe 5%, but not the roughly 0.5% – 1.5% that is currently taking place. But the primary goal is not to give everyone cheap rent, but to first and foremost avoid the massive increases that are equivalent to evictions. And to be realistic, it is OK for people to move to cheaper areas, so long as they can make those types of moves of the course of several years and not 30 days.

      • sojourner_7

        It’s not based on 15% income raises for the tenants, it’s equally based on the increasing taxes, assessments, utilities, tree maintenance, etc., etc. that the city/county/state keep throwing at property owners, who cannot absorb these increases.

  • njudah

    the solution to the housing crisis is to build more million dollar condos! the better solution is to build 2 million dollar condos that are purchased by outsiders to “store” monetary value and sit vacant! The more million+ condos, the cheaper the housing will be.

    If this sounds nuts, well…..

    • starchild

      Legalize tiny homes, and let builders build them without going through the whole bureaucratic planning process. Jim Reid (2003 candidate for SF mayor) built a tiny 10′ by 10′ home in his backyard with toilet, shower, fridge, stove, electricity, etc., for $12,000. Let’s allow TRULY affordable housing to be built, so that thousands of people don’t have to live on the streets.

      “The more government rules and regulations, the cheaper the housing will be…” — We already know how that’s turned out!

  • Damiana

    He won’t get anywhere with a Brown as governor and Costa Hawkins as the law.

  • starchild

    Imposing yet more government controls will not solve the housing shortage in SF, or make housing more affordable. Rent control may benefit long-time residents like myself who live in rent-controlled apartments — although it also gets us stuck in unpleasant roommate situations by incentivizing us not to move — but for most renters and would-be renters, the result is higher prices and less availability. Cities with rent control tend to see higher increases in market-rate rents, and a decline in the availability and quality of housing stock. Let’s instead repeal zoning controls that cater to NIMBYs, let people live where they work and vice-versa, make it easier to sub-divide real estate parcels and sell them off in smaller pieces, legalize tiny homes, get rid of height limits, decriminalize people living in their vehicles and camping, etc. A broad-based package of reforms that directly benefit the poor as well as those with more money, instead of just having more power and resources siphoned off by the governing class and more and more bureaucratic regulations and red tape in our lives, that require everybody who wants to get anything done to pay lawyers, consultants, expediters, and so on.

    • shawn_non_anonymous

      2/3rds of the residents in SF rent. That voting block is what gets us the current rent control mess. It’s fine to shake your fist at the “governing class,” but here in SF that would be renters and not property owners.

  • Socrates Wilde

    You want more affordable housing, do you, Mr. Peskin? The reason affordability has been lost is due to all the economic interventions you and thousands of other San Francisco pro(ag)gressives have championed over the years.

    Repeal rent control, zoning and height restrictions; corporate crony deals, such as tax breaks, etc. Then their might be some sanity, but it won’t be what it would’ve been had the interventions not been implemented in the first place.

    I’m barely holding on paying well below market rent, but I know enough about economics to see what’s been wrought — and why. The pro(ag)gressive political gangsters can’t see past their lusts for money and power.


Stephanie Martin Taylor

Stephanie Martin is a radio news reporter and anchor, and an occasional host of the KQED Newsroom television program. While she currently focuses on housing and development issues, she has also reported on topics ranging  from state and local politics to religion to arts and culture.

Prior to joining KQED in 2005, Stephanie was an anchor and reporter for WFDD, the NPR affiliate in Winston-Salem, NC. She also spent several years as a television anchor, reporter and producer at various stations around the country.

Stephanie has received numerous awards for her reporting, including two National Headliner Awards, the Religion Newswriters Association’s Best Radio Reporting Award and honors from the Associated Press and the Radio and Television Digital News Association. A series she produced from Iraq in 2005 earned a Best of Radio Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Stephanie received a graduate degree in Journalism from Columbia University. As an undergraduate at Colgate University, she worked and studied in Paris and Dijon, France, and spent a summer interning in the White House Press Office.

Stephanie grew up in Dallas, TX, and now lives with her husband in San Francisco.

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