With no rent control, tenants losing grip on single-family homes 

click to enlarge rent control
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • The Byers family gathers belongings last week while preparing to leave their $2,500-a-month Sunset district home after being hit with a $400 rent increase.
The housing market’s ebbs and flows sent Charles and Christine Byers bouncing around the Bay Area, from San Francisco to the East Bay and then back again. But after living with their two children in a $2,500-a–month two-bedroom, one-bathroom home on 20th Avenue for almost five years, they soon might have to move into a recreational vehicle.

As experienced renters — Charles Byers has lived on and off in the Sunset district since graduating from San Francisco State University in the early 1980s — the Byers thought their landlord was in for a surprise in October when they received notice of a $400 monthly rent increase.

But a visit to the San Francisco Rent Board revealed the hard truth: Rent control does not extend to single-family homes. The increase was valid — and one the family simply could not afford.

“That was really out of the blue,” said Charles Byers as he put clothes and toys into boxes Friday in the home’s high-ceiling, ornately molded living room while his children – Brendon, 1½, and Natalya, 4½ -- crawled over the mismatched furniture that would soon be in storage.

More and more renters of detached homes in San Francisco’s outer neighborhoods — places once attractive to families with children, like the Byers — are discovering this hard fact of housing law the hard way.

Single-family homes rented after Jan. 1, 1996, are not subject to rent stabilization under the Costa-Hawkins Act, a state law.

Hard data on big rent increases for single-family homes is hard to find. The Rent Board does not keep separate numbers on such cases, and rent increases that are not petitioned are not recorded.

Still, “we’re definitely seeing more of these,” said Ted Gullicksen, executive director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

The Tenants Union drop-in clinic handles about 100 such cases every month, Gullicksen estimated.

Tenants renting condominium units from a landlord are similarly not protected by rent control, regardless of the age of the building.

“It’s not well-known at all,” Gullicksen said. “I would say most tenants who move into a single-family home have no idea they don’t have rent control protection.

“The fact is,” he added, “a landlord [of a single-family home] can raise the rent by any amount and do it as often as they want.”

Rent control, however, does apply if the single-family home has been “subdivided,” even illegally, according to the Rent Board.

But none of that helps home renters on the receiving end of a big rent increase on what used to be considered affordable housing for families in The City.

“There should be a rule, something where the landlord has to tell a prospective tenant” that a house isn’t rent controlled, said Jeffery Lactaoen, 48, a Bernal Heights native who will have to leave a Bayview district home he rents with his partner, Robert Brownstein — and The City altogether — following a $1,000 monthly rent increase.

For Lactaoen, who has HIV, leaving San Francisco means leaving behind HIV treatment and a housing subsidy — which wouldn’t happen if his unit had rent stabilization. “We should have some protection too.”

For the Byers, they don’t harbor ill will toward their landlord — who, according to records, paid $800,000 for the home shortly before renting it to the family.

“They have a big mortgage,” Charles Byers said.

Despite Charles Byers taking home $75,000 a year as a paralegal for a global law firm’s San Francisco office, the Byers are temporarily crashing with family in Gilroy while shopping for an RV as they plot their next move.

“It’s not like we’re indigent,” said Christine Byers, who took time off from her family therapy practice to care for the couple’s 1½-year-old son. “That should be enough for a family to live on in San Francisco, but it’s not.”

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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