Leading San Francisco landlord Veritas Investments announced this week that it has waived rent increases for tenants facing financial hardship, but dozens of renters who rallied outside of the company’s corporate offices on Tuesday described the move as “inconsistent” and a bad deal.
Legal rent increases resulting from building repairs to property taxes are known as “pass-throughs.” Over the past year, dozens of Veritas’ rent-controlled tenants have criticised and even sued the company for allegedly exploiting the increases while neglecting building conditions in an effort to push them out.
On Tuesday, some 200 Veritas tenants and their supporters marched in protest from Veritas’ corporate office at One Bush St. to its management office at 724 Pine St. Holding signs that read “no preying on tenants,” they called on the company to “drop or rescind” a 7 percent Operations and Maintenance (OM) rent increase that is currently affecting tenants across some 25 buildings.
That type of pass-through, which allows landlords to charge tenants for property taxes and debt incurred after purchasing a building, was banned by The City’s board of supervisors last year. However tenant advocates with the Housing Rights Committee (HRC) criticized the company for continuing to push through the increases at 25 buildings it purchased prior to the change in law.
The Examiner reported on Monday that Veritas has announced a new program to expedite hardship applications filed with the San Francisco Rent Board, meant to protect tenants from increases they cannot afford, by automatically waiving charges related to voter-approved bond initiatives, capital improvements and OM expenses.
Veritas CEO Yat-Pang Au told the Examiner on Monday that he felt the Rent Board’s’ processing time for the hardship applications — which can stretch from 12 to 24 months — was too long and placed vulnerable tenants at risk.
The company has also said that it has “voluntarily” forgiven “all accumulated O&M charges up until the Rent Board certification for petitions filed after December 11, 2017.”
But HRC organizer Lenea Maibaum, who rallied with the Veritas renters on Tuesday, said that the benefit has not been consistently applied to all tenants and described the new program as a “huge slap in the face.”
“They are giving renter credits to some of the tenants and as I was doorknocking … we asked them, did you get a credit? Some said ‘yes,’ and some said, ‘no.’ [There should be no] inconsistency of giving a rent credit to some tenants and not others,” she said.
Some tenants who rallied on Tuesday corroborated that claim.
Madelyn McMillian said that she has lived in her building at 240 St. Joseph Ave. for 27 years, and received a $39 pass-through increase two months after Veritas bought the building in March. This month, she received a notice that she will be subjected to another pass-through in October.
“I did not get a credit,” said McMillian, who called the increases “ridiculous.”
“It has nothing to do with my annual rent increase,” she said.
McMillian, a disabled senior, said that the increases come despite worsening living conditions inside of her building, where she says an elevator has been out of commission for nearly two months.
Other renters said that they were “confused” by Verita’s new expedited Hardship Waiver Program.”
“On the one hand they’re saying that they are going to forgive OM pass-throughs moving forward, but then they want to develop an internal system based on hardship that’s in ‘good faith.’ I think part of the issue here is we want an official process,” said Veritas tenant Adrian Anzaldua.
“A lot of tenants don’t have a relationship based on trust with Veritas. We don’t want to enter into an arrangement where it’s our word versus theirs, and we are left without any sort of power to negotiate in that conversation,” he added.
Along with tenant advocates, Veritas tenant Adrian McCarron attempted to deliver a letter to Au asking him to make an “ethical choice” and drop the OM pass-throughs entirely, but did not get past security.
McCarron was first told that a Veritas representative would come down to meet him, and later informed that no one was available. Au did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
A Veritas spokesperson told the Examiner that tenants who have not received hardship credits should reach out to the company’s property management operator, GreenTree. The waivers will be “immediately granted” and subject to “later verification” by the Rent Board, according to the spokesperson.
“It just sums up everything about Veritas,” said McCarron. “It’s a simple ride down the elevators and they are just not willing to do that. It’s easy for them to send a letter for pass-throughs. We are just here to talk and they are happy to take our money, but they don’t want to listen.”
Tenants who are seeking assistance through Veritas’ Expedited Hardship Waiver Program are directed to call 415-968-1806 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.