Rent control in San Francisco: Everything you need to know

San Francisco has it all: Victorian charm, scenic location, booming economy...and sky-high rents. Rent control is one of the tools the city has used to keep rent affordable for San Franciscans as demand for rental housing outpaces its limited supply. 

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Table of contents

What is rent control? How does rent control work in San Francisco?Rent increases Eviction protectionArguments for and against rent control

What is rent control?

Rent control is any policy that limits the amount of rent that can be charged for an apartment, how much the rent can be increased per year, or both. Various rent control laws are in place in a handful of cities in the US, as well as the entire states of California and Oregon.

How does rent control work in San Francisco?

San Francisco’s rent control ordinance was passed in 1979. The ordinance is enforced by the San Francisco Rent Board. The rent board also offers protections for renters from landlord negligence and eviction. 

Rent control in San Francisco covers all rental units in buildings with a certificate of occupancy dating to before June 13, 1979, including residential units within commercial spaces, such as live/work lofts and in-law units. More than 60% of San Francisco rental units fall under rent control. Single family homes and commercial units are not covered by rent control.

Rent increases

The San Francisco Rent Board sets the percentage by which landlords can raise the rents, up to a maximum of 7% per year. (In 2020, the increase was 1.8%.) Landlords cannot increase the rent (except by petition proving increased operating expenses) due to a new roommate or new baby arriving. (Compare this to rent control in Los Angeles, which allows landlords to increase the rent by 10% when a new roommate moves in!)

In late 2019, California passed statewide rent control laws that limit yearly rent increases to a maximum of 10% (5% plus a regional cost-of-living adjustment of no more than 5%). These new state laws apply to buildings in San Francisco that were built after 1979 but before 2005. 

The rent board does not set a maximum rent, and it does not usually limit the amount that the rent can be raised between tenants.  

Eviction protection

Landlords can only evict a tenant for “just cause,” or specific legal reasons. Some of these are things are within the tenant’s control, including:

  • Not paying rent, or consistently paying late

  • Destruction of the property

  • Illegal use of the unit or illegal subletting

Others have to do with how the landlord wants to use the unit, for example if they want to:

  • Move into the unit themself

  • Convert the unit into a condo

  • Make capital improvements 

Depending on the reason for the eviction, you may be offered a buyout or relocation benefits, or be allowed to move back into the unit at a later date.  

Arguments for and against rent control

In San Francisco, rent control has been seen as a tool to maintain affordability and fight displacement of low-income residents. However, studies show that in the years following 1994, when more of the city’s rental units became rent controlled, available rental housing decreased. Rental prices for the limited remaining housing rose, furthering income inequality in the city. 

Whatever their effects on affordability, San Francisco’s rent control laws have been a model for the new legislation that now covers the rest of the state.

Rent controlled apartments are often hard to come by. Bungalow offers an alternative: affordable private rooms in shared homes that cost an average of 30% less than market-rate studio apartments in the same neighborhoods. Wifi, utilities, and monthly cleaning are set up before you move in, and all roommates are vetted, so that coliving is seamless. Find a Bungalow near you.

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