A Dysfunctioning Rent Board

root - Posted on 14 August 2005

Tenants Speak up for a fair and balanced San Francisco Rent Board

by Tiny

"I am an old school teacher so I know I can make myself HEARD! " Lora Traveler, long-time resident of Parkmerced Apartments in San Francisco and past president of The Parkmerced residents Organization (PRO) raised her voice above a malfunctioning mega phone at a rally in support of a fair and balanced rent board through rent board reform , "I am here to talk about a disfunctioning Rent Board, we as members of PRO just as other tenants here today have seen over and over again that instead of this rent board enforcing city ordinances and code regulations put in place to protect tenants, they act as "enforcers" for landlords…can I get an Amen" And Ms. Traveler definitely did get a very raucous Amen from an audience of over 100 tenants, advocates and community members gathered on the steps of City Hall on Monday to demand proportional representation of tenants on the San Francisco Rent Board as opposed to the way it is now which is filled with a majority of landlords and minority of tenants.

"This rent board has never seen a landlord that they didn't admire and give them their undying attention and don't let them meet a multi-billionaire like mine - my god- their love is unfailing..Can I get an Amen?"

"Amen!!" Ms. Traveler asked again and the crowd responded. Ms. Traveler went on to detail one of the recent flagrant scams conducted by Parkmerced Landlords (Olympic View Realty fronting for JP Morgan Chase) to raise their rents under the auspices of "capital improvements" which in this case included the planting of superflous palm trees which in fact are dying now but the tenants continue to be charged for. Ms. Traveler concluded, "I urge each board of supervisor to vote yes on this much needed reform including taking the 7 rent board appointments out of the hands of the Mayor

After being voted on by the Board of Supervisors the proposed charter amendment to reform the Rent Board will hit the ballot in November. The proposal says that since 2/3 of the City is made up of renters, 2/3 of the Rent board will be renters. Further, the proposal will give the Board of Supervisors 4 of the 7 appointments and the power to veto the Mayors appointment. In light of the fact that Mayor Newsom is aimed at rolling back rent control this amendment might be the only way for San Francisco tenants to save their homes

"The San Francisco Rent board has become controlled by landlords, 65% of the time the Rent board rules in favor of landlords and in only 16% of the time do they even "hear" cases brought before them by tenants and case after case where the Rent board approves rent increases even when the landlord has no documentation to support them" Ted Gullickson from the SF Tenants Union outlined the outrageous results of recent study done by The Tenants Union which outlined the way the current Mayor appointed SF Rent Commission treats the people they are supposed to be there for. He went on to give a recent example of the dangers of keeping a landlord majority on the Rent Board; "We saw one case where the rent board refused to penalize a landlord who owned several Single Room Occupancy Hotels (the only possible places to live for homeless and formerly homeless folks in San Francisco) for not putting in sprinkler systems because the Rent board claimed that the City didn't have enough water to supply the sprinkler system if he put it in." PNN readers will remember from the many horrible fire stories we reported and supported on last year, that effective sprinkler systems are one of the main ways to avoid fatal fires that plague the City's SRO's.

I asked Ted how the more fairly proportional rent control board would impact the hundreds of senior evictions that happen constantly in San Francisco like the eviction last year of POOR Magazine's Poverty Hero Grace Wells, an 86 year old African Descendent elder evicted from her long-time residence in the Western Addition, "Over the years we have adopted a number of strong laws to stop these unjust senior evictions and the rent board does absolutely nothing to enforce those laws. Each year about a thousand tenants file wrongful eviction petitions and each year the rent board investigates about 0-3 of them and they don't even keep a registry or follow-up inspection on places like Grace Wells home to make sure the landlord didn't just re-rent it at a higher rate.


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