San Francisco landlords offer critical take on possible union-like protections for tenants

First of its kind local legislation would “politicize the landlord-tenant relationship”

San Francisco /
Oct.October 21, 2021 02:30 PM
City Supervisor Aaron Peskin (Getty, iStock)
City Supervisor Aaron Peskin (Getty, iStock)

San Francisco landlords are pushing back — hard — against the notion recently advanced by a city supervisor that tenant associations should have union-like protections.

The potential legislation is overkill in a city that already has numerous rental protections in place, according to Charley Goss of the San Francisco Apartment Association. It would fuel “hostile interactions and an ‘Us versus Them’ environment which will unnecessarily deteriorate and politicize the landlord tenant relationship,” he said in an email.

Tenant rights are a hot topic in San Francisco, home to one of the nation’s priciest rental markets, where City Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s proposal would financially penalize landlords who “harass” or refuse to meet tenant groups. The Veritas Tenants Association, named for city’s largest property manager, is staging a debt strike because members say Veritas hasn’t been willing to meet them and acknowledge their concerns.

“Our tenant association has made consistent and multiple attempts for basic good faith communication and negotiations,” VTA member Debbie Nunez said at a news conference this week to introduce the legislation. “Still no recognition, no voice in our living conditions. We have been denigrated, stymied and marginalized.”

Veritas officials said they won’t comment on the plan because they haven’t seen the language it contains. Veritas COO Jeff Jerden previously told The Real Deal that the firm had “been engaged in productive conversations” with tenants.

Local renters have numerous protections in place via existing state and local programs, including the inspection code enforcement division of the Department of Building and free access to an attorney if they’re being evicted and the San Francisco Rent Board, which mediates and decides on landlord-tenant disputes, Goss said.

The programs already “provide recourse for tenants in buildings that aren’t properly maintained or where there are other issues,” he said. The proposed ordinance buoys groups that have engaged in “counterproductive and harmful activities like convincing renters to boycott much-needed rental assistance.”

Supervisor Peskin said he “pulled from the storied playbook of labor” when devising the legislation. Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee, who worked with Peskin to draft the proposal, said tenants drew a direct connection between renter and worker rights.

“San Francisco is a union city, and that ought to include tenant unions as well,” Sherburn-Zimmer said. “Tenants deserve a voice in the decisions affecting their homes, and they absolutely deserve the right to associate and bargain about their living conditions.”

She said the HRC was “eager to partner with its local labor union allies” to convince all 11 of the city supervisors to support the legislation. So far, three — Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen and Connie Chan — have signed on as cosponsors.

A similar bill has already failed at the state level, according to Debra Carlton, executive vice president of state government affairs and compliance at the California Apartment Association.

The landlord group pushed back against 2019’s SB529, which would have given tenant associations throughout the state the same kinds of protections as the new proposal. It also went further, allowing tenants to reduce or halt rent payments if landlords violated the rules. Peskin’s legislation would give the rent board the ultimate say on whether a rent reduction is merited, not the tenant association.

Despite the distinction, Carlton echoed the apartment group, saying new rules simply aren’t needed.

“Tenants certainly have the right to organize,” she said. “A good property owner and management team will ensure that the property is well cared for and will always respond to reasonable tenant demands. So, what’s the point of the local proposal?”





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