Landlords look to be able to pass costs of improvements onto renters. Renters and tenants rights associations say that could lead to much higher rents on controlled units, hurting the low and middle income renters.
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S.F. Landlord-Tenant Accord Scuttled by Renters Groups
Supervisor Tom Ammian’s painstakingly negotiated deal between San Francisco landlords and tenants on the touchy issue of who pays for building improvements fell apart yesterday amid recriminations.
Ammiano’s accord, which he announced two weeks ago, was designed to head off a tenant-driven ballot initiative for November that would make it all but impossible for property owners to pass along to their tenants the cost of capital improvements. Under the city rent control law, those improvements can include such things as new roofs, carpeting, kitchen appliances and building foundations.
The agreement was scuttled by powerful tenants leaders, including Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union and Randy Shaw of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. They said it didn’t protect low-and middle-income renters and could lead to much higher rents on controlled units.
Their groups weren’t consistently involved in the six weeks of talks that led to the accord. Tenants were represented by the Housing Rights Committee and the St. Peter’s Housing Committee, while landlords were represented by the San Francisco Apartment Association and the Coalition for Better Housing.
The collapse of the deal showed the bitterness that typifies the entire landlord-tenant and rent control issue in the city.
“This deal fell through because Ted Gullicksen is a lying S.O.B.,” said Bart Murphy, president of the Coalition for Better Housing, a group that represents big apartment building owners. “He went behind the back of his own supervisor (Ammiano). He thrives off anarchy and needs it to keep going.”
Shaw said he and Gullicksen had always opposed the accord’s key provision. His organization had been passing out flyers this week describing Ammiano as a “former tenant ally.”
“How can anyone push this kind of deal?” Shaw asked of Ammiano. “Tom has been the strongest pro-tenant member of the supervisors. Why he would push for such an anti-tenant measure, I don’t know. It’s very disturbing.”
Ammiano responded, “I’m trying to be diplomatic.” Tenants groups, he said, “need to decide who represents whom. We were negotiating in good faith.”
Ammiano’s package provided that in making improvements to rent-controlled buildings, landlords could add 10 percent to their tenants’ rent over three or five years. Landlords now have to go through a cumbersome application process at the Rent Stabilization Board and then deal with an annual bookkeeping nightmare.
Shaw said yesterday that he and Gullicksen never agreed to the proposed change because it would send rents skyrocketing.
The pact also said tenants could apply for a hardship provision at any time to be exempted from the pass-through costs. Now they can do that only in the first year of the increase.
Given the big rent increases they said they feared, Shaw and Gullicksen wanted a provision saying tenants shouldn’t have to pay more than 33 percent of their income in rent, even with the cost of improvements. Landlords balked at that.
The according also would have allowed landlords to charge tenants for 100 percent of the cost of seismic building improvements over 20 years. In addition, it set a 50-50 split in landlord and tenant costs for voter-approved bond issues.
Ammiano admitted that his attempt to play peacemaker had fizzled. “It looks like the tenant community is divided,” he said.
“We knew this agreement would be very fragile. It’s clear the tenants community is not monolithic,” Ammiano said.
Janan New of the San Francisco Apartment Association said, “We’re extremely disappointed. We spent quite a few hours, and we operated in good faith.”