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« Time to rewrite rent control? | PCBC 2010 is June 9-11 at Moscone Center in San Francisco »

Newest assault on San Francisco property owners comes from the Board of Supervisors

Newest assault on San Francisco property owners comes from the Board of Supervisors

Seven members of the SF Board of Supervisors have put forth a sweeping proposal, in the form of a Charter Amendment, to fundamentally change the way the San Francisco Rent Control Ordinance is implemented and monitored.  The measure should appear on the November 2010 ballot where San Francisco voters can approve or reject it.  Perhaps not surprisingly in a city like San Francisco, the proposal is unabashedly and mathematically pro-tenant. 

Current Rent Board Commission structure

Currently the Rent Board Commission is appointed by the Mayor and is made up of 10 members, 5 of whom vote and 5 of whom are alternates and vote when a voting member is absent.  Each body of 5 is made up of 2 tenant commissioners, 2 landlord commissioners and 1 neutral.  The qualifications are simple.  To be a tenant commissioner you must be a SF tenant and not own property.  To be a landlord commissioner you must own SF residential rental property.  To be a neutral you must not be a tenant or a landlord.  Generally this has meant the neutral is a homeowner. 

The Commission structure has changed only once since the inception of the Ordinance in 1979.    Previously, Commissioners had designated alternates; if both a voting commissioner and their specified alternate were absent, there was no vote for that seat.  Now if that occurs and the other alternate is in attendance, the secondary alternate can vote instead.  

The Commission is important because it holds two critical functions.  First, the Commission makes the rules which implement the Rent Ordinance.  Over the years, it is rule changes that have provided some of the most important shifts in the implementation of the Ordinance.  Second, the Commission is responsible for the hearing of cases that are appealed from the administrative hearing decisions of the Administrative Law Judges, as a result of cases filed with the Rent Board by both landlords and tenants.  This appellate judiciary function is critical to the fair implementation of the Ordinance. 

The Charter Amendment proposal

The new proposal changes every aspect of the Commission structure formula.  First, the Commissioners would no longer be appointed exclusively by the Mayor, but appointments would be shared with the Board of Supervisors, furthering weakening the position of the Mayor in San Francisco. 

Second, the Commission would mathematically favor tenants, who would own the largest number of voting representatives with three, landlords with two and neutrals with two, for a total of seven voting members.  With this guaranteed built-in majority, the tenant community would effectively and easily block any future landlord sponsored legislation or changes.  Any successful landlord vote would always require both neutral votes.  The other unlikely scenario is that one tenant commissioner would have to break ranks with the other tenant commissioners along with a single neutral vote and vote with the landlord group. 

In comparison, the tenant community four votes would need only a single neutral vote to move forward with any change.  And with four tenant votes, a missing neutral would always result in either a tie vote or a tenant win.  The built-in imbalance would always favor the tenant community. 

Finally, since over the years the tenant community has lost some of their favorite commissioners to home ownership, the requirement that tenant commissioners own no property is removed from the tenant qualification standards.

Perhaps the most alarming part of this modification stems from the Rent Board Commission’s function as an appellate adjudicatory body.  Any quasi-adjudicatory body should be balanced and fair.  A built-in numerical advantage is neither balanced nor fair. This new structure would undermine any remaining public confidence in a Rent Board where fair results are possible. 

The last time a proposal was put forth to change the structure of the Rent Board was in 2003, when Supervisor Daly attempted to have the Rent Board elected. 

The current seven sponsoring supervisors are Campos, Alvalos, Daly, Mar, Maxwell, Mirkarimi, and Chiu.  It takes only six supervisors to place a measure on the ballet. 


What do you think of this proposed change?  Please respond in Comments, or share you point of view privately at


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