If you want to rent a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, you can expect to pay an average of $3,303.00 a month (Learn more here). That’s a big chunk of monthly income for many Bay Area residents and the reason many individuals and families moving to the Bay Area find it impossible to secure affordable housing.
And while the price of new rentals in many Bay Area cities is high, the median rent in cities with rent control and eviction control is significantly less. Some Bay Area renters pay substantially less than $3,000.00 per month for their units. That’s because their buildings are rent-controlled and in these buildings, landlords are limited as to how much they can raise the rent each year.
Why is There Rent Control in the Bay Area?
Rent control in highly desirable areas increases the stock of affordable housing and prevents the economic homogenization of neighborhoods. In other words, rent and eviction control make it possible for schoolteachers, artists, public employees, senior citizens, and other blue-collar workers to live in cities that might otherwise be economically inaccessible to them.
Rent Control Varies from City to City
Rent control is enacted at the city level as local law, or ordinance. This means rent control laws actually vary from city to city. Some rent ordinances address rent control only; others address rent control and provide for some form of just cause eviction; still, others protect against rent increases, evictions without cause, and tenant harassment. San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley are four of approximately fifteen California cities with some form of rent control. Find below a general summary of the ordinances enacted in several Bay Area cities.
In Alameda, Rent Stabilization Ordinance No. 3148 allows only one rent increase during a twelve-month period. Although there is no cap on rent increases, those above five percent in covered units are subject to review by an advisory committee, which may result in binding decisions. With increases of five percent or less, the tenant may request a hearing to review the new amount, but decisions are only advisory.
Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization and Eviction for Good Cause Ordinance applies to buildings constructed on or before 1980. In general, landlords may not increase rent in these buildings by more than a certain amount (typically less than five percent) or evict tenants without “good cause.” Other protections include:
- As of December 19, 2016, evictions of families with children due to owner move-in cannot take place during the school year.
- Relocation payments are higher in cases of no-fault evictions when the tenant is elderly, low-income, disabled, have minor children, or moved in before January 1st, 1999.
East Palo Alto
In November 2016, voters in East Palo Alto voted overwhelmingly in favor of Measure J (Renters Upgrade Act), which applied greater tenant protections to the 2010 Rent Stabilization Ordinance, including:
- Rents may only be increased once a year.
- The amount is limited to eighty percent of the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and set by the Rent Board.
The Residential Landlord and Tenants Relations Ordinance, which took effect on April 1, 2017, does not impose restrictions on rent increases but does require landlords to have just cause for evictions.
The Hayward Rent Ordinance applies to any building constructed before 1979 that has five or more residential units. This may include five or more residential units owned by the same landlord, provided they were built before 1979.
Landlords may raise the rent in covered units by only five percent in a twelve-month period, although a greater amount may be allowed if the landlord can justify it. Additionally, if the rent has not been raised by five percent in prior years, those increases may be “banked” for a higher rate the next time they raise the rent. Even with banking, ten percent is the limit for an increase.
The Los Gatos Rent Ordinance covers properties with three or more units owned by the same landlord. It provides the following protections:
- Rent may be increased only once per year. More frequent increases can only be made with the written consent of all affected tenants.
- The increase must not exceed five percent of the current monthly rent or seventy percent of the annual percent change in CPI.
- A landlord may pass through increased operation and maintenance costs to the tenant, but the increase is subject to arbitration if the tenant challenges it. Capital improvements may also be passed through on a per-unit basis, but it must be amortized over at least sixty months.
Mountain View’s Community Stabilization and Fair Rent Act prohibits rent increases above the previous year’s CPI and, in general, does not allow increases above five percent. It also requires just cause for evictions and allows treble damages and attorney’s fees if a landlord intentionally and maliciously violates the Act.
In 1980, the Oakland City Council adopted the Rent Adjustment Program Ordinance, which uses the annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) to set maximum yearly rent increases and allows rent adjustments for claims of decreases in housing services. On February 1, 2017, Measure JJ (Renters Upgrade Act) became law, which introduced the following tenant protective measures:
- Landlords must obtain Rent Board approval before imposing a rent increase higher than the annual permitted increase.
- Protection for just cause evictions was extended to units built prior to December 31, 1995.
- Landlords or individuals assisting a landlord who endeavors to recover or recover possession of a rental unit without just cause may face a civil penalty of three times damages and attorney’s fees, including a trebling of damages for a mental and emotional injury if the landlord acted in knowing violation or reckless disregard of the rent ordinance.
- Anyone who engages in one or more of sixteen enumerated actions or omissions against a tenant in bad faith may be subject to a civil penalty of three times damages and attorney’s fees, including a trebling of damages for a mental and emotional injury if the wrongdoer acted in knowing violation or reckless disregard of the rent ordinance.
The Richmond Fair Rent, Just Cause for Eviction, and Homeowner Protection Ordinance prohibits landlords from increasing rent by a higher percentage than the CPI and only allows tenants to be evicted for the cause. A tenant who prevails in a civil action can recover attorney’s fees and three times the amount by which the proposed payment exceeded the maximum allowable rent.
San Francisco’s Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance cover rental units with a certificate of occupancy before June 13, 1979. There are, however, certain exceptions to covered rental units, such as single-family homes and condominiums with tenants who moved in after January 1, 1996. The law specifies that:
- Landlords can only raise rents each year by a set amount tied to inflation. They may pass capital improvements and increased operating and maintenance costs on to tenants for a maximum increase of ten percent and seven percent, but only with the approval of the Rent Board.
- Tenants can petition the Rent Board to have their rent decreased if the landlord fails to provide legally-required or agreed-upon services or keep the place safe and habitable.
- Unless the tenant shares the rental unit with the landlord, the tenant can only be evicted for one of sixteen just causes. Landlords who endeavor to recover or recover possession of a rental unit without just cause may face a civil penalty of three times damages and attorney’s fees, including a trebling of damages for a mental and emotional injury if the landlord acted in knowing violation or reckless disregard of the Rent Ordinance.
- Landlords or agents of landlords who engage in one or more of fourteen enumerated actions or omissions against a tenant in bad faith may be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a civil penalty of three times damages and attorney’s fees, including a trebling of damages for mental and emotional injury if the landlord acted in knowing violation or reckless disregard of the Rent Ordinance.
For more details on the San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance, visit the Resources page of our website to download “San Francisco Rent Ordinance FAQs.”
The San Jose Apartment Rent Ordinance applies to buildings with three or more units built before September 7, 1979. It prohibits landlords from increasing rents above five percent each year and includes just cause for eviction protections, including the recovery of three times damages and attorney’s fees for landlords’ willful failure to comply with their obligations.
Contact a Bay Area Tenant Rights Attorney
It is important for tenants in rent-controlled units to understand their rights and know what their landlords can and cannot do. If your landlord is forcing you to move out of your rent-controlled apartment without just cause and you live in a Bay Area city with a rent ordinance, call Tenant Law Group at (415) 915-7445 for a complimentary case evaluation. Tenant Law Group can advise you of your rights as a tenant, help you remedy the situation, and potentially assist you in seeking a recovery for your losses.