San Francisco’s pro-tenant laws and ethos drive up the cost of renting

Housing in San Francisco is expensive because the City is bounded on three sides by water and on the fourth side by another city.  Housing in San Francisco is expensive because it’s one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world, so a lot of people want to live there and are willing to pay a premium to do so.  Housing in San Francisco is expensive because, if you don’t mind a little fog, it’s got a delightfully temperate climate that, like Baby Bear’s porridge, is usually “just right.”

And of course, housing in San Francisco is so expensive because the one-sided municipal and state laws favoring tenants make it extremely risky to be a landlord:

Janet Sluizer knew she was taking a bit of a chance when she turned to Craigslist this summer to find a tenant for her apartment in the Mission. What she didn’t expect was that she’d be spending thousands of dollars in a struggle to evict a roommate who she says hasn’t paid rent beyond the first month.

“This is a nightmare,” Sluizer said.

It’s a nightmare that landlord advocates say is all too common in San Francisco, where 64 percent of residents rent.

“What she’s experiencing is not unusual,” said Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association. “The rental housing market in San Francisco is quite complicated and complex to manage.”

According to New, a combination of confusing rent ordinances and an abundance of free legal resources for tenants make it difficult for inexperienced landlords to evict someone on their own.

“If you attempt to evict a tenant, even if it’s a simple non-pay issue, we recommend you hire an attorney to do that,” New said.

Read the whole painful story here.  I can assure you that this is not an unusual San Francisco story.  I knew a couple that spent five years and about $100,000 to evict a tenant.  Interestingly, the tenant wasn’t even their tenant.  They’d rented the apartment to Guy One, whose boyfriend, Guy Two, moved in with him.  When Guy One died of AIDS, Guy Two refused to leave.  Instead, he had his boyfriend, Guy Three, move in with him.  Guy Two then died of AIDS, leaving Guy Three in possession.  The landlords decided it was high time they regain control over their property, especially since Guy Three found rent an unreasonable obligation.  And so began their five year odyssey.  When they regained the property, they sold it.

Another landlord didn’t even bother with the fight.  She simply sold the property, complete with horrible tenant, and gave the buyer a $50,000 discount.  The buyer, a friend of mine, discovered even that wasn’t such a great bargain, as it took him another two years to get the tenant out so he and his family could move in.  Meanwhile, they had to pay mortgage, rent, and legal fees.

I used to do pro bono legal work for people with AIDS.  I had imagined helping them optimize their SSI and other benefits.  What I ended up doing for these guys — for free — was helping them stiff their landlords.  After my third go-round, I withdrew my name from the pro bono pool.  I didn’t have the stomach to engage in this kind of perfectly legal landlord screwing.

It’s no wonder that San Francisco landlords charge high rents.  They need those high rents to help pay their almost inevitable legal fees.

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  • jj

    Hate to do it, you already know what I’m going to say” Yay, lawyers!

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Just keep in mind that there are some lawyers out there (moi included) who work hard to help businesses, banks, landlords, etc. — all the kinds of people and interests that Democrats love to teach Americans to hate.

  • Gringo

    I have been the point man for my HOA on a number of civil lawsuits, so while I am not an attorney, I have experience with attorneys.  I have been impressed with the attorneys the HOA has employed. They have been straightforward about what we could and couldn’t get under the law- no pie in the sky BS. They have been very thorough in acquiring and organizing the information needed for the lawsuits- which is where I have often come in. For the given court case, they become experts on the issues involved. And do it for the next court case.They have been very careful and precise in their writing- no ambiguous “You didn’t build that” statements. They have also made utmost efforts to reduce attorney costs by settling out of court.
    Would I recommend all of the attorneys we have used? In a New York minute.
    Lawyers, as I see it, are a necessary evil. They help solve problems that two parties cannot solve by themselves.

  • jj

    A laundry list of individual counsel who do good things is both unnecessary and off the point.  Of course, we all know individuals who are great.  It is the profession taken as a whole that’s the problem, not any individual.  (Although there are plenty of individuals who have earned ritual shunning.)  The simple fact remains that the entire society has been twisted and perverted to fit the ends of the profession.  Every single thing you buy costs more than it should, because it has a built-in “lawyer tax” that’s been added in to the cost of whatever-it-is right up front.  The manufacturer either has been sued, or is expecting that they – it’s as inevitable as sunrise – will be at some point, so they’re preparing.  Corporations that do absolutely nothing wrong still settle brainless suits, very expensively, every day, because any jackass with a real or imagined grievance can trot down to the courthouse and file some nonsense, which the corporation has to take seriously.  95% of the time they end up paying said jackass – and his attorney – to go away, because it’s just cheaper, quicker, and easier to do it that way.  It’s easier to pay, and pass the costs along.  Suing companies is a growth industry in the profession, because more than nine out of ten times they’ll just pay, it’s a lot cheaper than fighting it, no matter how baseless “it” is – and pass those costs on to the consumer.  A growth industry.
     
    Nine out of ten suits settle – whether there’s any merit or not – because nobody can spend the time or money to actually go defend themselves.  It’s an interesting concept of justice, never being beaten but always having to quit because establishing your point is insupportable, and winning will do you as much or more damage than just paying.  We won, but we had to file bankruptcy this morning.
     
    I find out three or four times a month that I’ve been outraged by some corporate entity somewhere, and am entitled (“entitled,” yet) to join a “class” that’s bringing suit.  If successful, me and every other member of the class, the ones who actually sustained the mostly imaginary “damage,” will get a coupon worth $1.69; the lawyers will get a hundred-fifty million dollars for their time.  Pretty good deal – for them.  The company pays, and adds the cost to the product for us all to pay.
     
    The guy who put Dow-Corning out of business went and bought himself 900 cars with his proceeds – and a warehouse in which to store them.  He put Dow-Corning out of business on the basis of nothing whatsoever: the science at the time established no problems, and all the science since then has established that silicon implants are just fine, (good one, ladies, those amazing laundry lists of symptoms: all courtesy of the power of suggestion, all in your heads), and have no issues.  Doesn’t matter.  Dow’s gone, taking with it all the value and savings the shareholders had put it into it, and all the jobs of those who worked there.  Tens of thousands of people damaged, so this guy could buy another Ferrari.  Hasn’t returned a single car – and sees no reason to.  (He was asked a couple of years ago, on 60 Minutes.)  Any profession that turns out ethics like that needs to be looked into with a microscope – and not by themselves – the self-policing ain’t working.
     
    You can check the professional records, and look at complaints against doctors, accountants, horticulturists, swimming pool cleaners, mechanics, plumbers – anybody who’s not in a union.  Or lawyers.  The record of your lawyer’s idiocies and screw-ups – and they screw up all day every day – simply not available.  The records of his issues with the ethics board of his bar association – not available.  They have carefully seen to it that they are one of society’s protected classes, maybe the most protected class.  And why not?  Having wormed themselves into every regulatory layer of society and government, that’s how they designed it.
     
    The combined effect of every war this country’s been in has damaged it less than our own legal profession.  The economic costs of the profession has been trillions – costs borne by all of us.  Every dumb-ass regulation you can find or think of has its basis in either an actual or a projected lawsuit.  Somebody was sued, or they’re worried about being sued.  Therefore the kid with the lemonade stand has to get the county health department out there to look things over and sell her a license, and make her buy only approved equipment and insurance, in an attempt to immunize the county.  From what?  What do you think? 
     
     

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I blame the judges, jj.  The lawyers are trained and paid to fight.  It’s the judges who should be imposing law and reason on the fighting parties.  That they don’t is as appalling as the lion tamer allowing his lions to eat the audience.

  • jj

    A judge is a lawyer with a black silk negligee.  The lawyers should be looking at far more of the potential clients and saying: “no, I’m not taking you on, because that’s BS.  You’re just looking for a payoff.  Grow up, get a life, behave like an adult and take some responsibility for yourself.”  But they don’t.  They’re right there, ready to be paid themselves.  Yes, the judges are a mess, no question – but far too much of this crap should never get within 500 miles of a judge.  It should be killed long before they they ever hear it exists.  It isn’t, and the whole society pays dearly for it.  There ought to be an overriding theory – maybe something about “justice” – that’s more important than the payday.  There was once a time, I imagine, when it was an honorable profession, but that hasn’t been in my lifetime.  I actually had a fairly well-known judge in New York tell me, years ago:  “I don’t actually “judge” anything, y’know.  I spend all day shoveling shit.  You want to get me a Christmas present, a new shovel would be fine.”  Why was he faced with days full of that?  How did that get in front of him?  (In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that this was a relief.  A nice man, Lennie was a liberal idiot, and every “important” ruling he made caused me to come near vomiting.  I’ll google him after I’m done writing this, if he’s gone – because damn, he’d be old now – I’ll tell you his name, if you don’t figure it out from “New York,”  “southern district,” and “Lennie.”)

    In this society a license to practice law is a license to make a million dollars every few years.  There ought to be some responsibility that comes along with that.  Most people who go to law school (or don’t, I passed the bar decades ago without benefit of five minutes in law school, as a result of “clerking” [read, "drinking," mostly] with an old guy), do it not from any overwhelming interest in making constitutional or societal or jurisprudential adjustments; they’re there for the money.  And despite all pious pretense to the contrary, everybody knows it, too.  (Come on, does any other kind of office require a billing code on the damn copying machine?  Are we that worried about it?  Every partner in the office making two or three hundred a year isn’t enough to support a copier?  Exactly how concerned about the almighty dollar are you guys?)

    Far too much damage to the fabric of the whole society.  Far too much, for whatever evanescent benefit comes with it.       

        

         

  • jj

    Googled him.  Still carrying a full load, older than dirt, as liberal as Jimmy Carter – who appointed him.  So I won’t tell you his name.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Is it time to do as the rest of the world does – loser pays?

  • Mike Devx

    Seems to me that “economic contract” law is out of whack in California.  Do you blame the lawyers, or do you blame the California Legislature and Court system?

    Tenant and landlord have signed a contract.  If you want to be draconian, it seems perfectly fine to me that if the tenant is more than two weeks late, you should be able to institute violation of contract proceedings against the tenant.  If the tenant is more than six weeks late (two payments), eviction.  Period.

    If you want to be nicer, make it more than four weeks to institute, and more than eight weeks for eviction.  It should be a no-brainer.  And if the contract is a standard contract, it should take a judge oh, about five minutes, max, to make the decision.

     

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  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The dems need people to help business because otherwise the utopian totalitarians would completely destroy the financial industries. Thus the helpers are used as tools to maintain the totalitarian world. Without people to give hope to the wretches and slaves, the slaves would either kill themselves (and their businesses) or rebel and kill their masters. By keeping hope alive, freedom is chained.

     

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Btw, I’ve never heard of a judge in law that didn’t come out of a law school for lawyers.

  • lee

    Okay, it wasn’t the best movie, but people, two words: “Pacific Heights.” 1990, with Michael Keaton, Matthew Modine, and Melanie Griffith. That would scare me out of ever renting to anyone, ever, if I owned property in San Francisco. 
     
     I lived out there for almost fifteen years, and have heard a million (okay, not literally a million, but a heck of a lot) of horror stories. The idiot Supes are stuck in nineteen-twenties era silent movies where the evil landlord exploits Polly Pureheart. Jeez! Most places have laws that do heavily favor tenants, but rarely as bad as it is in San Francisco. When I lived in Columbus OH, I worked briefly for a non-profit that aided small business owners–one class of which included landlords. And we helped them evict deadbeats. It was an onerous process–even the place that one guy inherited and discovered it housed a meth lab and a brothel. Even though the “tenants” were in jail, and had used the property for illegal activities, he couldn’t just kick ‘em out. It was a painful, expensice experience, but still, not nearly as long, not nearly as onerous, and not nearly as expensive as it would’ve been had this occured in San Francisco.

  • JKB

    “Is it time to do as the rest of the world does – loser pays?”

    No, from what I’ve read regarding loser pays and California employment law, that is even worse.  Apparently, and I long ago lost the link to the article, if an employer some how doesn’t perform a miracle to get the last paycheck to a former employee who has dropped off the grid, the state will sue on their behalf.  But worse, even if the employer effectively wins, judges are loath to award nothing.  So if the employee gets a dollar in damages, the employer is deemed to have lost and must pay the State’s legal fees which can bankrupt him.  

    Loser pays sounds good until you factor in judges who give token settlements but then nail the business with court costs and lawyers fees 
     

  • lee

    jj–
    The guy is eighty four years old!! “Retirment” is not in my vocabulary?! My mom is the same age–I love her dearly; she’s still got a very sharp mind; she’s not doing to bad for an eighty-four year old–but I wouldn’t trust her with a judgeship at this point in her life. I sail with an eighty-two year old gentleman. He’s agile, smart, still sharp. He still knows more about sailing than I ever will. Again, though, I jsut don’t think what’s should be required of a judge is still in his grasp completely.

  • lee

    HIS vocabulary! Darn it! it sure is in mine–but not for about twenty years…

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    They’re not pro tenant. That’s just an excuse, like save the children. What they are really after is increasing their own personal bank accounts by being the gateway for both the actions of tenants and land owners. When the state controls all, it permits anything it wishes. Thus everyone must come to the state on bended knee to ask for favors and allowances. This also allows the state to get side kickback deals, like with Rezko. The perfect alliance of Mafia Dons with State politicians.