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.