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Why it’s Legal for a Bernal Heights Landlord to Quadruple This Woman’s Rent (Updated)

March 26, 2015

by Noah Sanders : thebolditalic – excerpt

San Francisco resident Deb Follingstad began a recent Facebook post with a phrase commonly heard in San Francisco these days: “I need a place to live.” Common, but not so surprising as rents skyrocket and landlords use evasive techniques to sidestep strict regulations for pre-existing tenants, then offload their properties to developers for six and seven figures. Your friends, maybe your families, are butting up against a system that puts profit over person, one in which we find ourselves putting up with the bare minimum that housing can offer because, well, it’s all we can afford. Follingstad’s case, as described in her March 14 Facebook post, might just be the proverbial cake-taker…

On March 2, Follingstad received a letter from her landlord’s attorney (see above) informing her that rent would jump from her current rate of $2,145 per month to — take a breath, maybe a seat — $8,900 per month, roughly a 400 percent increase. On top of this, the letter also informs Follingstad that if she wants to continue living in the space, she’ll be required to pay a new security deposit of — again, are you seated? — $12,500. That means that by the beginning of Follingstad’s next rent cycle, she’ll owe $19,255 more than she usually pays each month.

Even more infuriating, none of this is illegal. Rent control in San Francisco is dependent on, among other things, the number of “families” the residence is zoned to hold. Follingstad lives in a two-unit residence; a man named “Wayne,” a resident for 25 years, lived below her. The continuous occupation of two zoned living spaces ensured rent control. That is, until Deb’s landlord removed the kitchen and bathroom from Wayne’s living space and deemed it a “storage” room, effectively giving a legal reason why Wayne could no longer live there. Even worse, without Wayne in the building, the residence was now only zoned for a single family unit, removing it from the auspices of rent control laws and giving the landlord free rein to jack up the rent and security deposit well above market price. And unless Follingstad has a nice nest egg, it’s clear she’s going to be seeking a new home in the near future. (I was unable to contact her for this story)…

Update: Jeremy Pollock, a legislative aide for supervisor John Avalos, sent The Bold Italic the following email: “It seems pretty clear to me that if the landlord did remove the downstairs apartment, they didn’t get a permit for it, which makes it an illegal merger. There’s no record of any merger permits in Planning’s system. We’ve asked Planning Department staff to look into this.”(more)

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