New Legislation re Tenant Organizing and Tenant Associations

The Board of Supervisors and Mayor of San Francisco recently passed legislation that gives tenants enhanced rights to organize within their buildings (informally referred to as the “Tenant Right-To-Organize legislation” or "Tenant-At-Home Ordinance"). While this new law does not amend the Rent Ordinance, it does amend Chapter 49A of the Administrative Code (titled "Residential Tenant Communications") and defines certain tenant organizing activities as “housing services” that a landlord must provide, as described below. The full text of Chapter 49A is available in the “Laws and Regulations” tab found on the homepage of the Rent Board’s website. 

Prior law

Chapter 49A of the Administrative Code (titled “Residential Tenant Communications”), which was effective in 2004, states in part that a landlord may not prohibit tenantfrom using building common areas to distribute literature on behalf of a tenants' association or other tenants' organization regarding issues of common interest or concern to other tenants.

What does this legislation change?

The Right-To-Organize legislation amends Chapter 49A to require landlords to allow tenant organizing activities in building common areas – not just literature distribution, but also other activities regarding issues of “common concern” such as initiating contact (e.g., door-to-door surveys) to ascertain interest in forming a tenant association, and allowing organizing activities and participation by non-resident advocates or guests. The law also states that tenants in buildings with five or more rental units (unless the landlord is a 501(c)(3) non-profit) may form “Tenant Associations” by securing the approval of a majority of the occupied units in the building. Tenant associations may hold regular meetings open to all building occupants and elect officers that serve for two-year terms. The landlord may request once every three years that the Tenant Association reconfirm that it still has the support of the majority of occupied units. Landlords and Tenant Associations will be required to meet and confer with each other in good faith. On written request of the Tenant Association, the landlord (or their representative) must attend at least one Tenant Association meeting every three months.

How does this legislation relate to the Rent Ordinance?

The legislation states that a tenant’s right to have organizing activities in their building is a “housing service” under the Rent Ordinance, and that a landlord’s failure to allow organizing activities or to meet and confer with a Tenant Association in good faith may be the basis to support a substantial decrease in housing services petition for a rent reduction. For more information about filing a tenant petition alleging a substantial decrease in housing services, please refer to Rent Board Info-To-Go Topic No. 352.   

When does the law go into effect?

The amendments to Chapter 49A are effective on April 11, 2022.  In addition, for lease agreements entered into or amended on or after January 1, 2022, the tenant may not waive their right to engage in Organizing Activities as set forth in Chapter 49A and any provision of a lease agreement that purports to waive a tenant’s right to engage in Organizing Activities is of no effect.