Fact Sheet 1 - General Information

The Rent Board and What It Does

The Rent Board is an agency of the City and County of San Francisco. The Rent Board was created in 1979 to administer the San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance (the "Rent Ordinance"). The Rent Ordinance regulates rents and evictions for certain residential rental units in San Francisco. There is no commercial rent control in San Francisco.

The Rent Board's primary function is to conduct hearings and mediations of tenant and landlord petitions regarding the adjustment of rents under the Rent Ordinance. In addition, the Rent Board provides counseling and information on subjects that are covered by the Rent Ordinance. The Rent Board also investigates Reports of Alleged Wrongful Eviction, although the Rent Board's authority in such matters is limited since only a Court can decide whether a tenant can be evicted.

The Rent Board cannot arbitrate matters or give advice on topics that are not related to the Rent Ordinance. Some of the issues we CANNOT address are: contract lease issues, including subleases; how to recover unreturned security deposits and/or security deposit interest; housing discrimination; remedies under state law for habitability problems, such as rent withholding or repair and deduct; privacy matters; harassment; and retaliation.

Rent Board Contact Information and Hours

The Rent Board is located at 25 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 320 at Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102-6033. Counselors are available to answer your questions on a walk-in basis - please check our website for our current office hours. They are also available by phone from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The counseling phone number is 252.4600. We also have a comprehensive website at: www.sfrb.org.

Purchase of the Ordinance and Rules and Regulations

There are two documents that govern the administration of the Rent Ordinance. First, there is the Ordinance itself, which is the actual law passed by the Board of Supervisors. The other document consists of the Rules and Regulations adopted by the Rent Board Commissioners, which governs how the Ordinance is implemented. Both documents are critically important to understanding the law and how it is interpreted.

The Ordinance and the Rules and Regulations can be purchased for $4.00 each at the Rent Board's office, or for $5.50 each by mail. Please mail a check with your request to:

The San Francisco Rent Board
25 Van Ness, Suite 320
San Francisco, CA 94102-6033

The Rent Ordinance and Regulations are also available on our website at www.sfgov.org/rentboard or you can receive a faxed copy through our Fax Back system by calling 252.4660. You can also review a copy of these documents at the San Francisco Public Library.

Counseling Services

Our staff of counselors is available to answer questions about the Rent Ordinance, the Rent Board's Rules and Regulations and the Rent Board petition and appeal processes. The counselors CANNOT give legal advice and are instructed to let you know when your question is one that should properly be answered by an attorney. Staff cannot refer you to a specific attorney, but can refer you to other agencies or organizations that can make such referrals, answer legal questions and provide assistance with non-Rent Board matters.

Due to high demand and a limited number of staff, there can sometimes be delays in speaking with a counselor. It is helpful if you have your questions written down before you speak with a counselor. You can speak with a counselor by calling 252-4600 during weekday counseling hours (9:00 a.m. to 12:00 Noon and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.). Calls are generally limited to five minutes. A counselor is also available at the Rent Board's office from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Counseling visits at the office are generally limited to no more than ten minutes.

Translation Services

The Rent Board has a multilingual staff. In addition to English, counseling is available in the following languages: Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Tagalog and Vietnamese. If you want to speak to someone in one of these languages, call our phone counseling line at 252-4600 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon or from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. or visit our office between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

The Rent Board staff does not provide translation services at hearings or mediations. If you plan to attend a hearing or mediation at the Rent Board, you are required to provide your own interpreter. However, if you are unable to afford the services of an interpreter, the Rent Board will hire an interpreter for you upon proof of your financial hardship. Hardship applications for interpreter services can be obtained at the Rent Board's office and must be filed at least 72 hours before the hearing or mediation. American sign language interpreters are also available upon 72 hours request.

Accessible Meeting Policy

Rent Board Commission meetings are held at 25 Van Ness Avenue, Suite 70, lower level, and are wheelchair accessible. The closest accessible BART station is located at Civic Center. All MUNI Metro lines at Van Ness and Market Street are accessible. There is accessible parking available on adjacent streets (Oak Street and Hickory). Metered street parking is also available.

Rent Board Commission meetings are generally held on Tuesday evenings, beginning at 6:00 p.m., and may last for several hours. The meeting schedule varies from month to month, and meetings are not held every week. At the meetings, the Rent Board Commissioners consider appeals of decisions issued by the Rent Board's Administrative Law Judges. In addition, the Commission may also consider possible amendments to the Rent Board's Rules and Regulations. Copies of the agenda for each meeting are posted at the Rent Board's office and on its website at www.sfgov.org/rentboard, as well as at the San Francisco Public Library.

Translation services, sound enhancement or alternative formats are available if requested at least 72 hours prior to the Commission meeting. American sign language interpreters are also available upon request. Call 252-4603 to make your specific request. Late requests will be honored if possible.

In order to assist the City's efforts to accommodate persons with severe allergies, environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity or related disabilities, attendees at public meetings are reminded that other attendees may be sensitive to various chemical based products. Please help the City to accommodate these individuals.

The Hearing Process

Filing a petition: Landlords and tenants are required to file a petition for approval of most rent increases or decreases. Petition forms are available at the Rent Board's office and through our Fax Back service, and can also be found on our website. There is no fee charged for filing a petition.

Arbitration and Mediation: After the petition is filed, an arbitration hearing or mediation session will be scheduled, usually within one to three months. Arbitration hearings are generally scheduled for all landlord petitions and for some types of tenant petitions. The hearing is conducted by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who will allow each party to present his/her case or defense through oral testimony and the submission of documents. The ALJ will review all the facts and evidence in the case and then issue a written decision in approximately two months. Mediation sessions are scheduled for most tenants petitions, except those involving claims of unlawful rent increases. The mediation is conducted by an ALJ who serves as the mediator to help the parties resolve their dispute by agreement. The Rent Board's mediation program has proven to be a successful and efficient alternative to the traditional arbitration process. However, in those situations where no agreement is reached at the mediation session, the petition will be scheduled for an arbitration hearing approximately 4-8 weeks later, and a different ALJ will be assigned to hear and decide the case.

Appeals: After a case goes to arbitration and a written decision is issued by the ALJ, any party who disagrees with the decision or who will suffer a financial hardship as a result of the decision, may file an appeal within 15 days and request a review of the decision by the Rent Board Commissioners. The Commissioners will consider the appeal and decide either to deny the appeal and uphold the ALJ's decision, remand the case to the ALJ for further action, schedule an appeal hearing before the Commissioners or order correction of numerical or clerical errors in the decision. The Commission's decision denying an appeal is final, and can only be challenged by the timely filing of a Writ of Administrative Mandamus in Superior Court.

Rent Increases Available To Landlords Under The Rent Ordinance

Annual and Banked Rent Increases: A landlord is permitted to impose the annual allowable increase each year without filing a petition. The Rent Board re-calculates the amount of the annual allowable increase each year based on 60% of the increase in the CPI. The new rate is announced around the end of December, to become effective the following March 1st. Landlords can "bank" or accumulate the annual increase and impose it in later years. Generally, an annual increase is not banked unless and until the landlord does not impose the increase for 12 months after the increase could have been given, i.e. at least 24 months after the prior rent increase was imposed.

Rent Increases Requiring a Rent Board Petition: In order to increase a tenant's rent based on the cost of certain capital improvements to the property and/or larger than normal increases in operating and maintenance expenses and/or an increase in the landlord's cost of gas and electricity, a landlord must first file a petition with the Rent Board for approval of such increases. In addition, a landlord may file a petition for approval to impose an unlimited rent increase pursuant to Rules and Regulations Section 1.21 when the unit is not the tenant's principal place of residence and there is no other tenant in occupancy of the rental unit. The landlord may also petition for an increase based on rents for comparable units in special circumstances. There is no charge for filing a petition.

Rent Increases Not Requiring a Rent Board Petition: A portion of the landlord's cost to repay general obligation bonds (charged annually on the property tax bill) and water system improvement revenue bonds (charged on the water bill) may be passed through to the tenants without filing a petition. However, the landlord must use the worksheet forms provided by the Rent Board in order to calculate such rent increases.

Rent Increases Based on Vacancy De-control: San Francisco's Rent Ordinance does not regulate the initial rent for a new tenancy, so landlords are permitted to set rents for new tenancies at market rate. The landlord may be entitled to increase the rent to market rate in certain roommate situations when the original tenants no longer permanently reside in the unit. (See Rules and Regulations Section 6.14 or Civil Code Section 1954.53(d) of the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.) The landlord may, but is not required to, file a petition for a determination of rights under Section 6.14 or Costa-Hawkins.

Rent Adjustments Available to Tenants Under the Rent Ordinance

Decreased Housing Services: A tenant may petition the Rent Board for a reduction in base rent when the landlord has substantially decreased the tenant's housing services without a corresponding decrease in the rent, or failed to provide a housing service that was reasonably expected under the circumstances or promised prior to commencement of the tenancy.

Failure to Repair and Maintain: Within 60 days of receiving a notice of rent increase, a tenant can file a petition seeking a deferral of the increase if the landlord has failed to perform requested repairs, replacement or maintenance as required by state and/or local law. If the petition is granted, the proposed rent increase will be deferred and can only be reinstated after the requested repairs are made. The Rent Board does not have the authority to order the landlord to perform the repairs; only a city inspector can do that.

Unlawful Rent Increases: A tenant may file a petition for a refund of rent overpayments and re-setting of the rent to the proper amount if the landlord has unlawfully increased the rent or failed to properly calculate or discontinue a utility passthrough, general obligation bond measure passthrough, water revenue bond passthrough or capital improvement passthrough. A tenant may also file a petition to have the Rent Board determine the tenant's lawful rent.

Excessive Rent Claims by Subtenants: A subtenant who believes s/he is paying more than a proportional share of the total rent may file a petition on that basis against the master tenant pursuant to Rules and Regulations §6.15C(3). A subtenant who subleases the entire rental unit may file a petition against the master tenant under Ordinance §37.3(c) if the subtenant believes that the initial rent paid to the master tenant, either individually or in combination with other subtenants, is more than the master tenant is paying to the landlord.

Financial Hardship: If a landlord's petition to increase a tenant's rent based on capital improvements, increased operating and maintenance expenses, increased utility costs or comparable rents is granted by the Rent Board, and payment of the rent increase would cause a financial hardship for the tenant, the tenant may file an appeal of the decision in order to request partial or total relief from payment of the increase. Except for hardship appeals of capital improvement decisions (which can be filed at any time after the decision is issued), all appeals must be filed within 15 days of the date the decision is mailed.

"Just Cause" Required for Evictions Under the Rent Ordinance

In order to evict a tenant from a rental unit covered by the Rent Ordinance, a landlord must have a "just cause" reason that is the dominant motive for pursuing the eviction. The landlord also needs a "just cause" reason to remove, reduce or sever certain housing services from a tenancy, including garage facilities, parking facilities, driveways, storage spaces, laundry rooms, decks, patios, or gardens on the same lot, or kitchen facilities or lobbies in single room occupancy hotels.

There are 16 just cause reasons for eviction under Ordinance Section 37.9(a). The most common are:

  • Non-payment of rent or habitual late payment of rent
  • Breach of a rental agreement or lease
  • Creation of a nuisance or substantial interference with the landlord or other tenants in the building
  • Owner-occupancy or occupancy by a member of the landlord's immediate family
  • To demolish or permanently remove a rental unit from housing use
  • To perform capital improvements which will make the unit temporarily uninhabitable while the work is being done
  • To withdraw all rental units in a building from the rental market under the Ellis Act

Landlords should seek the advice of an attorney experienced in this area of the law before asking a tenant to move or attempting an eviction. Tenants can file a Report of Alleged Wrongful Eviction with the Rent Board and request an investigation if they believe they are being wrongfully evicted. If a landlord evicts or tries to evict a tenant unlawfully, the landlord is subject to civil and/or criminal liability. The tenant may bring a civil action for an injunction, as well as actual and treble damages, and attorney fees. [Ordinance Section 37.9(f)] The landlord could also be found guilty of a misdemeanor, with a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment in the County jail for up to six months. [Ordinance Section 37.9(e)]

Units Exempt from the Rent Ordinance

With certain exceptions, rents for residential rental units in buildings that were constructed before June 13, 1979 are covered by the Rent Ordinance. Commercial units are exempt from the Ordinance. Residential units in buildings for which a certificate of occupancy was first issued after June 13, 1979 are partially exempt from the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. 

The following types of dwelling units are also exempt from the Rent Ordinance:

1. Units in hotels, motels, inns, tourist houses, and rooming and boarding houses, where the unit has not been occupied by the same tenant for 32 or more continuous days;

2. Dwelling units in non-profit cooperatives owned, occupied and controlled by a majority of the residents;

3. Dwelling units solely owned by a nonprofit public benefit corporation governed by a board of directors, the majority of whom are residents of the dwelling units, and where the corporate bylaws require that rent increases be approved by a majority of the residents;

4. Housing accommodations in any hospital, convent, monastery, extended care facility, asylum, residential care or licensed adult day health care facility for the elderly;

5. Housing accommodations in dormitories owned and operated by an institution of higher education, a high school, or an elementary school;

6. Certain dwelling units whose rents are controlled or regulated by another government unit, agency or authority;

7. Dwelling units in a building that is at least 50 years old and which has undergone substantial rehabilitation after June 13, 1979, provided that the landlord has filed a petition for exemption on this basis and the Rent Board has determined after a hearing that the building was substantially rehabilitated;

8. Dwelling units that have been permanently removed from rental housing use pursuant to the Ellis Act and Ordinance Section 37.3(d);

9. Live/work units in a building where there has been a lawful conversion to live/work use and a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued after June 13, 1979, and where there has been no residential tenancy in the building of any kind between June 13, 1979 and the date of issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy;

10. Commercial space where there is incidental and infrequent residential use; and,

11. A residential unit where there is no longer residential use and there is a commercial or other non-residential use.

If there is a question about whether a unit is covered by or exempt from the Rent Ordinance, a landlord or a tenant may file a petition at the Rent Board for a determination of jurisdiction.

Partial Exemption from the Rent Ordinance
for Certain Subsidized Rental Units

In general, dwelling units whose rents are controlled or regulated by another government agency or authority are entirely exempt from the Rent Ordinance. This includes project-based rental assistance programs, such as subsidized housing projects or senior housing, where the subsidy can be used only in designated buildings and not in private apartments. However, tenant-based rental assistance programs like those administered by the San Francisco Housing Authority, including Section 8 certificates and Section 8 vouchers, are exempt only from the rent increase limitations of the Ordinance, but are still subject to the just cause eviction provisions. This is also true for units rented under the Housing Opportunities for Persons With Aids Program (HOPWA).

All rental units whose rents are controlled or regulated by another government unit, agency or authority are exempt from payment of the annual Rent Board fee and are also exempt from payment of interest on security deposits.

Previously exempt units in buildings where HUD used to insure the mortgage, and units formerly receiving project-based assistance are now subject to the rent increase limitations and eviction provisions of the Rent Ordinance, as well as the Rent Board fee and the security deposit interest payment requirements.

Partial Exemption from the Rent Ordinance
for Certain Single-Family Homes and Condominiums
Under the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act

Pursuant to the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, as of January 1, 1999 single-family homes and condominiums are generally exempt from the rent increase limitations (but not the just cause eviction provisions) of the Rent Ordinance, but ONLY IF the tenancy commenced on or after January 1, 1996.

Any tenancy in a single-family home or condominium that commenced before January 1, 1996 is still subject to the entire Ordinance. This includes continuing tenancies even where there is no original tenant remaining who was living in the unit prior to January 1, 1996.

A single-family dwelling with a legal in-law unit constitutes a two-unit building and is not exempt. A single-family dwelling with an illegal in-law unit also constitutes a two-unit building and is not exempt, unless both units are rented together as a single tenancy.

A single-family dwelling is also not exempt if there is another residential structure on the same lot. 

A house occupied by an owner who rents out more than one room as separate rental units, in a situation akin to a boarding house, may not qualify for exemption as a single-family dwelling.

Effective January 1, 2002, certain condominium units that have not been sold by the subdividing owner are not exempt from the Ordinance. For such units, the lawful rent in effect for the unit on May 7, 2001 is the initial base rent for the unit.

The Costa-Hawkins exemption for single-family homes and condominiums does not apply where there was an outstanding citation for a serious health, safety or building code violation that remained unabated for six months or longer preceding the last vacancy. The exemption is also not applicable if the prior tenancy was terminated by a notice to quit or based upon a change in the terms of the tenancy for which notice was given under Civil Code Section 827.

Since units exempted from rent control limitations by Costa-Hawkins are still subject to the just cause eviction controls of the Ordinance, the annual Rent Board fee will continue to be collected for these units.

July 2006