Temporary Moratorium on Rent Increases for Rent-Controlled Tenancies During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Information for Tenants and Landlords
Updated April 27, 2020
On April 24, 2020, the Mayor signed emergency legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors that temporarily prohibits certain rent increases during the COVID-19 pandemic (hereinafter referred to as “the temporary rent freeze”).
The temporary rent freeze applies to all rent increases that are effective between April 7, 2020 and June 23, 2020 (unless extended), even if the rent increase notice itself was served before April 7, 2020. However, rent increases or passthroughs that went into effect prior to April 7, 2020 are not affected.
What Types Of Increases Does The Temporary Rent Freeze Prohibit?
The temporary rent freeze only applies to annual allowable (and banked) rent increases, operating and maintenance expense rent increases, and “passthroughs” for rent-controlled tenancies under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance (i.e. - increases permitted by Rent Ordinance Section 37.3(a)).
The temporary rent freeze does not restrict the following types of rent increases:
- Rent increases for properties that are exempt from San Francisco’s local rent control regulations (See the Rent Board’s Info-To-Go topics or call our counselor line for more information).
- Rent increases that are permitted by state law, such as an increase based on the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act or the Tenant Protection Act of 2019.
- Rent increases authorized by Rent Board Rules and Regulations Section 1.21, where the Rent Board has determined that there is no “tenant in occupancy” of the rental unit.
How Does The Temporary Rent Freeze Work?
The temporary rent freeze prevents any rent increase that would otherwise be permitted by Rent Ordinance Section 37.3(a) from taking effect during the temporary rent freeze.
A landlord can still serve a notice of rent increase to be effective during the temporary rent freeze, but only to establish or preserve a tenant’s “anniversary date” for the purpose of future rent increases (see the example below). In addition, the temporary rent freeze does not prevent a landlord from petitioning the Rent Board for certification of a rent increase or passthrough that requires Rent Board approval. However, if the landlord does serve a notice of rent increase that is effective during the temporary rent freeze, the tenant need not pay the increase until the landlord serves a new rent increase notice pursuant to Civil Code Section 827 that is effective after the temporary rent freeze expires. The new rent increase notice can be served at any time, provided the effective date of the rent increase is after the temporary rent freeze has ended.
- Example: The landlord served a notice imposing the current annual allowable rent increase of 1.8% on March 20, 2020 to be effective on May 1, 2020 (during the temporary rent freeze).
Since the rent increase may not take effect during the temporary rent freeze, the rent increase is deferred and the tenant should continue paying the prior rent amount. The landlord must serve a new rent increase notice in order to "reinstate" the deferred rent increase, to be effective after the temporary rent freeze expires (June 23, 2020 or later if extended). The tenant is not responsible for any retroactive payments for the period during the temporary rent freeze. However, the tenant's “anniversary date” is May 1, 2020, the effective date of the original notice, and the landlord may increase the tenant's base rent 12 months later, on May 1, 2021.
Tip For Landlords: Make Sure The Rent Increase Notice Is Clear
When preparing a rent increase notice to be effective during the temporary rent freeze, make sure the notice clearly explains that the notice is merely intended to establish the tenant’s “anniversary date” for the purpose of future rent increases, and that the tenant need not pay the increased rent until the landlord serves a new notice to be effective after the temporary rent freeze has ended.
When preparing a notice to reinstate a rent increase that was deferred by the temporary rent freeze, make sure the notice clearly explains that the notice is intended to reinstate the prior rent increase that was deferred by the temporary rent freeze, and that the tenant’s anniversary date for the purpose of future rent increases is the effective date of the first rent increase notice.
The following types of rent increase passthroughs are also deferred and cannot be go into effect during the temporary rent freeze:
- Capital Improvement Passthroughs
- General Obligation Bond Passthroughs
- Water Revenue Bond Passthroughs
- Utility Passthroughs
If the landlord does serve a notice of rent increase for a passthrough amount that is effective during the temporary rent freeze, the increase is deferred and the landlord must follow the same steps described above to "reinstate" the deferred passthrough. Whenever reinstated, the passthrough will apply for the same number of months as stated in the original notice.
What If A Rent Increase Was Paid During The Temporary Rent Freeze?
If you are a landlord and you collected increased rent from a tenant that should have been deferred by the temporary rent freeze, immediately refund the tenant for the amount of the overpayment.
If you are a tenant and paid a rent increase that should have been deferred by the temporary rent freeze, notify your landlord (consider directing them to this webpage) and request that the overpayment be refunded.
What If A Dispute Arises Regarding The Tenant’s Rent Amount?
If a dispute cannot be resolved informally, either the landlord or the tenant may file a petition with the Rent Board requesting a determination of the tenant’s lawful rent amount.
For more information, visit our website (www.sfrb.org) and check back regularly for updates. You may also speak to a Rent Board counselor by phone at (415) 252-4631 during regular hours: Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.