Topic No. 352: Substantial Decrease in Housing Services Petitions
A tenant may petition the Rent Board for a reduction in base rent when the landlord has substantially decreased a housing service without reducing the tenant's base rent. This includes a housing service provided at the commencement of the tenancy; a housing service reasonably expected under the circumstances; a housing service verifiably promised by the landlord prior to commencement of the tenancy but never provided; and/or a housing service added after commencement of the tenancy where additional rent was paid when it was provided.
A "Housing Service" is any service or amenity provided by the landlord connected with the use or occupancy of a rental unit including, but not limited to: repairs; replacement; maintenance; painting; light; heat; water; elevator service; laundry facilities and privileges; janitor service; refuse removal; furnishings; telephone; parking; rights permitted the tenant by agreement, including the right to have a specific number of occupants, whether express or implied, and whether or not the agreement prohibits subletting and/or assignment; and any other benefits, privileges or facilities. Note that a landlord is required to have a "just cause" reason to remove or sever the following housing services from the tenancy: 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 (SRO) hotels.
In order for a rent reduction to be granted, the tenant must prove that the decrease in service was substantial, and that the landlord had notice of the condition but failed to restore the housing service within a reasonable time after receiving notice of it. Notice can be actual or constructive.
The rent reduction is limited to the amount requested in the petition, and the tenant must be prepared to justify or explain the amount of the requested rent reduction. Evidence pertaining to the value of the housing service should be provided, including a description of how the problem or decrease in service affects the value of the tenancy.
If the tenant proves a substantial decrease in housing services, a rent reduction will be granted retroactive to the date the landlord had notice that the tenant was without the service. Rent reductions are usually limited to the one-year period before the petition is filed, unless the tenant proves that the landlord had long-term notice regarding the problem, or it is shown that extraordinary circumstances exist. If the housing service is not restored by the time the decision is issued, the rent reduction will remain in effect until the landlord restores the housing service and gives the tenant proper written notice to increase the rent by the amount of the rent reduction. Please note the Rent Board has no authority to compel the landlord to restore the service, but can only order a rent reduction for the loss of the housing service.
Landlords may defend a decrease in services petition by proving that the item was not a housing service provided, promised or reasonably expected at the commencement of the tenancy; that the housing service was added after the tenancy commenced but without additional consideration being paid by the tenant; that the landlord did not have notice about the problem; or that the condition was repaired or the service was restored within a reasonable time after receiving notice. The fact that a landlord attempted to repair a problem without success is not a defense to a decrease in services petition.
For instructions on preparing a Tenant Petition, please see Fact Sheet 6, "Tenant Petitions." To receive a copy of the Tenant Petition form and/or Fact Sheet 6, you can fax them to yourself through our Fax Back system by calling (415)252-4660 or visit our website at www.sfrb.org. The forms are also available at our office.