Effective February 25, 2019, the San Francisco Rent Ordinance has been amended to prohibit a landlord from attempting to evict a tenant by imposing a bad faith rent increase with the intent to defraud, intimidate, or coerce the tenant into vacating his or her unit.
This amendment is included in Section 37.10B of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance – the section that titled Tenant Harassment – which describes fourteen categories of prohibited acts of the landlord that, if done in bad faith, constitute illegal and actionable harassment.
Previously, Section 37.10B(a)(6) prohibited a landlord or landlord agent from doing the following in bad faith: “Influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion”.
After the amendment, Section 37.10B(a)(6) prohibits a landlord or landlord agent from doing the following in bad faith: “Influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a tenant to vacate a rental housing unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion; for example and without limitation, by endeavoring to recover possession of a rental unit as defined in Section 37.2(r)(7) by means of a rent increase that is imposed with an intent to defraud, intimidate, or coerce the tenant into vacating the rental unit in circumvention of Section 37.9(a), 37.9A, 37.9B, or 37.9C, in which case evidence of bad faith may include but is not limited to the following: (1) the rent increase was substantially in excess of market rates for comparable units; (2) the rent increase was within six months after an attempt to recover possession of the unit; and (3) such other factors as a court or the Rent Board may deem relevant.”
This expansion of prohibited acts is intended to prevent a landlord from circumventing the eviction protections of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance by imposing an unlimited rent increase. For example, in San Francisco, tenants in single family homes and condos built prior to June 13, 1979 typically have eviction protections but not rent control. Thus, a landlord could not evict the tenant without just cause, but could impose a huge rent increase for the purpose of evicting the tenant. This often occurred if a landlord wanted to sell the property without tenants. Under the new amendment, a tenant will have a chance to fight such a rent increase by either suing the landlord for harassment in violation of Section 37.10B or asserting the affirmative defense in the unlawful detainer that the landlord committed harassment in violation of Section 37.10B.
A tenant lawsuit against his or her landlord for harassment in violation of San Francisco Rent Ordinance section 37.10B is a powerful way to hold bad landlords accountable for their illegal acts. A tenant can recover three times his or her actual damages for harassment, or a penalty of $1,000 per violation, whichever is greater. In the typical case, this means that the tenant’s damages will be automatically trebled. A tenant can also seek injunctive relief (for example, the court can order the landlord to cease the harassing acts). The tenant can also be awarded punitive damages. And finally, a prevailing tenant, but not a prevailing landlord, can recover his or her attorney fees in the lawsuit.
The complete San Francisco Rent Ordinance, including the new amendment, can be viewed here.