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SF tenant scores $400,000 payout after massive rent hike

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“A warning to landlords who want to be greedy”

355 Bocana Street, San Francisco.
Photo via Redfin

Former Bernal Heights resident Deb Follingstad’s rental horror story was enough to keep many a San Franciscan up at night. Back in 2015, her landlord increased her rent by a jarring, inhumane 315 percent.

Follingstad and her boyfriend were living in a rent-controlled pad in Bernal Heights, shelling out $2,145 for a two-bedroom flat above a former gas station and garage at 355 Bocana. Her then landlord, Nadia Lama, sent her a notice informing her that rent would skyrocket to $8,900, with an additional security deposit set at a whopping $12,500.

By way of tinkering with the house’s structure—a bathroom was pulled out of the downstairs apartment, which technically turned the place back into a single-family home—Lama was able bypass the rent control technicality via owner-move-in eviction.

Poor form. So much so that, after the case went to trial, Follingstad was awarded a massive settlement of $400,000.

San Francisco Magazine’s Lamar Anderson has the story.

Why such a big payout? Why 40 times the required relocation payment, and not, say, 10? It all goes back to the damages a jury could award, says Tobener. Tenants who unfairly lose rent-controlled tenancies get compensated for the rent savings they would have accrued over some number of years. Then there are damages awarded for emotional distress, if the tenant's side can show that the landlord had a reckless disregard for the tenant's rights. And this is the real doozy: Rent damages are automatically tripled under San Francisco's Rent Ordinance. Emotional distress damages, if they are awarded, get tripled too. "Part of the reason wrongful eviction cases tend to settle is that emotional distress damages are unpredictable," says Tobener.

After lawyer’s fees and taxes, Follingstad should see around one-fourth of the award. (She tells San Francisco Magazine that most of it will go to cover costs for recent breast cancer treatments.)

And as for Lama, she will go down as the new horror story for any San Francisco homeowner looking for an easy, unscrupulous way out.