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SF considers ban on rent hikes for widows, widowers

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But only if Proposition 10 passes

Leaning tombstones in Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.
Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.
Photo by BrokenSphere

Under existing state law, the death of a loved one may be followed by a mortal rent hike on a rent-controlled home.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced that she will introduce a new law that would extend rent-control protections to bereaved family members—but only if California passes Proposition 10 in November.

Ronen’s office notes in a Tuesday press release:

As Costa Hawkins is currently written, landlords are free to raise the rent on a rent-controlled apartment to an unlimited amount when the “original occupant” no longer lives there.

The San Francisco Rent Ordinance is drafted to mirror that. So, any family members who were not original occupants—no matter how long they’ve lived in the home—are completely unprotected.

Ronen cites examples of Mission District residents who faced rent hikes of 300 to 700 percent after the deaths of their partners. She says that under the new legislation, which will be introduced at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the city would “extend the protections on rent-controlled units to spouses and family members” post-mortem.

Note that the announcement promises protections will extend to “nontraditional families” including domestic partners.

Under Ronen’s proposal, bereaved partners would only need to illustrate at least two years of occupancy to dodge a post-funeral rent hike.

However, as previously noted, Ronen says that this new law could only take effect if California passes Proposition 10 in the November 6 election, saying that Costa Hawkins “is tying our hands.”

The 1995 Costa Hawkins Act severely limits what kind of homes California cities can apply rent control to. If Proposition 10 passes, it will overturn Costa Hawkins. The measure is presently trailing at the polls after the No On 10 campaigns raised many times more funding than the Yes initiative.

Similar laws already exist in other metros, as the San Francisco Chronicle noted in 2016 when reporting on an Alamo Square man facing a rent hike after his partner’s suicide:

In some cities, including New York, tenants are protected with succession rights. [...] Laws prevent landlords from hitting a tenant with a large rent increase when a family member moves out of the dwelling unit or passes away.

[...] You could carry over the same rent conditions. Laws often also protect members of non-traditional families as long as emotional and financial commitment can be proven.

According to the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, that city considers variables like “longevity of the relationship,” “sharing of household expenses,” “intermingling of finances,” and “engaging in family type activities together” for at least two years when determining succession rights.

San Francisco has no such protections in place.