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SF rent registry could cost up to $3.6 million per year

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Registries help enforce rent control and other provisions

Apartment buildings on Russian Hill. Photo by Shutterstock

In a little remarked-on bit of San Francisco intrigue, earlier this year Supervisor Sandra Lee-Fewer’s office asked the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst to calculate how much it would cost to start up a rental registry in San Francisco, a move that would allow the city to aggressively enforce rules for landlords.

“Rental registration is a local regulation that requires landlords to register with the city and provide the city with essential information,” according to the Center For Community Progress, a nonprofit that focuses on vacant and disused properties.

In April, Fred Brousseau, the office’s director of policy analysis, returned the requested figures, estimating that starting a rental registry in the city would cost somewhere around $300,000, Staffing and maintaining such a resource would run the city between $1.7 million and $3.6 million-plus per year.

Brousseau notes in his April memo that eight California cities maintain rent registries for the purposes of rent-control enforcement, half of them in the Bay Area: San Jose, Berkeley, East Palo Alto, Richmond, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood:

Cities that employ an active approach to enforcing their rent laws use registries to register individual tenancies, collect information about the rental unit, landlord, tenant(s), and rent amounts , and to monitor and disseminate information about allowable increases in rent per rental unit to landlords and tenants.

[...Some] maintain registries for reasons other than enforcement of rent ordinances . Typically these cities use them to enforce rental property inspection requirements , to detect substandard conditions , and to enforce and maintain minimum building and housing code standards.

Pittsburg, Santa Cruz, and Fresno are among the communities that keep up rent registries for alternative reasons.

According to Brousseau, the initial $300K investment would upgrade the San Francisco Rent Board’s information system; the budget after that would cover the salaries of new city employees tasked with maintaining and operating the database.

Whether SF’s tab skews to the low or high end of the estimate would depend on how big and aggressive the city wants the operation to be.

In other cities, an annual fee paid by landlords helps cover the costs, ranging from $50 per year in Santa Monica to $250 per year in Berkeley. Note that Beverly Hills is the only city that runs a registry sans annual fees.

“Cost increases could be offset by passing them through to landlords by increasing the annual fees and limiting the amount of the free increase that landlords could pass on to tenants,” the April memo concludes.

In Berkeley, for example, the city raised its registration fee in 2018, but mandated that “the increase shall not result in a pass-through of greater than $10 per month to any tenant.”

Currently, landlords with four or more units on the market must register as a business, but SF has never had a more general rental registry.

No word yet on whether Supervisor Fewer plans on pursuing the registration proposal now that the numbers are in.