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San Francisco bans rent hikes

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“Before some bonehead messes this up, I felt we should pass this,” says city lawmaker

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors took just a few minutes Tuesday to pass an emergency order indefinitely cancelling rent increases on rent-controlled homes, the latest City Hall bid to shield renters from the specter of eviction during a public health emergency that has suspended incomes citywide.

The measure, introduced two weeks ago by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Sandra Lee Fewer, sailed through unanimously at this week’s remote board meeting, with less than five minutes of discussion and no objects. As an emergency measure, the rent-hike ban skipped over much of the usual red tape for new laws.

The text of the order claims that a moratorium on rent increases “will lower the risk of displacement, which is essential for public health.”

Once signed into law, the measure will apply retroactively starting April 7, and declare that “any rent increase that would otherwise be authorized” is suspended until the moratorium ends. The ban currently has no set end date.

The moratorium does say that property owners can immediately instate any legal rent hike as soon as the ban lifts, but cannot charge extra back rent for months that hikes were suspended.

Commenting before the vote, Peskin said that the California Apartment Association had advised its members in March not to raise rents during the novel coronavirus outbreak and that he applauded the advice, but he and Fewer worried “some bonehead [might] mess this up” by raising rates anyway and wanted to get ahead of the problem.

Fewer said that, though the measure “shouldn’t be necessary,” she predicts most landlords would not raise rents during a pandemic anyway, but added “there are some who might still try.”

In March, Oakland passed somewhat similar legislation that did not bar rent hikes but instead capped them at 3.5 percent through the end of June, effectively rent controlling the entire city in the short-term. SF’s moratorium is more aggressive, but allows for potentially larger rent hikes after the emergency passes.