H is for Housing, Not Harassment: San Francisco Tenants Need Protections

Maria Zamundio

While tenants in San Francisco have protection against unjust or unlawful eviction, there is currently nothing to protect these same tenants from being harassed by property owners, managers, master-tenants, bank representatives, or real estate agents. Situations where tenants are being harassed do not only create unsafe conditions for families, but are very uncomfortable and can result in tenants leaving their homes, thus causing displacement.

In Causa Justa :: Just Cause’s tenant clinic we see different examples of this type of harassment. They include everything from landlords who blast their music at all hours, landlords who illegally move tenants out of their homes, throw out or destroy tenant belongings, and menace them, and real estate agents who harass tenants by calling them multiple times a day and at all hours.

Even tenants who have lived for long periods in their units and have relatively cheap rent, can become so distressed by the harassment that they feel like they have to leave. When this happens they leave their affordable home and familiar neighborhood and face many challenges in finding alternative housing they can afford. This type of housing injustice happens in part because of a weakness in the way that the San Francisco Rent Ordinance is being enforced. The ordinance clearly states that tenants cannot be harassed, however the enforcing mechanisms for this particular protection has been weakened by landlord/property owner lobbying efforts in San Francisco.

In 2008 when Proposition M passed, the new legislation stated that in the event a landlord tried to coerce a tenant into leaving and/or intimidated, harassed, or threatened him or her, that tenant could ask for a rent reduction from the San Francisco Rent Board.

In 2011 however, the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, the San Francisco Apartment Association and other groups that represent the interest of landlord and property owners in San Francisco sued the city of San Francisco in court and were able to overturn this voter-approved proposition. The legal decision from that case (Larson vs. CCSF) significantly weakened the protection that Proposition M created leading to the situation we see today.

Harassing a tenant to the point where they leave has become one of the most effective and economical ways for landlords to evict tenants in San Francisco.

We believe that this has to stop immediately and plan on attacking this issue from several angles. First, we want to educate policy makers like the Board of Supervisors so that they understand why the weakening of a voter-approved measure cannot be allowed. We plan on asking them to take action to pass laws that will close loopholes in Prop M. Secondly, we are in talks with the Sheriff to convince him to stop evicting tenants until more is done to ensure that landlords are not using that department to enforce their illegal and harassing actions. Evictions do not serve and protect our community.

This will be a big fight because the landlords are wealthy and have a great deal of political power and influence. Despite the challenges this is not a fight we can ignore. We all have the right to housing in which we feel safe and comfortable and we cannot allow the one more tenant to be pushed out of their home.