My Sage Advice to Renters: Think Like a Buyer
I’m a tenant. I’d be very much lying if I did not admit I enjoy the multiple protections offered me by SF, especially when a look at home prices convinced me I’d always be a renter. In the past, I got a sort of vicious thrill thinking how so many landlords get the screw in this city, because really, I was jealous of people who could own not only their own home, but other people’s homes as well. And here I was, teaching English at San Francisco State and summer classes for Stanford; yet I could only dream of the day when [insert misery-wreaking landlord name here] could no longer chastise me as if I were her recalcitrant teenage daughter.
But ironically, some of these same laws that so protect renters work to keep us renters forever. For instance, if I could finally afford a condo that was currently tenant occupied, the only way I could evict that person is to follow the new eviction laws in the city. To quote from the Tenants’ Union webpage, I have just cause to evict if “The landlord or a close relative of the landlord (if the landlord lives in the building) wants to move in to the unit and will remain a minimum of 36 consecutive months.” However, “under this just cause, landlords must pay relocation benefits of $4,500 per tenant plus an additional $3,000 to senior or disabled tenants or households with children.” I don’t want to evict anyone at all really, but with rent control like it is, people who have good deals have no incentive to move, ever. And that same rent control will logically frustrate a landlord so much that he/she opts to sell. Both of these situations mean chances are good that a condo or 2-unit building I might buy with partners will be occupied.
Further ironic: Because of this morass of laws, tenant occupied properties are usually the best deals when they hit the market. Thus, in a sense, as a buyer, I find these units in my price range. Yet the red tape in actually getting the unit vacant– or later, in converting it to condo– brings it back up to a price and stress level I have no interest in.
And so, I rent on. And on. And on.
I am absolutely not for complete de-regulation of the rental market. De-regulation in the commerce of housing doesn’t work: Witness the mess the real estate market finds itself in now. However, fellow renters, I urge you to study in two ways:
1. Really investigate, critically, the laws that come to the ballot promising to protect you. Knee jerk reaction is to always vote “pro renter,” but you might actually be very much screwing yourself if you ever aspire to leave renting behind you.
2. Know SF tenants’ laws, not only for your own protection now, but also to understand what you’re undertaking if you ever try to buy an occupied home, or worse, become a landlord yourself.
art and quote: SF Tenant’s Union