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What? Bernal Woman Faces $6,755 Per Month Rent Hike?

Jesus Christ. We need to go lie down for a while. 

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In a Facebook post that went viral over the weekend, Bernal Heights resident Debra Follingstad, who has been a tenant for 11 years in her rent controlled apartment said she was being all but being evicted by a landlord who quadrupled her rent, from $2145 to $8900 through a legal loophole. It's outrageous. It's horrible. And it's utterly predictable.

On Facebook, Follingstad shared a common lament—she was being forced out of her home and needed a new place to live. But it was for a very uncommon reason: A $6,755 rent increase. She wrote that the building's owners had converted it from a two-unit to a single-unit building, thereby allowing them to sidestep rent control, which doesn't apply to those kinds of dwellings: "1st they transferred the title of the house to one of the 6 siblings, stripped the apartment downstairs (the one that Wayne lived in for close to 25 years before they bullied him out) took out the bathroom, and kitchen, put down some crappy carpet and now call it a "storage" space. By doing this it changed the title of the building to a "single family dwelling" which is not protected by rent control and raised my rent to $8900 a month with a $12,500 damage deposit a month. Obviously above market rate and obviously more than anyone would pay."

The story, if it’s true, messed up, unfair, and seems to be perfectly legal.

Most of the response has rested on an argument about whether the landlord has been acting within the law. As, Jeremy Pollock, a legislative aide for supervisor John Avalos, told The Bold Italic: “It seems pretty clear to me that if the landlord did remove the downstairs apartment, they didn’t get a permit for it, which makes it an illegal merger. There’s no record of any merger permits in Planning’s system. We’ve asked Planning Department staff to look into this.” CurbedSF has a really good summary of all the ins and outs of the legal situation here, which is well worth reading.

But presuming that the landlord's move was legal, what are the options to preventing cases like this happening to other residents? There are several. We could extend rent control to single-family dwellings. That would require changing a state law called the Costa-Hawkins Act, which bans rent control for single-family homes rented after 1996. We could also wade into the thorny terrain on in-law unit conversions. We could also explore, the way the Liberal Democrats in England have, incentivizing rent-to-own models of housing where tenants build equity—helping to prevent these kind of situations. We could build a lot more—affordable, market-rate, either, both, to lower the pressure. Hell—why not like tent cities, micro-apartments, and getting Oakland to build housing for San Francisco while we're at it. (There's also the laissez faire option: Landlords are people with rights too, after all.) 

No matter what, does anyone think that the city’s current system of housing is working? Just ask Follingstad, who ended her post by saying: "this is just gross and greedy and wrong.”


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