Pacific Heights is just a movie, right?
June 7, 2013 5:27 AM   Subscribe

I’ve recently joined the ranks of San Francisco landlords who have decided that it’s better to keep an apartment empty than to lease it to tenants. [SLNYT]
posted by BobbyVan (69 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't blame someone for acting in their best financial interest, but dick move.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:31 AM on June 7, 2013


roomthreeseventeen: "I can't blame someone for acting in their best financial interest, but dick move."

Yeah, I don't really care about whether this guy rents this house out or not. Writing a piece in the NYT about how a) people who rent are horrible and b) how laws protecting them are terrible makes you look like a right asshole.
posted by hoyland at 5:35 AM on June 7, 2013 [40 favorites]


They had one bad (sure, VERY bad) tenant, who left within three days of the eviction process starting? Maybe they were't the most compelling poster-landlords to showcase this problem.
posted by arcticwoman at 5:35 AM on June 7, 2013 [27 favorites]


So ... wait. Dude waits until his tenant has a "dozen serious incidents" before he decides he should look into evicting him? And it's the city's fault?

And in any case, the only reason an empty rental property would be "worth" more than one that's occupied is if the buyer either doesn't intend to rent it (no net change in available rentals anyhow) or is foolish enough to think he's better at choosing tenants than the previous owner.

This is a terrible op-ed.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:38 AM on June 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


I don't really understand why an empty building would be worth more than one with a tenant. Are they not the same building? Do people not pay as much if they'll have to wait for the least to break? Why would you sell a building still under lease, if so?

Am I just missing something completely?
posted by solarion at 5:38 AM on June 7, 2013


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I missed the "consulted with our real estate lawyer about our rights and responsibilities as landlords, drew up a rental contract that protected out interests to the fullest extent of the law, and carefully vetted our tenants and their references before buying a house we could barely afford and depending on a stranger to pay half our mortgage" part.

Because if that isn't what happened: Christ, what an asshole.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:38 AM on June 7, 2013 [35 favorites]


I'm sure a better thing to do would be to rent it to someone from a personal referral (or within 1 or 2 degrees of separation) for maybe a bit less than the market rent.

He does seem to enjoy being able to host friends and family for free though, so he's lose that. Maybe he really doesn't want to rent it out, and doesn't need to. In the meantime the place is going to go up in value so he won't lose out in the long term.
posted by DanCall at 5:38 AM on June 7, 2013


TV journalists. Sheesh.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:39 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


He could actually use AirBnB for this property, unlike most other airbnb hosts in SF.
posted by EricGjerde at 5:40 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, thought this was going to be about the people who after the first month, never pay their rent, knowing it takes forever to evict someone (a previous fpp). Googling found a web page by the San Francisco Tenants Union telling you how to do it.
posted by 445supermag at 5:42 AM on June 7, 2013


I'm willing to believe that a city could possibly have laws that are too pro-tenant, but the author hasn't shown that's actually the case.
posted by Area Man at 5:43 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh wait, yeah, I guess a building could be worth more empty than if it's got a longtime tenant paying under-market-value rent, but even then, the value of a tenant who's actually going to pay the GD rent and not trash the place ought to be pretty high.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:43 AM on June 7, 2013


Of course an empty house is more valuable than one saddled with tenants, if it's difficult to move them. For example, in this case, obviously he can now sell it to somebody who wants to use the entire house, which he couldn't in case of a tenant.

It also makes it easier for wouldbe landlords to subdivide the property into flats, then charge the maximum to new tenants rather than having to deal with existing people.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:47 AM on June 7, 2013


I'm willing to believe that a city could possibly have laws that are too pro-tenant, but the author hasn't shown that's actually the case.

He's shown basically nothing about the landlord-tenant laws other than that a clerk told him it was easier to not have a tenant. He had one bad tenant, began eviction proceedings, and then the guy moved out. It sounds like he paid his rent,* but was also a destructive asshole and that the guy waited way too long to do something about it. The law only protects you if you use it, it's not the law's fault that some people are bad tenants.

*I was also expecting this to be about the "professional tenant" that landlords often complain about
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:48 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


SF doesn't have enough housing to tolerate shitbags who deliberately keep housing empty. The ability to do so should be regarded as a bug, not a feature, and patched out.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:49 AM on June 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


So ... wait. Dude waits until his tenant has a "dozen serious incidents" before he decides he should look into evicting him? And it's the city's fault?

Surely you understand by now that any time a landlord or other small businessperson doesn't make maximum profit with minimum effort, it's the government's fault somehow.
posted by aught at 5:53 AM on June 7, 2013 [24 favorites]


Yeah, thought this was going to be about the people who after the first month, never pay their rent, knowing it takes forever to evict someone (a previous fpp). Googling found a web page by the San Francisco Tenants Union telling you how to do it.

Well, no, mostly they're telling you how to try and stop your landlord evicting you to evade rent control and so on.

I've actually had a 3-day notice to quit for not paying rent in California (though not San Francisco). Long story, but there's a downside to paying your rent by electronic transfer when the building gets sold and the new owners don't follow through (though they did try to fix the window that had been broken for a year). They tape this notice to the door after 5pm on Friday, without knocking. So the office is closed. The notice demands payment (in money order or something) by Monday. Except Monday was Labor Day and so the office was closed from the time they delivered the notice until after the time they were demanding rent, meaning there was no way to pay it. Cue frantic call to my dad (who is not in California, but does write leases for a living, though I doubt he's ever been involved in an eviction) who says "It takes ages to evict someone. Write them an angry letter and a check." We did, stuck it through the mail slot on Saturday and problem solved. So, hi, I'm one of those people that website is aimed at, who don't know they won't kick you out in 3 days.
posted by hoyland at 5:54 AM on June 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


I was definitely expecting something much worse by way of the terrible tenant. I mean, I've had housemates worse than that. It mostly struck me that this person - who had the means to buy in the Castro in 2004 - has super-snowball-ish expectations about how housing works. There are lots of good reasons not to be a landlord - and one of them is that even the nicest, best person will at some point in their life do or go through something that makes them a difficult tenant.
posted by Frowner at 6:03 AM on June 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


The title of the piece is "King of My Castle? Yeah, Right." He seems to have had mostly good luck renting out the dungeon, until that one guy. Now he wants to raise the drawbridge and boil the oil. But the Sheriff's tax-collector wants more gold if the dungeon's empty. He should just have one of his serfs live in it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:13 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't tell which is more absurd: that the harrumphing landlord thought his anecdote about giving up on landlording after one pleasant and one asshole renter was worth pitching to the NYT, or that the NYT actually ran the crap so soon after the entitled idiocy of that fake airline emergency story.

I mean, I get that the NYT thinks this kind of piece is somehow essential to its brand (they run them often enough) but surely someone there knows that even clickbait has its limits.
posted by mediareport at 6:18 AM on June 7, 2013


(Oh, it says they "had wonderful tenants" at first, so they may have had more than one pleasant experience before the asshole. That would make the decision to pull the property out of the market even less worth crying about in the newspaper.)
posted by mediareport at 6:20 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This landlord is both wrong AND a prick.

So, typical landlord features then. If only he can get his head around the fact that tenants are the part of the business that pay him money, he should go far.
posted by The River Ivel at 6:21 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The New York media's (typified by the Times, the New Yorker, and New York Magazine) perspective on California and SF is always good for fun.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:29 AM on June 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


So in San Fransico if you buy a house with tenants you can't evict them? In Toronto you can boot your your tenants if you plan to move into the space they are living. (So one scam to get rid of people who are paying under-market rent is to move back into your place for a month or two and then list the place again. I think, anyway. My cousin might just get scammed all the time.)
posted by chunking express at 6:30 AM on June 7, 2013


A check of comparable recent sales in our neighborhood, in fact, shows that empty buildings are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars more than those with tenants, and with the current housing-price boom, that profit margin (on paper, anyway) increases each month

Boy this guy is going to feel really fucking dumb when his tax bill comes around and he discovers that having your house appraised at a higher value is not actually a good thing if you're not selling the place
posted by ook at 6:35 AM on June 7, 2013 [18 favorites]


I was recently out in SF and yes, the rental market there is insane. And yes, everyone's points above about the author of the piece are largely spot on. Some questions:

1) Do tenants usually get more than one year's lease? Especially new tenants? I've never signed a lease longer than one year.

2) Even the tenant's union thinks that eviction takes about a month for "just cause". Is that such a terrible thing for a landlord? 30 days of low-to-mid-level hassle once (ONCE!) seems a small price to pay when you're probably making a goodly sum over inflated rents.
posted by aureliobuendia at 6:38 AM on June 7, 2013


Why is a New York paper running an op ed about local issues in San Francisco?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:39 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


New Yorkers dig shadenfreude.
posted by ook at 6:41 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I kept thinking as I read this, "I wonder if this guy is advertising the fact that he has a vacant unit in the Castro so he'll get a shit-ton of mail from desperate renters begging to rent his flat."

I mean, sure that one guy was a nightmare, but giving up $3,000 a month when there are a bazillion people out there willing to pay a premium? Madness.

I mean, he printed his real name AND his nom de plum, that doesn't sound like a dude who doesn't want people to contact him
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:45 AM on June 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


chunking express: "So in San Fransico if you buy a house with tenants you can't evict them? In Toronto you can boot your your tenants if you plan to move into the space they are living. (So one scam to get rid of people who are paying under-market rent is to move back into your place for a month or two and then list the place again. I think, anyway. My cousin might just get scammed all the time.)"

If the owner (or a 'close relative') want to live there, it's a 'just cause' for eviction. They do have to pay a relocation benefit. It looks like they can't re-rent the unit for more than the original rent for three years after the eviction. Though depending on the unit and rent in question, I can imagine it still being enticing enough to a landlord to contemplate this as a way of circumventing rent control, but I don't know that it would be a smart move.
posted by hoyland at 6:55 AM on June 7, 2013


You know, if the NYT wanted to interview a landlord who is basically a shitty human being, they could have remained within the five boroughs.

If they weren't just looking for a shitty human being, why not write an actual journalistic piece about a) the housing shortage in San Fran b) the horrible terrible laws that repress tenants.
posted by angrycat at 6:56 AM on June 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are the laws in SF really so horrible? It seems absurd that he's complaining about how hard it is to evict people. His bad tenant left after 3 days without putting up a fight! Things couldn't have gone better. Maybe he held off on the eviction because he heard how difficult it could be, but that's his fault.

As for the value of his property, I don't know why that's an issue unless he's planning to sell soon. "On paper, I'm less wealthy when I have a tenant." Boo hoo.
posted by mokin at 6:59 AM on June 7, 2013


Sadly behind the paywall, but if you're looking for a jawdropping read and an insane example of a powerless landlord and a whack job tenant, see Tad Friend's article "Crowded House" in the New Yorker.

Short version: Horrible tenant violates lease in multiple ways including scamming dozens of prospective subletters (most new to NY) out of over $100,000 as he invents new ways to lie and deceive. After a period of many years and death of one landlord, tenant ends up in jail.
posted by donovan at 7:09 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know, being traumatized by the experience having a stranger behave in bizarre, erratic, destructive ways IN YOUR HOME and being COMPELLED BY LAW to continue allowing this insane person INTO YOUR HOME until you have jumped through legal and procedural hoops for a period of up to several weeks; and deciding you don't ever want to risk having that happen again, emphatically does NOT make you a shitty human being.

I was a tenant for years, and my landlord and I were very lucky to have each other. I sit on a land-use board that among other things reviews landlord-licensce applications. It's scary enough to allow strangers into a building that in many cases represents your life savings. It's fucking horrifying when that person turns out to be a destructive drug-dealing meth-head or something and you find yourself having to allow Matches McGascan into your building until the case comes up. When that's the same building where you lay your own head down to sleep, you don't sleep anymore.

Deciding that the landlord business is not for you is a legitimate decision. Lots of non-assholes decide they don't care to go through that shit again.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:11 AM on June 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Boy this guy is going to feel really fucking dumb when his tax bill comes around and he discovers that having your house appraised at a higher value is not actually a good thing if you're not selling the place

In California, a property's taxable value can only be reassesed when there's a change of ownership.
posted by prize bull octorok at 7:19 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Years ago, Mrs. Deadmessenger and I rented a house from a couple who lived in the next town over from us. When we decided to buy the house we live in now, I called our landlord to let her know we'd be moving at the end of our lease in about 6 weeks' time. She was practically in tears, and all but begging us to stay. Apparently, in all the years they rented that house, we were the only ones who a) paid the rent with a check instead of an excuse and b) didn't trash their property, and she was dreading having to roll the dice and chance getting another deadbeat. She mentioned that references were basically worthless - more of them were fake than not.

Fast forward a few years - not having learned my lesson from my former landlord, I was considering purchasing a vacant house down the block from me as a rental. When doing my due diligence before I made an offer, an older and more experienced full-time landlord told me to go to dispo court (basically eviction court) just to watch, and see if I could stomach the nonsense that landlords have to deal with. I took his advice, and after a few hours of watching that circus, I did not buy that house.

Although this story isn't the most shining example, I can certainly understand this person's position of throwing up his hands and saying "screw this, the money's just not worth it."
posted by deadmessenger at 7:21 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


BigLankyBastard, I think the problem is that if you are not going to make the effort to understand the laws that will or will not let you evict someone FROM YOUR HOME, and then whine IN THE NEW YORK TIMES when you've had to evict a tenant, where you are basically moaning over how it's a smidge harder to meet the mortgage now on your gazillion dollar Castro district SF house but it's worth it not to have to deal with renters, THAT makes you an asshole.

You don't want to rent out your house, fine; don't write smug, self-righteous, blindly privileged whinefests in the NYT about it.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:33 AM on June 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


Do Americans call apartments flats now?
posted by scose at 7:37 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although this story isn't the most shining example, I can certainly understand this person's position of throwing up his hands and saying "screw this, the money's just not worth it."

I think the flip side to this, though, is that just because you have enough money lying around to have a spare house or apartment (or apartment building) doesn't mean that you should expect to buy one and have cash roll in, which it sounds like this guy kind of did. Being a landlord can take a lot of work, even if you have the world's best tenants.

I did live in a house where the previous tenants had been a disaster and there were all kinds of random clauses written into the lease that were things he had wanted to evict the last people over, but where it hadn't been worth doing since they hadn't actually violated the specifics of the lease. This particular landlord was not the world's most organised. Our garbage bill went unpaid for a year--we weren't to open mail addressed to him that came to the house, he very seldom picked up his mail and, guess what?, the garbage bill came to the house addressed to him. But owning property was his main occupation. If something went wrong with the house, he showed up or sent someone, usually within hours, but certainly by the next day. I kind of suspect the author of this opinion piece would not take someone breaking a window of the house by throwing a tennis ball through it from an adjacent building in stride. (I know, WTF? Who's chucking a tennis ball round in their apartment in the first place?) But, never mind crappy tenants, random crap like that happens and you get calls about broken windows on your Sunday afternoons.
posted by hoyland at 7:44 AM on June 7, 2013


(Oh. And none of the random clauses in the lease were 'Don't grow pot in the upstairs', though they'd been doing that, too, which explained why the thermostat was set to 90.)
posted by hoyland at 7:45 AM on June 7, 2013


Beng a landlord isn't for everyone.
posted by padraigin at 8:05 AM on June 7, 2013


> Do Americans call apartments flats now?

In San Francisco, for certain kinds of apartments, yes.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:24 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Waiting eagerly for dhartung to chime in.
posted by Melismata at 8:24 AM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


In California, a property's taxable value can only be reassesed when there's a change of ownership.

Ah. That makes a bit more sense then; thanks.
posted by ook at 8:26 AM on June 7, 2013


Do Americans call apartments flats now?

Always have in the San Francisco Bay Area. All that English style architecture makes us whiffy like that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:57 AM on June 7, 2013


scose: "Do Americans call apartments flats now?"

San Franciscans use the word "flats" for the kind of apartments that take up one floor in a house, often an Edwardian or Victorian house. A building with many units would still be called an apartment building, containing apartments. Most Americans don't use it that way, as best I know.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:08 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


This isn't San Fran, but a student told me yesterday that her Wall Street friend has rented a sizeable apartment and (probably illegally) subdivided the place, rented small rooms for $1600, and is making thousands a month.

I am a former tenant's attorney, so probably real fucking biased, but in Brooklyn housing court, at least, most of the tenants are unrepresented by lawyers, have no idea what their legal rights are, 90% of the landlords are repped by attorneys, and oh boy the nasty shit that goes on when tenants are outgunned in court and the judges roll over and let the landlords get away with tons of evil shit.

Of course, there is the tenant who doesn't deal with their responsibilities as a renter. The question is, I think, whether these are outlier cases, where the landlord is stuck with a massive headache. And whether tenants in places like NYC and San Fran are often shit out of luck, regardless of their responsible nature or lack of same.

I can't understand any sympathy for the writer of this article. He's like NYC landlords who claim that rent control is ruining their lives when they have no idea what rent control is, and given the percentages they are extremely unlikely to have rent controlled tenants (as opposed to rent stabilized; the rent stabilization law has taken a lot of hits in the last fifteen-twenty years, so cry me a fucking river on that one too).

You can be a good person and still exploit the seller's market in places like San Fran and NYC. But I can't see how you can be good and then write such a spiteful article, full of grievances that are ultimately based on almost nothing.
posted by angrycat at 10:10 AM on June 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, I don't understand the vitriol directed at the author at all.

Believe me, no matter how carefully you vet your renters, you can end up with psychos. It's happened to us, and it's happened to people we know.

Also: in my (red-purple) state, it turns out to be extremely difficult to force renters to leave, even if they simply stop paying rent.

And all of this can happen no matter how reasonable a landlord you are. And for some of us, this can cause financial ruin.

In short, I call bullshit on a lot of the above.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:12 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or, in short: what BigLankeyBastard said.

When I was a tenant, I couldn't believe what an asshole some of my landlords were, and how the system seemed slanted toward them. Now that I rent out the first floor of my house, I can't believe what assholes some people are, and how the systems seems slanted toward them.

Turns out: the system is slanted toward assholes.
(Note: that is a kind of poetic exaggeration, but there' truth in there.)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:16 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wow, I don't understand the vitriol directed at the author at all.

I think a lot of the vitriol is that he wrote a "woe is me" piece without demonstrating much in the way of actual woe. He had a bad tenant. I feel bad for the guy, but he's blaming the system for problems that are the fault of one asshole.

Does it take time to evict people? Absolutely, because you're talking about the process of kicking someone out of their home. Those protections are absolutely necessary. If you can't deal with the occasional asshole breaking stuff or not paying their rent and the time it takes to kick them out, then stop renting property, but don't blame it on "the system."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:25 AM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wow, I don't understand the vitriol directed at the author at all.

He's complaining about laws that make it hard to evict people, even though he had no difficulty in evicting his horrible tenant. It seems a little hypocritical.

Nobody said being a landlord is easy. The author seems to think it should be. I have a lot of sympathy for anyone that has to put up with bad tenants, but this dude is blaming government when the true cause of his problem is the bad tenant and his own naivety.

Also, if he'd OK with keeping his apartment empty, why doesn't he keep the apartment empty until he finds a tenant he trusts? It can't be that hard to find someone in his social circle that needs an apartment with a good landlord, right? I think the bad tenant story is an excuse to complain about what really bothers him: his property's value when renting.

The argument that renting to tenants lowers his property's value has merit, but I don't think limiting tenant rights is the way to fix that.
posted by mokin at 10:54 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why he didn't begin eviction proceedings immediately after the guy broke in with a sledgehammer. I also don't know why he thinks living without a tenant makes him "wealthier on paper". It seems like being "wealthier with money" is more useful in real life, but the article doesn't seem to be coming from a person with a good grasp of practical reality.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:58 AM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


"...because you're talking about the process of kicking someone out of their home."

What some people who rent often forget about the space their inhabiting: It's not yours. It belongs to the who owns it and who lets you live there. You can't do whatever you want to it.

Most tenants are fine. Others are douchebags. You should be able to evict the douchebags.

I think that's all he's saying.
posted by prepmonkey at 11:15 AM on June 7, 2013


But I can't see how you can be good and then write such a spiteful article, full of grievances that are ultimately based on almost nothing.

I think that having a guy break your window with a sledgehammer and then claiming that he has a right to do so is something.

But others like BigLankyBastard have already chimed in more eloquently than I ever will, so I'll stay out of this thread.
posted by Melismata at 11:22 AM on June 7, 2013


You should be able to evict the douchebags.

Which he could do, and he did do (without even trying very hard), and yet somehow he still wrote an awful New York Times piece about it.

What some people who rent often forget about the space their inhabiting: It's not yours. It belongs to the who owns it

This isn't exactly right though. Both the renter and the owner have certain legal rights to the property. I rent. As a renter, I have certain rights to use the property in certain ways. The difference between me and the women who owns the property is basically a matter of degree and time, the owner has slightly more right over the property than I do, (although she can't "do whatever she wants with it" either), and my rights terminate at a certain point.

For the time in which I have rights, though, that space absolutely legally is mine. So long as I abide by the terms of my lease, I've got the right to it. It is also, in a non-legal sense, my home in that I sleep there and without it I would be homeless. Deprecating my claim to the property (which is different, but no less real than my landlords) is just a kind of classism. It says "be rich enough, and you get your own space, until then you have a roof over your head only at the whim of your betters."

For the reasons angrycat mentions, without strong tenant protections the field will be strongly tilted in favor of landlords. Landlords have lawyers, most tenants don't. They've got money, most tenants don't. Many (if not most) of them are corporations, not individuals with all of the imbalance of power that that entails. Even if the cost of leveling that playing field is that some landlords have a hard time, I'm not crying a river over that.

This is also kind of a theoretical argument because he never connects San Francisco's laws to his problems beyond "this guy told me he had the right" to sledgehammer the door, a claim that he just sort of accepts or something, instead of investigating it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:38 AM on June 7, 2013 [18 favorites]


Boo Hoo! Screw Scott James, the landlord that wrote this hit piece! Don't you just love that word, "Land-Lord"? or, "Lord of the Land"? Just look at the negative connotations that attend the word, especially when one considers how most "lords of the land" have treated - for centuries - those who they lord over. This guy seems like a real piece of work.

Look, this loser/whiner bought a property and used a space in that property to help pay his mortgage. Oh, the tragedy! Then, he ended up at some point with a rogue tenant and in his pathetic travail goes on to generalize from that experience to all tenants? Can you imagine what this "landlord" is like in real life - generalizing all the things that "happen to him" and projecting those events to categories of people, events, and places around him in negative ways. What a jerk! Go choke on your mortgage and your higher property tax package, asshole!

I know the San Francisco rent scene very well, and let me tell you it's a nightmare for anyone who wants to rent there. Newly minted rich geeks form Facebook, Groupon, Zygna, etc. etc are paying huge sums for rent, displacing folks who have lived in San Francisco for decades. THise people were able to have a home because of rent control. If it wan't for rent control, San Francisco would look like New York City's Upper East Side.

Tons of real estate deals in San Francisco are cash deals, made by foreign investors, sight unseen; there is a ton of new Chinese, Indian, and Russian money buying up everything in sight. There is a drastic shortage of affordable housing. As a result, families are leaving San Francisco in droves.

Most landlords will take what the market will bear, and many have over the years have bought properties and them evicted many thousands of persons who have been long time tenants to "convert" their property to condos. Something like 14,000 San Franciscans have been evicted from their dwellings - due to having their dwelling sold and converted - since 1998. The working class base that made San Francisco a truly diverse and dynamic base is almost gone. What's left? A city made up of a dwindling number of old-times, and slowly filling with feckless, trendy hipsters and "filthy-richters" (sic) without a soul.

The scams perpetrated by San Francisco landlords are legion. Some will say - after they buy a property - that they are going to "move family in" after they buy a multi-tenent property, and after they have done that and remodeled the place, move their family members out and try to sell the place or let rent rates climb. Guess what? It's now illegal to do that because the tenants union in San Francisco caught on to that game and made sure to help make laws stopping those scumbags from displacing people.

Sure, not everyone can afford to live where they want. And, yes, landlords often have legitimate gripes. But the douche who write this NYT Op-Ed piece needs to get a clue, and thank his lucky stars for what he has, instead of vilifying renters who are just looking for a place to live, and call home - without fear that they are going to be pushed out with a dramatic rent increase, or forced out because some asshole want to pad his bottom line with a new condo complex.

The social mix that made San Francisco what it is, is fast eroding. The City is changing (like all cities), but in ways that are more dramatically different than many other places. Money has been a general spoiler in Bay Area. The bling is sickening, and so are many of whining jerks who tout their privilege undercover of a few small problems that their wealth affords them, like Scott James. Scott thanks for doing humanity a favor; nobody wants to live in your stinking house.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:07 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair, while the writer is a complete shit, he's not actually "vilifying renters who are just looking for a place to live, and call home" - he's vilifying renters who address door lock issues with sledgehammers.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:45 PM on June 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


having a stranger behave in bizarre, erratic, destructive ways IN YOUR HOME and being COMPELLED BY LAW to continue allowing this insane person INTO YOUR HOME

But the stranger isn't IN YOUR HOME. The stranger is IN HIS HOME because when you both signed the lease it stopped being YOUR HOME and started being HIS HOME. You still have title to HIS HOME, but it's very much HIS HOME. That's why he's paying you -- to agree to take YOUR HOME and let it be HIS HOME instead, and in way that courts will recognize and enforce.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:04 PM on June 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


Believe me, no matter how carefully you vet your renters landlord, you can end up with psychos. It's happened to us, and it's happened to people we know.

I've had neighbors who were "tenants-from-hell" for the landlord (and you know what? it often affects the neighbors too), but one psycho owner did more to screw up my life than any single renter ever could've done to him (and in a 'Tenant-Friendly' city).

Why is a New York paper running an op ed about local issues in San Francisco?

Because the NYT is going all-out, balls-to-the-wall to compete with the WSJ for the "Top 1% Asshole" subscriber market.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:18 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The social mix that made San Francisco what it is, is fast eroding.

I've been hearing this since I moved to San Francisco in 1996. This actually ran in the MoJo the month after I came west, where Paulina Borsook wrote about the way tech money was ruining the Bay Area:
The nexus of libertarianism and high-tech in the Silicon Valley will come to matter more and more, because it involves lots and lots of money (companies with valuations rivaling General Motors'). And it's a wealth of tremendous self-insulation: I routinely attend parties peopled by digerati in their 20s and early 30s who, in addition to their desirable arrogance of youth, have a frightening invulnerability (their skills in demand, the likelihood of cashing out high).
And Borsook followed up in 1999 with:
Yes, there have always been rich people in San Francisco — hell, robber barons made San Francisco — but the point is, there was always room for the rest of us. You could have the backyard, suburban pleasures that are possible in a city that’s not built to bulk, a city where well-to-do people lived right next door to people of modest means. Gross class stratifications weren’t there. But not anymore.
There was the whole Yuppie Eradication Project.

I'm not disputing that the rental market in the 415 is grim -- this is why I fled to the 510 and bought a house there -- but I don't think what is happening now is anything new.

It's easy for writers to claim that techies have been driving out artists and activists but it's been going on for, what, 16 years now? And it's okay to be sad about the fact that San Franciscans can no longer hold down a P/T job for scratch while their real work is doing activism or art, but in how many American cities is making a living part time an option for anyone?

I sometimes wonder if one of the elements of the SF Bay Arean soul is the inability to reconcile the iconoclastic San Francisco of myth with the reality that the city's susceptible to the same forces that shape other American cities.
posted by sobell at 3:01 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


SF doesn't have enough housing to tolerate shitbags who deliberately keep housing empty. The ability to do so should be regarded as a bug, not a feature, and patched out.

I feel like there needs to be serious landlord tenant act type legislation that bars both buying rental properties and keeping them intentionally empty until some arbitrary point(call it what it is, market manipulation), and just generally buying condos or other housing and never living in them. I read stories all the time about major parts of london, NYC, and other major cities being full of empty condos/co-ops/apartments that are simply purchased or rented out by people who just want to sit on the space.

So in San Fransico if you buy a house with tenants you can't evict them?

This is common in the US. It works this way in seattle as well. The general caveat is that it only applies if they have a lease, and only for the length of that lease. Which, to address another question asked right below you... Leases over 1 year are very rare. In practice you can buy a place and probably kick the person out in a couple months. The only time this gets complex is when it's a large apartment complex or something, but then you either just buy those people out("We'll pay your moving costs and 3 months of your new rent!" kind of crap) or just stop accepting new tenants or leases and wait for them to all time out.

Do Americans call apartments flats now?

Only when it's an apartment in a expensive pretentious asshole's building.
posted by emptythought at 3:14 PM on June 7, 2013


Waiting eagerly for dhartung to chime in.

*chuffed*

Yeah, this was a poor article. I mean, an argument against tenants rights laws would theoretically run after a dozen serious incidents and several court hearings where the tenant invoked law X, not boy, we gave him notice after being afraid to do anything and then he just, you know, left. Good grief, the victim complex some people have.

For reals, there certainly could be a tipping point for somebody in this context, but his is apparently just landlording is a hassle. Which it certainly is, even in nominal cases, and somewhat less so when you have great tenants. Nobody likes the 2 a.m. call that the water heater is flooding.

But anyway, I find it interesting that so many SF apartments are empty. Truth be told, however, one of the things I often mention is that rentals are a very convenient tax dodge. Especially if you have lots of, say, business or royalty income. You will find many landlords are set up this way, where they have a bar or other small business, and then they have some rentals. Even if they have empty units, they get to write off a lot of their expenses, including mortgage interest, and then there's depreciation on top of that. There are caps and rollover rules, to be sure, but it's very possible to run a rental business as a deliberate money-loser and thereby reduce your tax liability for other income you receive. This is also why a lot of big cities have slumlords who are basically warehousing properties to the point of total destruction, because it's either a tax strategy or a subsidized (by the tax strategy) way to hold onto property for future redevelopment when it's more valuable. Anyway, my point is that this exists irrespective of San Francisco or California law. I would be willing to bet if a reporter followed up with some of those apartments held empty they would find something like this (at the very least, it stands to reason that if you're keeping a place empty you either have no mortgage to carry, or some other source of income).

Do Americans call apartments flats now?

Terminology varies quite a bit by US region and city, given that laws and zoning are locally controlled. A lot of cities have a one-over-the-other setup called a "two-flat", for example. So, yes, the word is not exclusively British, except that an American is far less likely to say "I rented a flat" when they're the renter, even if that apartment is a "flat" in real estate or regulatory parlance. For example, my local city annoys me by calling any building containing two rental units a "duplex", including a two-flat as well as a house cut up into two unequal apartments; my sense is that duplex should only apply to two equal, side-by-side homes on the same lot. Neither here nor there except that again, terminology varies geographically.

Anyway, I think this guy is a classic case of someone who isn't mentally cut out to be a landlord. (I question it about myself some days, believe me.) Particularly when the apartment is in the same building as yourself, you want to be especially careful about vetting your tenants. Word of mouth is probably the best way to advertise a place like this, and then you charge for a background check as the law allows (of course, if they pass and sign the lease, you take it out of the security deposit). You set boundaries early and don't wait for "a dozen serious incidents", you document every single one with a paper trail, and you give them written notice of infractions.

And sheesh, be contactable. Lockouts are a pain for everybody.
posted by dhartung at 7:28 PM on June 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've actually had a 3-day notice to quit for not paying rent in California

Confession: I hope I'm a better landlord than I was a tenant. I feel I should clarify that receiving a notice to quit is not an eviction, it's just a threat. I actually went years paying my rent the day after my landlord's super would slip the five-day notice under my door. I'm sure it was a big hassle for them but I was just a procrastinator -- sometimes I would hand-deliver the stamped envelope I hadn't mailed by the 31st (or whatever). They kept renewing my lease, though.

The eviction process only really begins when you're served to appear in court, and even then eviction can proceed over multiple weeks (in rare cases months) and court hearings, and really, the only point at which you need to actually quit is by the day that the court tells you to, or the landlord has the right to show up with the sheriff. There are, naturally, some jurisdictions where you're on very thin legal ice here and the landlord will suffer no penalties for engaging in what's called self-help, e.g. by tossing your belongings out on the curb, but in general it's safe to say that a notice to quit is really pretty far away from eviction.

and oh boy the nasty shit that goes on when tenants are outgunned in court

Yup. I actually did eventually get evicted, when I went two years without a job, and then the attorney for the landlord pulled some stunt where he met with me prior to the hearing and promised me hearts, roses, and breakfast in bed, and when my case came up I said something like "I'm going to pay X and we'll be all right" the housing judge shot the lawyer a look and told me not to believe his bullshit. The piece of paper I'd signed went back in that lawyer's briefcase like it was in an automated postal sorting machine. Absolutely, the landlords can play the game better than the tenants, and they know it.
posted by dhartung at 7:51 PM on June 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Disclosure: my family has been in the San Francisco rental business for several decades, pretty small potatoes, just a couple of flats and a house. This means that because we have lower overhead there's not this huge urgency to fill a vacancy STAT when a tenant moves out. It also means that we can put a vacant property on the market at somewhat-lower-than-market-rates to maximize our pool of applicants. While this strategy has allowed us to take our time and pick people who appear to be the "right" kind of (no history of evictions, steady employment, good references, good relationship with previous landlords)tenants, it doesn't always guarantee that we will always get good tenants.

In recent years we had the guy who kept pleading for us to do him a solid and let him have access to one of utility rooms for extra storage (which we provided for free), only it turned out that what he really wanted the space for was to turn it into his personal art studio. We made it clear that the space was storage only and after much haggling he agreed to. He lost the key to the lock and instead of telling us, he took a crowbar to the lock on the door. A sensible and considerate person would have used a screwdriver and taken the time to unscrew the latch, but not this guy! Last year, when he finally gave notice and moved out on the agreed upon date, he left behind what he called a $10K collection of his paintings that he didn't pick up for another two weeks. He didn't do the cleaning that was specified in his rental agreement (garbage everywhere), so we had to deduct the cost for cleaning from the deposit ... and then he whined about how much we took out of the security deposit. Irritating, crazy-making but ultimately garden variety PITA tenant stuff.

Then there is this guy that we currently have as a tenant - an alcoholic who has:
- Fallen down the stairs, leaving a human-sized hole in the drywall which he tried to hide with a cheap area rug nailed to the wall.
- Habitually urinated out of his bedroom window to the extent that he damaged the wood on the exterior wall.
- Made the bedrooms he sleeps in so filthy and uninhabitable that even he can't stand it and has to move into one of the other bedrooms in the house.
- Left for a two week trip, leaving behind buckets of urine in his bedroom (right next to his half-empty bottles of Jack Daniels) ... during a heatwave, no less.
- Dropped off rent at one of our neighbor's house several times because he was so drunk that he couldn't remember which one is ours.

And those are just the highlights. Initiating eviction proceedings on him would be very difficult and costly with no certainty of success. The reason is that he has a head injury that he sustained when a group of teenagers tried to grab a 12-pack out of his hands as he was leaving a liquor store and he decided to fight back (BTW, the urine and squalor related damage started before this event and has only gotten worse). He refuses to accept help from local social services agencies even though they would cover the cost of house cleaning and provide him with other support services. There is no possible way that the security deposit will cover the damage that he has done to the house when he does finally move out. This is one of the realities of being a landlord in San Francisco.
posted by echolalia67 at 11:38 AM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


A city made up of a dwindling number of old-times, and slowly filling with feckless, trendy hipsters and "filthy-richters" (sic) without a soul.

If landlords want to get rid of hipsters, they can just hire some violent bikers to drive them out.
posted by homunculus at 12:18 PM on June 8, 2013


Maybe I'm missing something here, having only lived in the Bay Area for a summer, but why are there so many calls to force landlords to rent out apartments that they would prefer to leave vacant?

Let's say you had a car you bought to drive around on Sundays only. Should we force that person to let others use the car because he has an extra car that could theoretically be put to use? Perhaps some people upthread would prefer that the government purchase or, better yet, nationalize all property within the city limits of San Francisco and rent it out to whoever feels like living there.

If I have the cash to buy a place in an area like SF, then I feel like what I do with that property is none of anyone else's business. Sure, it drives rents up and creates a shortage, but that is the consequence of living in a free market system.
posted by reenum at 2:20 PM on June 8, 2013


Sure, it drives rents up and creates a shortage, but that is the consequence of living in a free market system.

There's a hidden lede in this story, and that's that a shortage of a) affordable rentals and b) anything resembling a life down in Silicon Valley, along with c) dot-coms willing to give free deluxe shuttles to their employees living in the City, has conspired to affect vacancy and rent levels in San Francisco.
posted by dhartung at 4:00 PM on June 8, 2013


I rented in SF for about a dozen years and looked at buying a building as a Tenancy In Common with a group of friends (basically a jointly-owned condo building). There are a few wrinkles in SF and CA law that make the whole situation a little more complicated:

- Rent Control. Most apartments in SF are covered by rent control. This means that a tenant who's been living in an apartment for a long time is probably paying *well* under market rate for the apartment. My last apartment's rent probably jumped 50-100% when I gave up the lease after 9 years. Because the law realizes that this creates an incentive to get rid of long-term tenants, there are a lot of extra protections for those tenants.

- Month-to-month leases. Most leases in SF start as annual leases, but then automatically become month-to-month leases after the initial lease term expires. This means that the landlord doesn't have the option of simply declining to renew the lease of a troublesome tenant.

- The landlord move-in eviction only covers a single unit, so if you buy a multi-unit building with tenants in most of the units, you can't immediately empty the building. That type of eviction is intended to only be used when a unit is being essentially permanently removed from the rental stock, and it creates a number of limitations on what can be done with the property afterwards. You can't rent out that unit for several years, nor can you convert the building to condos, and the building is more difficult to sell because the same restrictions would apply for the new buyer.

- Protected tenants. There are a number of classes of tenants who are protected by law (disabled, elderly, &c), and who it is very difficult to evict, even with cause, even if the owner is moving in to the unit.

I would probably still live in SF if my group had been able to find a building to buy as a TIC. However, we didn't want to evict, and there were very few buildings in our price range that were big enough for our whole group and also empty. We eventually gave up and went our separate ways.

Even though it was a factor that contributed to me leaving the city eventually, I think that the SF tenant protections are, on balance, a good thing. The city has a pretty strong boom/bust cycle, and not letting everyone be priced out during the booms is pretty important to maintaining the civic fabric.
posted by aneel at 12:30 PM on June 9, 2013


Douchebags Like You Are Ruining San Francisco
posted by homunculus at 3:21 PM on June 12, 2013


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