How to Deal with Unlawful Rent Increases

No one wants to pay more than they have to for their rent. However, it’s an entirely different situation if you are being forced to pay more than what is legally allowed. Sometimes landlords impose unlawful rent increases on tenants who are unaware of their rights when it comes to their rent.

Rent Increases Authorized by the Rent Ordinance

If you live in a rental unit San Francisco, Oakland, or another Bay Area city that is covered under a rent ordinance, then your landlord can only raise your rent by a certain amount, within a specific time period. If the landlord does increase your rent in violation of this, then you may have grounds to challenge the increase or to sue them for their illegal action.

How Are Rent Increase Amounts Determined?

Landlords have a right to raise a tenant’s rent but how much and when depends on several factors. The amount of rent increase a landlord is permitted to make will depend on these primary factors:

  1. Whether your home is subject to rent control;
  2. Whether your landlord has applied an annual rent increase pursuant to rates allowed by the Rent Board (or state law);
  3. Whether the last “original occupant” still lives in the unit; or,
  4. Whether your apartment is still your “principal place of occupancy.”

Annual Allowable Rent Increases

For the time between March 1, 2021 through February 28, 2022, the allowable annual increase amount in San Francisco is 0.7%. This annual rent increase made by the Rent Board only applies to base rent. If part of your monthly payment is attributable to another payment, besides the base rent, (such as a “pass through charge, including water bonds, tax bonds, or improvement costs), that amount shouldn’t be impacted by the 0.7% increase. To find the increase, multiply by .007. For instance, if your base rent is $1,500.00, then it’s $1,500.00 x .007 = $10.50. Add $10.50 to $1,500.00 for your new base rent of $1,510.50.

It’s acceptable for your landlord to impose “banked” rent increases that haven’t been previously imposed. Additionally, the Covid-related rent freeze that was passed on April 21, 2020 has now expired.

It is illegal for your landlord to raise your rent beyond the annual allowable amount if you live in a rent controlled unit unless there is some other applicable exception.

Emergency Situations

If you have to temporarily move out of your place due to a flood, fire, or other natural disaster, you’re allowed to move back into your unit after the completion of repairs at the same rent you paid prior, plus any increases permissible by the rent board (such as the standard annual rent increase). If your landlord slams you with a rent hike upon your return, it’s probably not permitted; you could have an action against them. However, this isn’t applicable to tenants in non-rent controlled units.

Rent Increase Notice Requirements

Even if your tenancy is not covered by a local rent ordinance there are state laws that require your landlord to provide you with notice before a rent increase becomes enforceable. For instance, your landlord must give you at least 30 days written notice of a rent increase for rent increases that are less than 10%. The law requires that an owner must give tenants 60 days notice in writing for an increase in the tenants’ rent that is more than 10%.

Costa Hawkins and 1.21 Petition Rent Increases

The only time landlords can raise a rent-controlled tenant’s rent to market rate is pursuant to Costa Hawkins (a state law) or Rent Ordinance Rules and Regulations Section 1.21. Rent control is pegged to a tenant actually living in their apartment. If you move out or if you are a subtenant and the master tenant moves out a landlord may be entitled to raise the rent pursuant to Costa Hawkins. If you stop living in your rental as your primary home (say you buy elsewhere), your landlord can also attempt to raise your rent.

Sometimes landlords attempt this even when it doesn’t apply. In those circumstances it is important to act quickly to secure legal assistance so you can challenge the increase.

Discuss Unlawful Rent Increases with an Attorney

If your landlord illegally raises your rent, then you’re entitled to get that money back. They can return to your money in a settlement, or you may have to seek it back through litigation. Either way, you may need legal help reclaiming what’s rightfully yours. Get guidance from a legal professional like a Wolford Wayne tenants’ rights attorney who has the skill and experience to be your advocate and help you recover damages. Contact us right away to explore your potential claim.