May 6, 2014 -- How tight is San Francisco’s housing market? So tight that the landlord of a rent-controlled apartment building at 312 Fillmore Street has sent a memo to his existing tenants, telling them they must show they have an annual income of at least $100,000 and a FICO credit score of at least 725.
Or else...what? The memo (which describes itself as “informational”) doesn't say.
When ABC News phoned landlord Robert Shelton to ask, he hung up. When an ABC News reporter knocked on his door, Shelton slammed it in her face.
Local housing and tenants’ rights experts tell ABC News they are in no doubt what such memos are meant to accomplish: They’re supposed to scare the heck out of tenants, on the chance that ones unaware of their rights will vacate.
Landlords want old tenants out so that they charge new ones higher rent, explains Delene Wolf, executive director of the San Francisco Rent Board. She tells ABC News she has specialized in local rent control issues for 30 years. But, she says, “I have never seen rents like this--not even during the dotcom boom. A teeny 1-bedroom can go for $4,000 a month.” The bidding-up of rents she calls a frenzy. The market, she says, "is amazing--but not in a good way.”
Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants’ Union, tells ABC News the vacancy rate in the city is only about 2 percent now. “Anything under 4 percent is considered a crisis." When an apartment opens up, it’s not uncommon for 50 to 75 people to show up for the open house, he says, and those aspiring renters bid against one another. The driving engine of the bidding, he says, are the high salaries paid to tech industry workers.
The only way for landlords to get a market rate, says Wolf, is for them to offer either a brand new apartment or one newly vacated. There are, she says, 16 legal ways for a landlord to get a tenant out; but re-screening for income is not one of them.
Once a tenant has moved in, says Gullicksen, it's illegal for the landlord to impose a minimum income or otherwise attempt to re-qualify him or her.
Evelyn Rios is a tenant in Robert Shelton’s building, who happens to work for ABC television station KGO. She’s lived at 312 Fillmore since 2002, she says, and describes the five-story building as “not super-fancy" and probably built in the 1920s.
She received Shelton’s memo, which had been slipped under her door. It’s only the latest, she says, in a long string of memos the building’s tenants have received from him over her years, addressing all sorts of issues including changing locks, getting keys, and adding security cameras.
This latest one, like the others, she calls poorly worded and confusing. Is it meant to apply to applicants or to existing tenants or to both? She says it’s hard to tell. Its effect, she says, whether intentional or not, has been to intimidate the building's older residents.