As I look back on the last year, my first as SFAA president, I must say that this role has been more fulfilling than I had anticipated. I learned a lot about the legislative and political process on both the local and state level, and I’m looking forward to the challenges that will come in the new year. Our organization is known for being active and strong, and that strength is derived from the staff, the board of directors and, most of all, you, the membership.
In general, we’ve had a pretty good year and I think everyone would agree that the rental market couldn’t be much better—rents are back or nearly back to 2001 levels. Asset valuations have been trending slightly upward for the last 18 months and, with interest rates as low as they are, this may be the best time to leverage and acquire income property.
Over the course of the year, there have been significant legislative achievements for the rental housing industry, despite it being a relatively quiet year overall. In February, SFAA won the appeal of the Proposition M decision, Larson vs. CCSF, also known as the landlord anti-harassment legislation. The original legislation would have severely precluded any dialogue between landlords and tenants, and it even created a scenario in which almost any action by a landlord could have been legally construed as harassment.
Moreover, it awarded attorneys’ fees to tenants, and only to tenants, in the event of an eviction that was settled or dismissed. Winning the appeal was a huge success for the industry and it was made possible, in part, by you through your contributions to our legal fund. The strength of our legal fund enables our organization to pose challenges to legislation that we feel takes away our property or precludes us from operating our rental property in an effective manner. Maintaining the legal fund with contributions whenever possible is something property owners big and small can do to help retain their rights and fight off challenges through the legal process.
Together with our industry partners, we are in a position to pool our financial resources when the need arises to challenge and ultimately defeat egregious legislation that comes out of the system. The financial strength of our legal fund acts not only as a resource to overturn unfair legislation, but also has been effective as a future deterrent to the introduction of potentially unlawful legislation that may negatively affect the industry. There may be a time in the coming year when we ask our members for an additional contribution to the legal fund. It may sound like a special assessment, but those requests have always been well received and those appeals for additional contributions are made judiciously in times of greater need.
Also on the legislative front this past year, the Good Samaritan legislation sponsored by District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener passed unanimously at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In the event of an emergency, this legislation allows building owners to provide temporary replacement housing at the displaced tenant’s reduced rent-controlled rate, but also gives the landlord the right to go back to the market rate a year later.
SFAA Director Janan New was involved with Supervisor Wiener in drafting this legislation. Laws like this are a great example of SFAA reaching out and creating an opportunity for landlords to do something for people in need, while also trying to take away disincentives and motivate property owners to come forward and offer replacement housing in the event of emergency. In the last year, there were a number of apartment building fires where displaced tenants benefitted from the availability of temporary housing, and SFAA will continue forward with systematizing an emergency response program in the new year.
We also survived another election cycle in November and faired pretty well with the candidates and measures that we supported. SFAA has good standing relationships with Mayor Ed Lee and District Attorney George Gascón, and feels like these relationships will lend themselves to a constructive period with city government and agencies.
I would like to also extend a sincere thank you to everyone who made financial contributions to our endorsed candidates and to those who took the time to get involved with their campaigns. Every bit of help made a difference, and many of our members participated by simply putting signs in their windows or exteriors of their buildings. No matter if it was through financial support, volunteering or by offering window space in apartment buildings citywide, the contributions SFAA members made were significant and instrumental in furthering the results we pursued as an organization and industry.
As you know, positive results don’t just happen; it takes people getting involved one way or another. Our effectiveness as an organization is based in large part on the participation of our membership, and as we move forward into a new year I urge you to maintain the level of participation you have shown in the past and that SFAA members are renowned for.
The new year will surely have its own challenges for the industry—some new ones and possibly some old ones with new packaging. But nonetheless, be confident that the board and staff at SFAA will be out in front of it, working to protect your interests.
Robert Link is president of SFAA’s Board of Directors and co-owner of S&L Realty. He can be reached at 415-386-3111.