A Rent Board member with a connection to San Francisco’s largest landlord is poised to keep his voting power with approval from the Board of Supervisors.
After initial skepticism, the Rules Committee on Monday recommended approving David Wasserman to keep his seat on the Rent Board. This comes after tenant advocates scrutinized his law firm, Wasserman Stern, which shares the same name as an attorney who represents mega-landlord and frequent board visitor, Veritas Investments. The firms are separate in every sense, save for the name and roof they share, Wasserman told the supervisors.
“Daniel Stern and I are not law partners,” Wasserman said, referring to the attorney he shares an office with. “At no time have I ever participated in a Rent Board matter where Mr. Stern has acted as an attorney, period.”
Wasserman began serving as a voting landlord commissioner in November after joining as an alternate member in 2015. (The Rent Board has two landlords, two tenants, and one neutral party that vote and a backup set to step in when needed.)
Due to some unfiled paperwork, the Board of Supervisors is approving Wasserman’s appointment months later, rather than the usual 30 days after notice. Since he began voting, tenant advocates like Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and the San Francisco Tenants Union raised concerns over an inherent conflict of interest and insufficient recusals. Wasserman recused himself 10 times since becoming a voting commissioner — a large number considering 23 Rent Board recusals occurred in 2017 and 2018.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who chairs the Rules Committee, appeared to share the concern until Wasserman reiterated that he does not financially benefit from Veritas. His residence was also questioned, as everyone who serves on a San Francisco commission must live in the city. Residence is proved not just by physical presence but intent like vehicle and voter registration, Deputy City Attorney Jon Givner told supervisors.
Wasserman moved from his Mill Valley home to join the board but still owns the house and uses it to file for a homeowner exemption on his property tax bill, which tells the state that it’s his main residence. That’s exactly the type of conflicting proof of residence that costs tenants their rent-controlled homes, SFTU Executive Director Deepa Varma said.
“If this is not technically against the rules, it points to the argument that maybe we should revisit those rules,” Varma said. “How is he not gaining from having an association with the largest landlord in the city?”
Varma and other advocates indicated they would continue raising questions about Wasserman as they come up before the Rent Board. The Rules Committee’s recommendation sends the final approval to the full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.