Veritas Tenants Urge Costa-Hawkins Repeal

The San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition released a report attributing harassment, high pass-through rent increases, and poor living conditions to the rent control law.

Veritas tenants and housing rights activists rally against Costa Hawkins on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Ida Mojadad)

Supporters of the Costa-Hawkins repeal measure on November’s ballot are using San Francisco’s biggest landlord as an example of the rent control law’s negative impacts.

Outside a building owned by Veritas Investments on O’Farrell Street, tenants on Wednesday rallied against the state law that restricts rent control. The law, they say, makes poor living conditions, harassment of tenants, exorbitant rent increases and, ultimately, eviction possible and highly profitable for companies like Veritas.

“Veritas is in a long line of corporate landlords who has profited off the loopholes,” Molly Goldberg, of the Housing Rights Committee of SF, to the crowd. “Rent control is what keeps our community in the city.”

The Costa-Hawkins Act has defined rental laws for California since 1995, preventing rent control for single-family homes and structures built after it was passed, or 1979 for San Francisco — and local jurisdictions cannot pass laws that don’t adhere to this standard. Another provision lets building owners to dramatically increase rent after a previous tenant in a rent-controlled unit has left and pass on renovation costs to current tenants.

After 23 years of dwindling rent control units thanks to the law, a repeal of is on the November ballot as Proposition 10.

At the rally, the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition debuted its report “The Cost of Costa-Hawkins,” which Goldberg authored. It noted that that firms on Wall Street is a landlord to more than 15,000 California families, boosted by the cheap homes after the 2008 mortgage crisis, and that surveys by Tenants Together found that their renters have higher monthly housing costs than typical renters in their area.

A spokesperson for No on Prop. 10, Steven Maviglio, showed up at the rally and said a repeal would just make the state’s housing crisis worse and will “hurt the very people it falsely claims it will help.” The nonpartisan California Legislative and Analyst Office reported that because renters would be spending less, the value of rental housing and therefore property tax payments would decline, which could mean millions of dollars less in tax revenue each year. 

The report included several stories of tenants who were forced to move after rents doubled or tripled. In the case of San Francisco native Michael Kreamer, it meant an increase from $2,100 to $7,950 per month.

Tenants that do stay paint a bleak picture. In a Veritas tenant survey published in the report, none of the respondents agreed that Greentree, its parent company “welcomes my tenancy, and won’t try to force me out in order to charge a new tenant more rent.” Every respondent has also reported experience poor living conditions that included asbestos exposure, mold problems, vermin or bedbugs, poor plumbing or gas, inadequate plugs and uncollected trash.

Lenea Maibaum has lived at 634 Powell St., a Veritas building for almost two years and has come to dread opening her door to find notices of broken elevators, water shutoffs, and more construction. After she and her neighbors tested the water and found high lead levels late last year, she says the company stepped in to replace the pipes but construction is still going on. 

While she acknowledges the building is old and needs upgrades, she says “it needs to be done in a healthier, safer way and environment. How they’re doing it now is putting on a band-aid.”

Maibaum, a San Francisco native, has thought about leaving but is motivated to fight for her home and is encouraged by her neighbors, who have volunteered with HRCSF to knock on the doors of other Veritas tenants not aware of the big picture. Seeing buildings owned by Veritas, which are often marked by a sign reading “Rent SF” or “Retail SF” for its dozens of commercial spaces, also keeps her motivated.

“As a parent, as a tenant feeling all the abuses, I need to fight for this,” Fe Soledad, one of Maibaum’s neighbors, told the crowd. “I’m simply trying to be strong because it’s the only thing I can do.” 

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