apartment, Business, landlord, property, property management, real estate

San Francisco . . .

The New Yorker
SEPTEMBER 27, 2013


  • 129

The San Francisco Rent Board sits on the third floor of an ornate former Masonic Temple near the city’s opera house. While Faust makes a pact with the devil on the stage down the street, this building has been the scene of a pitched, real-life drama over the character of this prospering city, where tenants make up more than sixty per cent of residents, and enjoy unusually strong protections against rent increases, evictions, and landlord misconduct. When tenants and their landlords are at odds, it’s the rent board that mediates.

And so, on a recent afternoon, Joey Koomas—a young, smartly dressed, and polite rent-board counselor—found himself standing behind a wooden desk, fielding questions from a d.j. who was fighting an eviction from the rent-controlled apartment where he’d lived since the mid-nineties, looking for a creative tactic to stay put. The d.j.’s landlord had been evicting many of the building’s tenants, and wasn’t replacing them with new ones. “So I was thinking,” the middle-aged, loafer- and sweater-clad man said. Could he break in and take over one of the empty apartments?

“Could you break in?” Koomas repeated, his voice registering a note of alarm. “I don’t think so. That would be breaking and entering, right? I certainly can’t advise you to break in.” He paused. “Is that what you’re asking me?”

“What can you do?”

“I don’t think there’s anything you can do. He’s not compelled by any laws to rent out units.”

“With all these problems going on in San Francisco?”

By “problems,” the tenant was referring to a rent war. Thanks to a second dot-com boom—which has drifted north, to San Francisco, from Silicon Valley suburbs like Palo Alto—there are now fifty-five thousand technology jobs in this cramped city of fewer than nine hundred thousand residents. With so many high-salaried techies able to pay exorbitant rents, and outbidding one another to pay even more, San Francisco’s rents have led the country in increases—they rose nearly eight per cent in the second quarter from a year ago, according to MPF Research. The average rent for the second quarter was one thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars, according to Reis, up from one thousand nine hundred and twenty-one dollars a year earlier. Of course, only a certain well-heeled population can afford this. San Francisco public-health officials said last week that a tenant earning minimum wage would need to work more than eight full-time jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment downtown.

The resulting class conflict has been nothing short of operatic, with emboldened landlords, crying tenants, and a chorus of editorials and bullhorn-wielding activists outside eviction sites.

“We get these stories every time there’s an economic recovery: ‘My rents are going up’; ‘We can’t find enough space,’ ” Mayor Ed Lee said at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference earlier this month. “We’ve got to build more housing in the city in order to accommodate and make sure we protect many of the rent-controlled apartments that we have.”

The rent surge means that many of those left out of the dot-com windfall are holding on to their homes through the city’s strong rent- and eviction-control protections for buildings built before 1979—nearly eighty per cent of the rental stock. (This year, the allowable rent increase is 1.9 per cent.)

If landlords can get rid of their existing tenants, they can charge whatever rent they like to new tenants (although, from that point on, they are again locked into regulated increases). Not surprisingly, evictions from San Francisco’s rent-controlled apartments are at an eleven-year high. In properties protected by the ordinance, landlords can evict only for one of fifteen “just causes”—including if the owner wants to move into his own unit, or is getting out of the rental business altogether to sell his rental properties as condos.

While eviction lawsuits are filed in state court, the rent board handles landlords seeking to push out tenants by increasing the rent for those they allege are breaking the rent-control rules, or by making tenants’ lives so miserable that they will leave on their own. During one recent arbitration session at the board, a property manager alleged that two tenants were using their apartment as a law office—a commercial use, not eligible for rent control. This month, a flight attendant in a rent-controlled apartment petitioned for a decrease in rent because her landlord had failed to fix a leak in her bathroom ceiling, despite cutting a hole in it. During the hearing, her landlord, Martin Eng, called the tenant jealous and racist, and said he was being persecuted “like Trayvon Martin.” (He told me later, “You don’t complain when you’re paying such a low rent.”)

Outside the arbitration rooms, Koomas and the other counselors are something like the rent-law equivalent of Lucy in “Peanuts” cartoons, minus the five-cent tip jar: they advise more than nine hundred walk-ins a month on the byzantine rent ordinance.

Landlords, too, come with tales of woe. Recently, a small-time landlord named Patrick Regan sat down with his attorney in one of the board’s arbitration chambers to present evidence that a tenant in his six-unit building in upscale Noe Valley had moved to Hawaii with a female friend, and was subletting his six-hundred-and-fifty-five-dollar one-bedroom apartment, which was rent-controlled. The rent checks from the past year even had an address in Hawaii.

Regan, an amiable man, white-haired but hale, had earlier refused the tenant’s attempt to get a sixty-four-thousand-dollar buyout in exchange for leaving. Since then, with “every rent check I got from Hawaii, it was like him sticking it into me, like, ‘Screw you. I’m in Hawaii, having a good time,’ ” he told me. Since rent control applies only to a tenant’s primary residence, not a pied-à-terre, Regan served the tenant in July with a rent increase to the market rate of two thousand four hundred and fifty dollars.

Then there are tenants like the flustered, clean-cut Syrian immigrant who rushed up to Koomas rolling a suitcase with an SFO airport tag still looped around the handle. Minutes earlier, he had returned to his apartment from a short-term Army assignment to find his lock changed and a notice on his door: his rent, for a converted hotel bedroom without a bathroom or kitchen, in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, would increase by four hundred dollars, to one thousand and fifty dollars, on December 1st.

“Do they have the right to lock me out, my stuff inside?” the tenant wondered.

“No,” Koomas said. “Even if they believe that you don’t live there, it doesn’t give them the right to change your lock.”

The man pulled out his I.D.: “It’s my address!”

“I believe you,” Koomas said, “but I’m not the judge,” and handed him a petition to fill out to complain of an unlawful rent increase. To gain access to his room, though, the tenant would have to call the police for help in tracking down the building manager.

Koomas then turned his attention to a chef named Fabian Guerrero, who wore a Chicago White Sox hat and had the words “STAY GOLD” tattooed on his knuckles. Guerrero said the master tenant in his house was covertly overcharging three subtenants—Guerrero among them—so that the master tenant and his friend could live there rent-free. “What he does is lies. He’s a liar and a thief,” the chef told Koomas. Koomas said he’d coordinate a time for an arbitration.

Guerrero told me he’d attempted to move out, visiting a room advertised on Craisglist for six hundred dollars. But the space was so small, “it was like a prison.” Not that his current situation is any better. Walking outside, onto the street, Guerrero continued venting about his worsening relations with the master tenant and his apparently rent-free crony. “I can’t even cook in my own kitchen,” he said. ”I took everything—my cast-iron skillets, my French-press coffee maker, my whisks and ladles and everything. I don’t trust them, and I don’t like them. But I’m proving a point.”

Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty.











apartment, Business, landlord, property, property management, real estate

Back to Back Rentals

The term “Back to Back Rentals” refers to having a new tenant move in immediately after the existing tenant moves out.  This is a coveted procedure by any landlord because it ensures no vacancy loss.  If a tenant moves out August 31 and a new tenant isn’t placed until October 1, there is a month of rent lost forever.   Back to back’s are difficult for a number of reasons:

1) Showings must be done with the current tenant in the property.  If they are messy or uncooperative the showings can be difficult and they may turn off prospective tenants.

2) If the current tenant is moving out on bad terms or being evicted the showings can be outright nasty.

3) The new tenant is relying on the old tenant getting out in time and the landlord getting it ready.

4) If the existing tenant holds over – doesn’t move on time, it can really mess everyone up.  This happened to me when I got married.  The existing tenant was supposed to move in May.  We got married on June 2.  The existing tenant did not get out until the end of June because the house they were building wasn’t completed on time.  We were literally moving in (angry) as they were moving out.  This was NOT the way we wanted to started our marriage together!

5) The laws do not protect the landlord or the new tenant if the existing tenant doesn’t get out.

6) If there are surprise repairs and/or cleaning that needs done, the landlord is under a lot of pressure to get it done quickly.

This is a note that I received today.  The existing tenant gave written notice to move and now is trying to change it and stay. We have already rented it and the new tenant needs it.

The tenant from ******* Road was suppose to move out on the 30th because she was moving back to ****, her job was extended so she is not moving, but we have an application that is approved and has paid her security deposit.

I asked the new tenant if she needed to move on the 1st.  She said yes and I had to inform the existing tenant that they still need to vacate.  We’ll see what happens!

apartment, Business, landlord, property, property management, real estate

Porch Collapse

**Do your repairs.

Landlord received hundreds of violations before porch collapse

Posted on: 3:54 pm, September 20, 2013, by 


MILWAUKEE (WITI) — Tenants at 2405 W. National say problems at the building existed long before a fourth story balcony collapsed on Thursday, September 19th, causing minor injuries to a 42-year-old man.

“You gotta deal with these rodents. You got little roaches. You got bed bugs now, they came back,” said resident Montrale Veasy.

porch collapseThe Red Cross is now housing 33 people from the apartment complex in a shelter after they were not allowed to return home.

The building’s listed landlord, Elijah Mohammad Rashead, did not return a call from FOX6. But Danita Green, who has three grandchildren in the building, says she was able to get a hold of him.

“I talked to him today regarding how he’s going to help them and he said anyone that didn’t pay their rent, they’re not helping at all,” said Green. “He’s just taking these people’s money and letting them live in a shack and it’s not right.”

Records show the property has had about 40 violations in the last five years. In 2008, the owner was ordered to restore the porch support columns. It turns out the contractor working on the balcony at the time of the collapse did not have the proper permit.

“All these maintenance people aren’t really maintenance people. They’re just people he hires off the street,” said Veasy.

The city describes Rashead as an experienced landlord and Department of Neighborhood Services Commissioner Art Dahlberg says orders have been issued in the past which Rashead complied with.

Rashead owns dozens of properties in Milwaukee, however, which have acquired hundreds of violations.

“Ultimately it is the responsibility of the property owner to safely maintain a property, so in this case, we have a problem and we will get to the bottom of it,” said Dahlberg.

Tenants of the building still don’t know when, or if, they can return home.

property management, Uncategorized

Heat Calls

If you own rental properties in the northern portion of the country you will get calls from tenants about heat.  Here are the most standard lines:

“I have a baby and my house is cold.”

“My children are sick and my house is cold.”

“It’s beginning to get cold and I need my heat turned on.”

“My baby and me are both sick and my mother just came home from the hospital and my house is cold.”

I have these calls begin in August.  They continue every month through December.  

Two main points to consider:  “Cold” is a very subjective term.  What is cold to you may not be cold to me.  There are government guidelines to heat.  Make your tenant give you a real temperature reading.  85 degrees is not “legally” cold although I have had tenants swear that it is!

2nd- remember that your rental units are NOT your house.  Just because your new house is insulated and warm doesn’t mean that your old brick uninsulated house in the city isn’t.  Again, get a temperature reading from the tenant.  If they can’t get a decent thermometer, supply one for them.  It will save a lot of headaches.

Business, landlord, property, property management, real estate

Death of suburbs?

A somber look at suburbia’s future


Author Leigh Gallagher stresses she’s not a suburbs-basher, but forecasts tough times ahead for suburbia. (E+ photo / September 13, 2013)

Mary UmbergerOn Real Estate

September 13, 2013


Is the suburb you’re living in a future slum? Should you shove a for-sale sign into your front yard, pack your bags and light out for some lively urban neighborhood before it’s too late?

Leigh Gallagher doesn’t know the answer to those questions, but she certainly doesn’t have an optimistic vision of the future of America’s post-bubble bedroom communities. Gallagher, an assistant managing editor at Fortune magazine, believes there’s a passel of evidence pointing to a growing societal preference for cities over suburbs.

In her newly published book, “The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving,” she wrote that the financial crisis, demographic trends, and the end of our love affair with driving collectively point to hard times ahead for suburbia in general.

In an edited interview, she talked about pressures that are weighing on the traditional suburban American dream.

Q: Let’s start with the most obvious question. Why did you write this book, which maintains that, despite decades of generally vigorous suburban growth, numerous forces are converging to render our suburbs unnecessary, even undesirable?

A: I was looking around at all the ways our lives had been impacted by the financial crisis. I came across this vague outline of a big story, in the form of some of the data from the update of the 2010 census. It showed that for the first time in 100 years, the rate of growth in cities was faster than in their suburbs. I started wondering if our love affair with the suburbs might be peaking. I thought, this is a huge deal if this is even close to being true. And it was true beyond what I suspected. Every stone I turned over yielded some other, different kind of proof.

Q: So which demons are breathing down suburbia’s neck?

A: There’s a lot. To begin with, the nuclear family, which filled our suburban houses, is no longer the norm — marriage and birthrates are steadily declining, while the number of single-person households is growing rapidly. If the demand for good schools and family-friendly lifestyles has historically been the main selling point of suburban life, those things aren’t going to matter so much in the future.

Another thing is that Americans are just sick of driving. They’re sick of commuting. The number of miles driven per year is in decline. And the cost of gasoline has meant that homes on the suburban fringe are not such a bargain.

At the same time, cities, in general, are making a comeback, especially among young adults and even among families with children.

Q: Among the factors you write about in the book, which one is the biggest influence?

A: One of the things that’s the most potent of all of these factors is the demographic situation — the birthrate is falling, the marriage rate is falling, the nuclear family is rapidly becoming a minority household type in this country — 70 percent of households won’t have any children in them by 2025. When you look at those figures and the way our population is changing so dramatically, it hits home — we have built all these houses for a type of household that isn’t going to exist anymore.

Q: What happens to those miles and miles of suburban towns? Do they just vanish?

A: Some demographers and planners think some far suburbs are going to be the next slums, and there’s going to be a good argument for that. There are a lot of zombie subdivisions out there. A lot of people think they will fall apart because they were put up so quickly — they weren’t built to last 100 years.

Nonetheless, I think there’s always going to be a market for suburbia for a segment of the population. One group is probably going to stay put — the first soup-to-nuts, fully suburban generation will be staying put because they have deep roots. I think that inner-ring suburbs will do well, especially with young people. Older suburbs that were built before single-use (single-family home) zoning came, those will be in a much better position. The exurbs will not do well.

Q: I noticed in the book that you took pains in several places to reiterate that you’re not a suburb-basher. Why did you feel the need to state that?

A: I was anticipating getting attacked from all sides, getting tons and tons of hate mail. That hasn’t happened. I wasn’t coming at this from an activist perspective. I’m not a lobbyist or a new urbanist (a philosophy that promotes the development of smaller-scale, walkable neighborhoods built on traditional town planning methods): I’m a journalist.

It was important to me not to come across as a condo-dwelling, New Yorker elitist snob who thinks the suburbs should just burn. That’s not who I am. I was purely documenting a trend that’s happening. Good or bad, I think this is totally happening.


Twitter @maryumberger

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

apartment, Business, landlord, property, property management, real estate


I’m not a fireman or an insurance adjuster – just a lowly property manager – so don’t quote me on this.  I don’t like sprinklers in residential units.  I’m sure they are necessary in large buildings but they can really be a pain.  I’m not trying to put a price on safety but 1) they are very expensive to install, 2) they can be expensive to monitor and upkeep, 3) in single family houses the plumbing often runs through the attic and in the winter the pipes can freeze, 4) if they are installed in a single family house and the house is vacated in the winter the whole system can freeze up, 5) if there is a small fire, the sprinklers can cause more damage than the fire itself, 6) on a multiple floor building a broken sprinkler (or one set off by accident) will not only flood that apartment but the ones below causing a huge mess, 7) in small properties (single homes and small apartment buildings) many plumbers and service techs are not familiar with them and do not know how to service them or deal with them at all, and 8) many single family owners end up disconnecting them for all the reasons above.

I’m not anti-sprinklers.  I just think we need to approach them with caution in light residential units.


apartment, Business, landlord, property, property management, real estate


Leases have come a long way over the past few years.  In the past, they were hard to read, hard to understand, and hard to enforce.  Your state may or may not enforce a “Plain language” lease.  Even if it doesn’t, I encourage you to write a lease that is easy to understand by everyone.

There are many good leases available on line that are safe.  You can also take one of those and adapt them if you want something a little different.  If you are going to change it, make sure what you are writing is legal and enforceable.   Just because you write “Landlord can throw the tenant out of the house without notice” doesn’t mean that you can do it!  You still need to abide by your state’s and local legislation.

A couple notes on plain language: All information should be clear.  Use headings, short sentences, short paragraphs, and have everything in good order.  A good test: Let a child read it.  If they understand it then it is probably clear enough.  2nd, let a lawyer read it.

A good lease will help you enforce your rules and get a bad tenant out.  It will not help you avoid a bad tenant.