Everyone living on campus including staff, faculty and students will receive a 5 percent rent increase with the signing of their next rental contract.
It’s the first chunk of a maximum 30 percent rent hike set to build up during six years of incremental increases through 2023. The increases are necessary to keep up with the escalating costs of operating and maintaining SF State’s housing units across campus, according to Jeny Patino, executive director of Housing, Dining & Conference Services at SF State.
“We’re maintaining the property,” Patino said. “Making sure there’s no leaky windows, [new] paint, light safety measures — some of the aesthetic stuff.”
The confirmation comes as a sea of flyers lay plastered across campus alerting the campus community to the imminent rent hike. The flyer links to an online petition addressed to President Leslie E. Wong holding SF State responsible for misleading tenants into believing they were covered under San Francisco’s Rent Control Ordinance.
On one hand, SF State officials say the University has been transparent with its tenants about the planned rent increases. In contrast, student and tenants rights’ advocates in communication with staff and faculty tenants contend SF State has been secretive about the increases.
According to the petition, the only disclosure tenants received since SF State purchased University Park North (UPN) and University Park South (UPS) in the early 2000’s was an “obscure legalistic statement inserted in more recent contracts.”
Patino says there is no protection under city law for tenants living on campus; SF State is state property and not under the jurisdiction of the City and County of San Francisco. The disclosure is written in bold font in current contracts, and has not been hidden in past communications, she said.
“We’re not governed by [the San Francisco Rent Board],” Patino said. “Nor are we obligated to implement any of their recommendations, so with the 5 percent increase it doesn’t fall under the city’s regulated rent increase.”
Under city law, San Francisco tenants living in a multiple-unit building built before June 1979 are protected under rent control. The city’s rent board sets a maximum annual rent increase for such tenants, which is currently at 2.2 percent, or up to 10 percent if the landlord petitions the board. Patino claims that all of SF State’s property has an exemption from the rent board, which exempts the University from following the city’s rent ordinance.
The rent hikes should come as no surprise to staff, faculty and students, Patino says, SF State mailed all of its’ tenants a letter alerting them to the upcoming 5 percent increase.
But for one resident advisor at UPN, it was the petition, not SF State, that informed him of the rent hikes.
“As far as I know, as an RA, nobody’s been notified of their rents being increased, [the flyer] is all I really know about it,” said Rodrigo Polidano, a junior electrical engineering major and first year resident advisor.
And Polidano isn’t alone. Other students in positions of power within SF State’s on-campus housing world were also caught off guard as the flyers started popping up around campus.
Hope Williams is a junior political science major and a student volunteer at the Associated Students’ Legal Resource Center. After seeing the flyer, Williams and her fellow Legal Resource Center volunteers said it was their first time hearing about the rent hikes.
“Absolutely, the Legal Resource Center was not aware of what is happening currently with on-campus housing,” she said. “However, if anyone has a question … our on-staff attorney only costs 10 dollars for a consultation and she specializes with landlord, tenant law.”
Joy Lee, a community organizer with the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, has been following the issue since September, which is when she says faculty and staff began receiving 30-day notices of looming rent increases. Since the initial reports, more residents have received notices. Lee says the online petition is the tenants’ way of sparking up a dialogue with campus administration — a line of communication, they say, doesn’t exist right now
Only those employed by SF State have received mailed notices, Lee said. In response, the petition was drawn up by University staff and faculty fearful of being priced out of their homes, and the city in general. There’s also a unique relationship at play here, causing university staff to be extra careful.
“It’s kind of an awkward situation,” Lee said. “Their landlord and their employer is the same person basically, so a lot of them are scared of potential retaliation.”
Some residents, known as legacy tenants, lived in UPN and UPS prior to SF State’s purchase more than a decade ago. This small group includes many residents not employed by SF State. According to Patino, this group is also not protected under the city’s rent control law.
HRC is in the process of consulting with legal experts and Lee says a state-level legal battle is possible.
Until then, the online petition lists Nov. 15 as the day tenants hope to hear back from campus administration.
The website College Factual describes the price of SF State’s on-campus housing as “far more expensive” than the national average. Their data shows that the price has grown 2.9 percent each year for the past five years with prices expected to keep on rising.
And that’s just on-campus. Off-campus housing, also known as renting a roof in San Francisco, is in a city known for being the most expensive place to rent in the United States; more expensive than even New York City. According to the national rent report released by Zumper.com in September 2017, San Francisco reigns supreme as the most expensive city to live in the United States with one-bedroom units renting for $3,390 and two-bedrooms at $4,560.
United Kingdom-based Nested.com compiled a global rental affordability index earlier this year, finding that the city by the bay is the most expensive city to call home in the world, with New York City second and Hong Kong third. Nested lists the average monthly rental price in San Francisco for a single person at $2,077.
According to the petition, rents on campus have increased from $1,400 in 2005 for a two-bedroom unit, to $3,500 in 2016. At $3,500, residents pay $42,000 annually for their townhouse or apartment units, a price already much cheaper than many similar units close to San Francisco. The petition claims current rents are already more than half of the after-tax salary for a vast majority of faculty and staff, and raising rents even more may push many of them away from working at SF State.
“Some families will be forced to move far away from the city and forgo the benefits of living in San Francisco,” reads the petition. “For many, it makes continued employment at SF State an option with an increasingly unfavorable cost-benefit balance.”