Housing is expensive and hard to find in beautiful San Francisco. In today’s New York Times, one would-be housing provider explains why. Scott James writes:
[A]fter renting out a one-bedroom apartment in my home for several years, I will never do it again. San Francisco’s anti-landlord housing laws and political climate make it untenable….
[A] complex legal structure has been created to make evictions for just cause extraordinarily difficult.
At first many of these rules governed only apartment complexes and larger properties with many units. But in 1994 the city applied the regulations to homes if they included just one rental on the property. In other cities, including New York City, such small-time landlords have far more rights over their own homes.
As he goes on to describe his experience with the last tenant in his downstairs apartment—a story featuring a sledgehammer, a flooded apartment, and a plugged-in appliance in an overflowing sink—I was reminded of the 1990 movie Pacific Heights, not coincidentally set in San Francisco.
It’s a thriller that is almost a documentary on the horrors of landlord-tenant law—and that is confirmed by today’s story. A young couple buys a big house in San Francisco and rents an apartment to a young man. He never pays them, and they can’t get him out, and then things get really scary. The lawyer lectures the couple—and the audience—on how “of course you’re right, but you’ll never win.” When I saw it, I just knew this happened to someone—maybe the screenwriter or someone he knew. Sure enough, when Cato published William Tucker’s book Rent Control, Zoning, and Affordable Housing, and I asked Pacific Heights director John Schlesinger for a jacket blurb, he readily agreed to say, “If you thought Pacific Heights was fiction, you need to read this book”; and he told me that the screenwriter had a relative who had gone through a tenant nightmare.
Want to instantly create 10,600 rental units in San Francisco? Reform landlord-tenant law so that small landlords come back to the market. In the meantime, watch Pacific Heights.