Updated on

Is There Rent Control in San Francisco?

Any apartment building occupied before 1979 in San Francisco is covered by rent control laws that cap annual rent increases at about two percent.

Anyone who has ever looked for an apartment in San Francisco knows that the city has some of the highest rents in the country. Although it may seem like a small consolation, San Francisco also has some of the tightest rent-control ordinances in the country. California is also the second state in the U.S. to implement statewide rent control—so tenants are shielded from rent increases by two sets of laws.

Which apartments in San Francisco are rent-controlled?

For rent control laws to apply, the building must have a certificate of occupancy of June 13th, 1979 or earlier. Since most apartments in San Francisco tend to be older, the vast majority are covered by the rent control ordinance. You can search the Assessor's Database to determine the age of a particular building, which will give you a rough idea of when the certificate of occupancy was filed. Most condos and single-family homes aren't covered, although there are some exceptions.

In addition, the city's rent control measures only apply to leases that existing tenants are renewing. In other words, if you're starting a new lease, the landlord can charge you whatever they like. The unit is only subject to rent control after your first lease term is over.

How much can rent go up each year in a rent-controlled unit?

Year-to-year rent increases are tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is a measure of inflation determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In San Francisco, your rent cannot increase by a larger percentage than the the CPI, with a cap of 7%. The annual rent increase is announced each year by the San Francisco Rent Board and has hovered around 2% for the last five years:2

  • 2020: 1.8%
  • 2019: 2.6%
  • 2018: 1.6%
  • 2017: 2.2%
  • 2016: 1.6%

Can rent ever go up by more than that?

Sometimes, yes. There are three reasons a landlord could raise the rent by a higher percentage than set by the Rent Board:

  1. The landlord has made major improvements to the property, like a new roof or solar panels
  2. Operating costs for the building have increased
  3. Utilities have increased substantially in cost

How can I benefit from rent control if I'm new to the city?

When you first move into a rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco, the rent you'll be asked to pay will be the market rate (in other words, very expensive). You'll only benefit from the rent control ordinance when the lease is up for renewal.

If, on the other hand, you find someone who's been living in a rent-controlled apartment for a few years and is willing to sublet to you, then you could save. Search on Caretaker for rent-stabilized sublets in San Francisco.

[1] "Allowable Annual Rent Increases," San Francisco Rent Board (Nov. 21, 2021)

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.