Sixty-five homes in San Francisco have gone on rent strike for over eight months, refusing to pay rent due to various problems that the tenants claim have worsened their living circumstances. Tenants are banding together in this demonstration, a component of a national trend toward tenant organizing, in response to the growing trend of businesses purchasing units without providing enough maintenance. Like New York City, San Francisco has a disproportionately large percentage of renters, over two-thirds of all households.
A landmark legislation, Union at Home, was enacted by municipal authorities in 2022. It mandates landlords to engage in collective bargaining with residents and establishes a framework for renters to organize their organizations. Tenants who want to hold events in shared areas or have advocates speak to them about their rights are protected by law. Faster maintenance, lower utility prices, and translation of documents for non-English speaking renters were among the many demands made by 55 San Francisco building tenants who organized their organizations within a year. A majority of the groups have refrained from going on strike.
While other cities may have tenant groups, they lack the power that San Francisco renters have to ensure that their landlords deal honestly. Tenants in the Tenderloin area have started organizing due to the low rents that attract low-income immigrant families. Their neighborhood is one of the most run-down in the city, filled with dilapidated apartments close to outdoor drug markets and homeless camps.
The conflict brings to light a significant issue with San Francisco’s housing stock: low-income tenants’ limited housing alternatives, including ancient structures with rising maintenance costs. Tenant groups have launched a rent strike against the majority of the buildings owned by Veritas Investments, one of the biggest landlords in San Francisco. Veritas has been selling off portions of its massive portfolio and defaulting on loans since last year, and its city holdings have been dwindling.
In response to renters’ complaints, Veritas Investments invested millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades, including elevators and new plumbing, electrical, and heating systems. The number of tenants who have joined the strike is a small fraction of the thousands of apartments in the city that the firm manages.