The purpose of the San Francisco Tenants Union is to promote the preservation and expansion of the rights of tenants and the supply of affordable housing.
San Francisco has long held the reputation of being a difficult city in which to secure safe and affordable housing. Nationally, the astronomical costs of rent rival those only of Manhattan; the numbers of homeless on our streets climb steadily; higher-income newcomers have displaced untold numbers of low income and minority residents, precipitating the erosion of communities that have existed for generations. For more than 40 years, the city’s renters have turned to the San Francisco Tenants Union, a mostly volunteer-run organization, for advice on how to secure and maintain habitable and affordable housing. Through drop-in counseling services and the distribution of the Tenants Rights Handbook, the SFTU has educated thousands of San Francisco renters on their rights under local, state and federal law, and empowered residents to assert those rights in an informed and dignified manner.
San Francisco Tenants Union is also the only tenant rights advocacy organization for San Francisco renters which can endorse or withhold endorsements for politicians who pass laws that affect tenants. Legislation is the most powerful tool to advocate for tenants, and as a 501(c)(4), the SFTU is not restricted in advocating for or against legislators. The SFTU organizes tenants to pressure the politicians on legislation.
The beginnings of the Tenants Union was in 1971, when a small group of San Francisco State University students banded together to form the Tenant Action Group. Initially motivated by stymied attempts to effect improvements within their own housing, these early pioneers sought to build a broader network of community members who shared their concerns and from this network came the seeds of the tenants rights movement in San Francisco.
In its early years the organization used the Haight Ashbury Switchboard as the administrative home base while the real work was undertaken directly within the community. Volunteers counseled tenants on street corners and assisted in organizing campaigns among neighbors with shared housing concerns. Though its location and name have long since changed, the SFTU has adhered closely to its original model of organizing and counseling as the two primary means of achieving greater economic and political equity for tenants. These two activities complement each other by both helping tenants to address their own individual concerns while simultaneously linking those concerns to those of other tenants City-wide and to the structure of political power weighted toward the land-owning class. To this end, counseling and education are viewed as both a technique for addressing individual concerns and a means of organizing a tenant constituency motivated to pursue broader neighborhood and city-wide aims for renters. The Tenants Rights Handbook embodies both of these activities by providing the most comprehensive, accurate treatment of tenants rights in San Francisco, while simultaneously clarifying the links with the broader political structure.
For more information about the San Francisco Tenants Union, visit SFTU in the News.
Since the 1970s, the Tenants Union, in conjunction with other tenant groups, has helped design and advocate for legislation that restricts unjust rent increases and evictions. Notable victories have included:
- 1979: The passage of the Rent Control Ordinance which restricts evictions and rent increases.
- 1982: Elimination of a section in the Rent Ordinance which required that tenants actively object to unlawful rent increases for such increases to be considered illegal.
- 1992: Proposition H which reduced the yearly rent increase for tenants protected by rent control in half.
- 1994: Proposition I which extended the protections of the Rent Ordinance to tenants residing in buildings consisting of 2-4 units.
- 1998: Proposition G which limited owner move-in evictions.
- 2000 Proposition H which limited landlords’ ability to pass on the costs of capital improvements to their tenants.
- 2002: Defeated Proposition R to repeal rent control.
- 2002: Defeated Proposition R which, had it passed, would have drastically boosted the number of condominium conversions in the city, thereby eliminating vast portions of rental stock.
- 2005: Provided relocation payments for tenants evicted by the Ellis Act.
- 2006: Limited condominium conversions again.
- 2006: Proposition H provided or increased relocation payments for tenants evicted for certain no-fault causes.
- 2008: Defeated Proposition 98 which would have repealed rent control.
- 2013: Limited condominium conversions again.
- 2014: Regulated tenant buyout agreements with legislation sponsored by Supervisor David Campos.
- 2015: Drafted and successfully advocated for protection from low-fault evictions, restrictions on rent after no-fault evictions, and the right to add roommates within the Housing Code limits with legislation sponsored by Supervisor Jane Kim. Campaigned for and endorsed Aaron Peskin allowing us to regain a progressive majority in the San Francisco Supervisors.
- 2016: Advocated for legislation that passed the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously to enforce penalties to reduce the illegal postings of Airbnb which have removed much affordable housing from the market. Influenced incumbent politicians to advocate for tenants including pressuring Airbnb to to follow the law to register hosts.
- 2017: After the San Francisco Tenants Union and allies worked for years for legislation to rein in the illegal business practices of Airbnb which also removes affordable housing, the City Attorney reached a settlement with Airbnb which will greatly reduce the illegal removal of affordable housing.
The SF Tenants Union is supported by your memberships and donations. If you find information on this web site useful, or if you want to support our work, please join or donate. Members get even more information via our Tenants Rights Handbook plus access to phone counseling.
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