Tenants feeling the housing squeeze as more units added

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 is dedicating more time and resources to the issues that impact your quality of life, and help Build a Better Bay Area. That includes the housing crisis. One solution is creating more units in existing rent-controlled buildings, but some say the additional housing is putting a squeeze on tenants already living there.

Constructing the additional units usually means taking away building amenities like laundry, storage or parking sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently, which is why some tenants are feeling squeezed.

Tenant Maddy Cullinane says she hears construction in her building through the walls.

"The walls are so thin you can hear anything and everything," said Cullinane.

She moved in about a year ago.

"I did not know it was going to be this loud, this intense," she told ABC7 News.

Cullinane's landlord is converting the building's laundry room into a new studio apartment. The city calls these secondary units "accessory dwelling units" or ADUs. But it's not just this noise that's creating frustration. Tenants including Cullinane often lose access to their parking spots during ADU construction.

Last August, Mayor London Breed issued an executive directive accelerating the creation of ADUs by addressing the backlog of permit applications. Landlords can build these additional units at the same time they're completing seismic upgrades. ADUs in rent-controlled buildings must be rent controlled.

"This is one of the few ways that we can have more rent-controlled units in the market in San Francisco," said Mayor Breed.

The San Francisco Planning Department says nearly 800 ADUs now have the approval to proceed with construction, but some wonder if the permits have been fast-tracked at the expense of those already living in residential buildings.

"We want to make sure that the existing tenant's rights aren't trampled on," said Jennifer Fieber of the San Francisco Tenants Union.

"We've come up with this term called renovictions," explained Fieber.

"Taking away a part of your lease interest like your parking spot or your laundry room is considered to be an eviction, even though you might still be living in your one bedroom, that is under chapter 37 an eviction," said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

If temporary, tenants are entitled to a rent reduction. In cases where parking is permanently removed, some landlords are paying tenants for their parking spaces.

According to the Planning Department, landlords must notify tenants prior to ADU construction if that construction will take away their laundry room, storage units or parking spaces, even temporarily.

Even when landlords do notify their tenants, the response is not always favorable.

A group of Inner Sunset tenants recently took their discontent to the San Francisco Board of Appeals.

Landlord Kent Mar notified tenants he'd be converting parking spaces and storage units into five new ADUs.

"I've done everything by the book for this project. I've tried to do right by the tenants," said Mar.

But Susie Kameny, a teacher who's lived in the building since 2003, questions her landlord's motives.

"I think he has very little interest in serving the housing crisis, I think he has a lot of interest in having five more units and essentially 10 more people paying way more rent than the rest of us in the building," said Kameny.

The building's laundry room will be relocated and every tenant who has parking now will have parking again once construction is complete.

In the meantime, they will have to find street parking.

"A disruption in a few months is one thing, a disruption for over 12 months, 14, 18 months is a whole different story," said a tenant at the meeting.

Attorney Ryan Patterson represents the landlord.

"Either tenants have to park on the street for a short time or else people are living on the street because housing is not being built," said Patterson.

After hearing arguments from both sides the board denies the tenants' appeal. Construction will go on as planned.

"Although I understand and sympathize with the challenges some people may face in terms of the loss of storage or parking spaces, my priority is housing," said Mayor Breed.

"The line that we hear all the time is that we have a housing crisis, we have an affordability crisis," said Board of Appeals Commissioner Darryl Honda.

Rent controlled ADUs provide affordability, but building them brings growing pains, making some tenants wish they lived elsewhere.

"It kind of seems like they are cramming a bunch of people in this complex," said Cullinane.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin says he is crafting legislation to curb any potential abuses by landlords.

If you're a tenant in a building where additional units are being added, there are resources available to you for help including the San Francisco tenant's union and the San Francisco Rent Board.

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