San Francisco tenant facing 400 percent rent increase

Monday, March 16, 2015
San Francisco tenant facing 400 percent rent increase
A woman living in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood is facing a 400 percent rent increase, so 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney is investigating to see if she has any legal rights.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A San Francisco tenant is facing a 400-percent rent increase, so 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney investigated to see if she has any legal rights or if this is just a loophole in the law.

Debra Follingstad of San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood is suddenly scheduled for a rent increase from her current rent of $2,145 per month to $8,900 a month.

Tenant advocates say they can't remember a rent increase this high.

Follingstad has been so depressed she began packing her belongings this weekend in preparation of moving out. She has lived in the apartment for the past 10 years. She was served papers on March 2 and the 400-percent rent hike is scheduled to take place on May 5.

VIDEO: Legality of Bernal Heights resident's staggering rent increase questioned

"There are no chances of coming up with that money. I can't even wrap my head around it," Follingstad said.

On top of that, her security deposit is scheduled to increase to $12,500.

In a desperate move, Follingstad put out a plea on Facebook for a new place to live. She also posted the notice from her landlord's attorney about the increase. It's gone viral and has been shared on Facebook, it has been tweeted, and thoroughly discussed on Reddit.

7 On Your Side talked to housing advocates at both Tenants Together and the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.

"I thought it was outrageous and unfortunately common. Although 400 percent is a shocker," executive director of Tenants Together Dean Preston said.

Follingstad says until very recently a tenant was living downstairs in an in-law apartment.

7 On Your Side also contacted the San Francisco Rent Board which heard about this also on social media. They said if it's true, the downstairs was also rented out and then the home would also fall under city rent control laws.

The San Francisco Rent Board urged Follingstad to file a complaint with them and request a hearing.

The Tobener Law Center recently won a lawsuit against the Lama family which also owns the house where Follingstad lives. That case also involved a huge rent hike.

"This is an area where landlord can get away with doing this kind of activity. It's only the most blatant examples where it draws attention and leads to a lawsuit," Luke Vanderdrift from the Tobener Law Center said.

The law center is now in talks with Follingstad.

Follingstad was pleased to hear about all of her rights and all the support she's been getting. "I'm very, very, very overwhelmed and I'm so thankful for the community support that I was given," Follingstad said.

Click here to check out all of Michael Finney's reports.

ABC7 News reporter Janet O contributed to this report.