Coronavirus Pandemic: Here's how SF residents can negotiate rent decrease during COVID-19 crisis

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In light of COVID-19, many Bay Area residents who have lost their jobs or taken a pay cut are struggling to pay rent, especially in San Francisco.

San Francisco is known for its sky-high rents. Add COVID-19 to the equation and some residents are feeling squeezed.

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"Oh my gosh, there were so many tears, let me tell you. I was a mess," said Alexa Lewis.

When the pandemic began, Lewis was living with four other women in the Richmond District. She still has her PR job.

"I feel really grateful," said Lewis.

But not all her roommates were as lucky. One took a large pay cut and had to move out. Another moved to a different state and a third moved into a studio on her own. This was all in the span of two and a half weeks, leaving Lewis and her one remaining roommate to split the rent previously split by five people.

"We know we can't get evicted right now because there's an eviction moratorium but we also don't want to live here for free, we don't want to squat. We want to pay rent. We want to pay what we can," said Lewis.

Unsure what to do, Lewis reached out the San Francisco Apartment Association.

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Like many in San Francisco, she lives in a rent-controlled building, which limits how much her rent can be increased.

However, there is no limit on the amount of rent a landlord may first charge a tenant in base rent when renting a vacant unit.

"Before it has been difficult for landlords or property managers to offer temporary rent reductions to their renters without permanently reducing their base rent," said Charley Goss, Government and Community Affairs Manager for the San Francisco Apartment Association.

The San Francisco Apartment Association is now encouraging its 3,500 members who own or manage approximately 70,000 rental units in San Francisco to offer temporary rent reductions where they can.

"I think what's different now is sort of the sense of urgency that the pandemic has brought and how unprecedented this sort of situation is," said Goss.

The Apartment Association is also encouraging landlords to allow tenants to break their leases early with no penalties.

Robert Collins, Executive Director with the San Francisco Rent Board, recommends tenants communicate their unique situation to their landlord, offer to pay what they can and get any agreement in writing.

"It's very helpful to have a specific delineated set of terms as to how much is the rent, how much was the rent, how much is the new rent, why is it being reduced and for how long," said Collins.

For those living in San Francisco rent controlled units, there is a freeze on rent increases between April 7 and June 23.

With the help of the Apartment Association, Lewis was able to reach an agreement with her building's property manager and owner.

"We were able to get reduced rent for May and June," said Lewis.

"Having the partial rent paid was better than probably having this place be empty for who knows how long to try to find five people to fill it," she continued.

She's already found two new roommates and is close to finding a third in time to pay their full base rent again in July.

"I can report that I have not cried in several weeks, so things are looking up," said Lewis.

"I'm just excited that we have it all figured out and I just feel very relieved," she continued.

By phone, her property manager told ABC7 News, "I like to work with my tenants."

The San Francisco Rent Board is operating their hotline remotely during COVID-10. It is 415-252-4631

You can find more information on their website.

You can also find more information from the San Francisco Apartment Association on their website.

You can also find more information on the San Francisco Tenants Union on their website.

You can also find more information on the Housing Rights Committee on their website.

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