In a recent hearing, the San Francisco rent board ruled unanimously in favor of a petition filed by the John F. Kennedy University Housing Advocacy Clinic (HAC) on behalf of their client, a San Francisco renter seeking to stand up for her rights. The ruling confirmed it was unreasonable for the client’s landlord, a major property management company, to prevent the client from selecting a new housemate based on the potential new housemate’s credit worthiness. The Rent Board agreed. The HAC’s win benefits not only their client but also many other tenants previously harmed by this policy.

The Case

Imagine you are a renter of 14 years at your current home and your housemate has recently vacated. You are in search of another responsible and trustworthy person to live with. You don’t have much time to find them because without a housemate you are faced with covering the full rent by yourself. You succeed in finding a new housemate only to discover that your landlord will not allow this person to move in without proof of income, even though, as the main tenant, you are the one that actually handles the rent. The landlord offers to reevaluate your income instead however, if you are in a situation like the HAC’s recent client, you have recently taken a pay cut to care for your sick parent. Suddenly, a housemate’s vacancy has put your entire housing situation at risk.

HAC’s Argument

Enter HAC. The HAC argued the illegality of refusing a one-to-one roommate replacement based on credit worthiness when the new housemate is not the one under obligation to pay the rent. The case went before the rent board where the management company continued to dig their heels into what they said was their standard operating procedure. They lost. The next step was arbitration before the administrative law judge at the SF rent board. Here, the HAC was again victorious but the management company continued to fight. The company appealed but once again the vote was unanimously in the HAC’s favor.

The Value

“It is satisfying to be able to represent, support, defend, and win on behalf of the tenant who is just one individual who stood up for her rights,” says T. Paige Bearce-Beery a student in the College of Law who just completed her second year and who has worked in the HAC for two semesters. “The opportunity to work on this case and with the HAC overall is really meaningful,” Bearce-Beery continues, “because it’s real, hands-on work touching real lives.”

Relentless, the management company can and will still continue to fight, however the rent board meanwhile has ruled that the client only has to pay half her rent until the case is fully settled. In response, the landlord acquiesced to her choice of a roommate. Go HAC!