San Francisco rents were a different story in 2003 when teenager Brian Govender moved into an Alamo Square apartment with his parents, Parmanathan and Marilyn. The initial rent for an apartment in the nine-unit property on Fell Street: $1,495 per month, which was fairly typical after the fallout from the dot.com bust of the late ‘90’s. Because the building was constructed prior to June 13th of 1979, rent control was now in place for the Govenders.
Brian’s folk left their longtime rental in 2012, but the now 23-year-old decided to stay on in the home and neighborhood in which he had grown up.
Mosser Companies, the owner of the building, had a different idea.
They suggested that Brian should be deemed a new tenant, with a rent increase from $1,681.75 to a whopping $3,295. The apartment is nearby increasingly popular Divisadero Street, where pricey bars and restaurants, such as Nopa, are packed nightly. A short trip eastward is Hayes Valley, an increasingly trendy neighborhood for the city’s high-earning newcomers.
Brian and his parents decided to fight. They filed a petition with the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, asserting that the monthy increase violated the city’s rent control ordinance. The claim was that even though Brian was not a signatory on the original 2003 lease–since he was just 13 years of age at that time–he should still be deemed an original occupant and thereby be entitled to continued rent control.
The board agreed and deemed the rent increase to be unlawful, stating:
Brian Govender “is an original occupant who took possession of the unit pursuant to the original rental agreement with the owner and he continues to permanently reside in the unit.”
Mosser Companies also decided to fight back, filing a petition for a writ of administrative mandate, challenging the board’s decision. The trial court denied the petition, concurring with the board’s reasoning that Brian was an original occupant entitled to protection under the ordinance. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that Brian was properly found to be one of the apartment’s original occupants.
“The current law does not permit vacancy decontrol until all lawful occupants residing in a dwelling at the start of the tenancy vacate the premises.”
In San Francisco’s increasingly tight housing market, Brian Govender is a symbol of how the little guy can win sometimes.