My Love of San Francisco is a Little Foggy These Days. Is Yours?

After a particularly rough day of managing homeless people and break-ins on my clients’ properties (currently an almost daily occurance) and navigating complex San Francisco landlord-tenant issues, I penned a rant to my supervisor.

This isn’t the San Francisco I grew up loving. Is it yours? Read my rant here, then write your own supervisor.

Dear Hillary and Staff,

I have had the privilege of meeting many of you at different points during my tenure as Vice President of the Mission Bernal Merchants Association. 

I am a third-generation San Franciscan and take great pride in my city.   As the owner of a family-owned property management company that has been in business since 1952, a previous tenant and current homeowner and landlord, I am appalled by the state of the city.  I am sure you receive correspondence about these issues daily, yet I feel the need to share my thoughts.

I have seen the city go through cycles of disrepair and homeless crises before and was astonished how well Gavin Newson’s “Care Not Cash” campaign cleaned up the streets in the early 2000’s.  I am not sure how that programmed faired from a budgetary standpoint, but from that of a citizen observer, it worked. 

We are once again seeing that level of homelessness and disrepair in our city.  As a property manager, I deal with tenants everyday who call me asking to clean feces off their front porches, ask me to remove people sleeping in their alleys (sometimes in locked areas) and am having to constantly implement new security measures in order to prevent criminals from stealing tenants’ bikes and package deliveries.  The brazenness with which these crimes happen can only be attributed the lack of penance these criminals face.   

I have been in this business for 19 years and have never received the calls I am now receiving about these issues until about four years ago. 

Landlords are not seen as a priority in this city.  I understand that.  They are seen as the “haves” amongst a majority of “have-nots.”  However, the clients I represent are not wealthy corporations. They are single people who invested their life’s savings in a building they thought might generate some income in their retirement years.  They are couples who bought a building thinking they could build a nest egg to pay for their children to go to college.  They are families who, not being able to afford a mortgage on their own, bought a building so that their mortgage could be subsidized by tenants’ rent payments so they themselves could afford to stay in The City as opposed to retreating to less expensive areas. 

These clients are now having to incur expenses for matters that are a direct result of the City not taking care of its own crime and citizens.   We are having to do the work and incur the cost of dealing with debris from homeless encampments, increased crime and graffiti.  Eventually these costs will have to get passed down to tenants in the form of Capital Improvement Petitions or Operating and Maintenance Petitions through the Rent Board, which allow landlords to increase tenants’ rents for expenses incurred for building upkeep.  As much as San Francisco does to protect its tenants, the city government itself is sabotaging their own efforts by not addressing its shortcomings.

We are seeing these increased costs when rents are shrinking, rent increases are banned, and tenants have little incentive to pay rent even if they can afford to do so due to the COVID-19 legislation. 

The ultimate outcome is that my clients are not going to be able to afford to keep their properties.  These properties are then going to be bought up by large corporations who can afford them and their upkeep and have the even deeper pockets to displace tenants through legal means. 

My clients have witnessed their tenants’ marriages, newborns and house purchases.  And we have celebrated these alongside our tenants.  Corporations will not do that. 

My clients have given tenants breaks on rents when they were out of work without being legislated to do so.  Corporations will not do that. 

My clients have kept rents below the allowable amount for rent-controlled units or market rent for those that don’t fall under rent control so that parents could stay at home with their children or to help young couples save for their own homes.  Corporations will not do that. 

Further, the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act enacted in 2019, makes it harder for small landlords to sell their properties in a timely manner.  They, therefore, must dip into their savings to cover these losses for many more months after they decide to throw in the towel. 

Meanwhile, in your own district, 3300 Mission Street is a constant scar and reminder to our neighborhood of a tragic fire that destroyed many beloved, small, long-established businesses.  Where is the city’s money when a building that is a neighborhood blight and could house many low-income residents has been on the market and uninhabitable for years?   You make real estate transactions more difficult for those who can’t afford to sustain their ownership, yet can’t step in when a property that no one wants is ripe for affordable housing. 

As a property owner and voter, I realize I am in the minority.  However, rent control was meant as a temporary fix when enacted, and any economist will tell you it is not a long-term solution.  Unfortunately, its existence has become a way for politicians to buy tenant votes in a city that is predominantly renters.  Meanwhile, it takes housing off the market for those who actually need it.  I have seen with my own eyes tenants occupy a rent-controlled apartment for way below market rent for years and balk at a $4.00 annual increase only to buy a $2.4 million Noe Valley house with an indoor pool.  While I realize that is an extreme example, residents, whose incomes increase each year and with each promotion, should not be protected by Rent Control.  There needs to be a solution to help those who actually need it. 

Many of my clients, who have tenants paying 30% below market rent, would much rather pay a landlord’s tax, say 10%,  on their properties to support affordable housing for those tenants who actually need assistance. At this rate, they would still see their profits increase so they can improve their properties.   The number of homeless people on the streets shows that Rent Control is not working to house those who actually need it.  Instead, it is a luxury for those who could afford to pay higher rents, but, because of misdirected laws, do not. 

Politicians who are guaranteed to remain in office because of their tenant support are uninterested in upsetting the status quo to enact new legislation that would benefit those who need it most and therefore reverberate throughout the city to benefit all citizens.  Therefore, we all must live as we do now, in a city full of petty crime and feces. 

I thank you in advance for your time and consideration.  Please work to make San Francisco the world-class destination it once was and bring pride and dignity back to all its residents.

Regards,

Natalie M. Drees

President, Lingsch Realty

San Francisco Resident and Voter

Ex-Tenant

Current Landlord

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