Topic No. 354: Unlawful Rent Increase Petitions and Lawful Rent Determinations
If a tenant disputes a rent increase or wants to know if the current rent being charged is lawful, the tenant may file a petition alleging an unlawful rent increase and/or requesting a determination of the lawful rent. There is no time limit for filing such a petition.
In order to determine whether the rent is lawful, the Administrative Law Judge will review the entire rent history going back to April 1, 1981 or to the beginning of the tenancy, whichever is later. Where the petitioning tenant moved into an existing tenancy, the entire rent history of the existing tenancy will be reviewed.
A tenant petition alleging an unlawful rent increase will be scheduled for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The tenant should provide evidence of the amount and effective date of each rent increase that has been imposed, including copies of all available rent increase notices, rent receipts, canceled checks or other proof of payment.
Landlords may defend the petition by presenting evidence that all rent increases were proper or that any excessive rent increases were not actually imposed or paid. The fact that a tenant agreed to pay an unlawful rent increase is not a defense, because such agreements are void as against public policy, since tenants are not allowed to waive their rights under the Rent Ordinance.
The Rent Board can only adjust excessive rent increases that were imposed on or after April 1, 1982. The Ordinance limits the repayment of rent overcharges due to null and void increases to the three-year period preceding the filing of the petition. However, the Administrative Law Judge will readjust the tenant's base rent to the lawful amount based on the entire rent history.
For more information on annual and banked rent increases, refer to Fact Sheet 7, "Annual Allowable Rent Increases and Banked Rent Increases." For information on how to prepare a Tenant Petition, see Fact Sheet 6, "Tenant Petitions." To receive a copy of the Tenant Petition form and/or Fact Sheets 6 and 7, you can fax them to yourself through our Fax Back system by calling 252-4660 or visit our website at www.sfgov.org/rentboard. The forms and Fact Sheets are also available at our office.