back to Screen-Friendly page

Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

The Constitutionality of Proposition M: Larson v. City and County of San Francisco


By Ryan J. Vlasak, Esq., Bracamontes & Vlasak, P.C.,

The following article will discuss the Constitutionality of Proposition M: Larson v. City and County of San Francisco, Case No.A125887 (CA Dist. 1 Ct. App, Feb. 23, 2011)

Partly in response to the Costa-Hawkins Act (Civ. Code § 1954.50 et seq.), which allows landlords to raise rent to market rates on vacated units, San Francisco passed Proposition M in November 2008 (San Francisco Rent Ordinance §37.10B) in order to prevent tenant harassment in light of landlords’ monetary incentive for longstanding tenants to vacate.

Proposition M increased tenant’s rights by augmenting the Rent Ordinance’s anti-harassment provisions, making it unlawful and subject to severe penalty for a landlord in bad faith to engage in any one of fifteen enumerated prohibited acts, ranging from failure to exercise due diligence in making repairs, to refusing to cash a rent check within 30 days or requesting a tenant’s citizenship status or social security number.

Proposition M also provided additional remedies and damages for aggrieved tenants, including the right to bring a decrease in services petition with the Rent Board for reduction in rent for its violation (37.10B(c)(1)) and a provision whereby all tenants prevailing in unlawful detainer actions would be awarded attorney’s fees against the landlord (37.10B(c)(6)).

In Larson v. CCSF, the trial court upheld the decrease in services provision of Proposition M, but invalidated the attorney’s fees provision.

On appeal, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the tenant-only attorney’s fees provision (37.10B(c)(6)) is unconstitutional in violating equal protection rights, and reversed the trial court’s decision that had affirmed Proposition M’s granting of authority to the Rent Board to award tenants reduction in rent as damages for Prop. M violations (37.10B(c)(1)).

Specifically, the Court of Appeal held that subdivision (a)(4) through (15) of 37.10B is facially invalid
under the judicial powers clause in that it improperly invests the Rent Board with the judicial power to
order rent reductions for what are essentially general damages stemming from harassment.

While tenants may still file decrease in services petitions with the Rent Board for violations of section 37.10B subdivision (a)(1)-(3)—for habitability defects—and be awarded a quantifiable, restitutive decrease in rent, after Larson, tenants will no longer be awarded damages in Rent Board petitions for tenant harassment based on violations of section 37.10B(a)(4)-(15).

Significantly, the Court of Appeal also held unconstitutional—as violative of free speech rights—Rent Ordinance § 37.10B(a)(7) in its entirety, which had prohibited landlords from continuing to offer tenants payments to vacate after tenants provide written notification that they do not wish to receive further offers.
Section 37.10B of the Rent Ordinance remains otherwise enforceable through civil actions in superior court.

To read the Larson opinion in full, see:


Our partners at BASFAhern Insurance Brokerage