Tenants mailing off their demands to landlords on Monday morning. Photo by Annika Hom

Shortly after San Francisco renters celebrated a law that expands tenants’ rights, one of the city’s biggest landlords fired back, notifying its residents that they can be evicted for attempting to organize.

At the end of June, GreenTree Property Management, a subsidiary of corporate landlord Veritas Investments, emailed its residents nine pages of “Updated House Rules” and noted that violating any of them may result in an eviction. The rules prohibit multiple actions vital to organizing, including distribution of “literature” in common areas, the hanging of signs or posters on any doors or windows, and “soliciting” more than four times a year. 

The document explicitly states Veritas’ new rules are a response to a new tenants’ law.

Strict new dictums with harsh consequences have disturbed and concerned residents who’ve lived in Veritas properties  for years, and signed far less restrictive agreements. W. Blake Gray, a tenant of a building recently acquired by GreenTree and a journalist, found new noise restrictions especially egregious. The rule allows someone to be evicted based on a single “boisterous party,” which is determined by management’s “sole discretion.” 

“You are essentially giving the largest landlord in San Francisco the power to evict based on the say-so of the resident manager,” Gray said. “I don’t want to live next to someone who has loud parties, but there has to be a warning process.”  

Gray replied to his property manager’s email and said he believed the rules to be illegal. “They wrote the most horrible set of rules and rights they could think of,” he said. 

Though only a court could decide on the legality of the rules, many of the rules do appear legal according to a tenants lawyer. But some are more shaky. For example, the solicitation limit appears to adhere to San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 49A.2, subsection b, which states “the landlord may establish other reasonable requirements … of such literature distribution, including a limitation of distribution.” An earlier version of that section had limited organizing to four times a year, but that had been explicitly removed in the new tenants’ law passed this year, making it unclear if a limit would be legal.

Still, “only a court would be able to make a determination on [legal] reasonableness” for specific cases, said Christina Varner, the executive director of the San Francisco Rent Board, the city’s Rent Ordinance oversight body. 

To Veritas consultant Daniel Baldocchi, it’s clear the company is acting within its rights. “It’s more establishing rules around the organizing so it’s … reasonable,” Baldocchi said. He added that much of the language was borrowed directly from San Francisco Apartment Association housing guidance.  

On the other hand, the rule about posting signs on doors appears to be illegal, said tenant attorney Joseph Tobener, who said this is the first time he has seen a rule restricting organizing in his 20 years of practice. He said a landlord cannot prohibit the posting of political signs. 

“In my experience, GreenTree often pushes to the edge of what is legally allowed, and frequently crosses the line,” Tobener said.“These house rules are yet another example of this.” 

The GreenTree document  that these updated rules supersede any rules in tenants’ prior leases: “Failure to comply… may constitute a just cause for eviction.” This jolted the scores of GreenTree residents who received the email. 

Existing tenants, however, cannot be evicted for violating these “updated house rules” unless they sign a document accepting the new lease terms, according to Section 12.20 of the Rent Board Rules and Regulations. Nowhere is that protection noted on the updated rules document sent to GreenTree tenants, which some residents complained was only available in English. 

Debbie Nunez, a Veritas renter and member of the Veritas Tenants Association, feared that non-English-speaking tenants might misunderstand and readily accept the terms. “They are really masters of semantics, when they say ‘updates.’ [The new rules] contain things that could or would materially change an individual’s lease agreement,” she said. “Excuse my French — I call bullshit.”  

If the rules are included in new tenants’ leases, they could possibly be legally evicted for violating the rules over a breach of lease, said Varner. These rules would make new leases much more restrictive than the original ones signed by longstanding tenants like Nunez and Gray. 

Both of these tenants have no doubt that the rules were written explicitly to dilute organizing efforts and, as Nunez put it, to “interfere with the newly granted [tenants’] rights.” 

And she is right that GreenTree’s Updated House Rules stipulate that it is a direct response to a recently passed city law that grants tenants the ability to “unionize” — a law that residents in 20 Veritas San Francisco buildings have attempted to use. 

“Some of the changes you will find in this update to the House Rules are in response to new legislation,” begins the Updated House Rules document sent to residents. “This legislation grants tenant associations greater ability to organize and to confer with their building’s management team … ” 

Although the updated rules intended to respond to increased tenant power, it seems to have stoked it. Nunez said she thinks other residents will “stand up” once they realize what Veritas is doing.

Gray hasn’t joined a tenants group, “but this made me want to do it … Maybe we want the power to stand up to a big corporation like Veritas.”

This article was corrected on July 7 to reference and link to the updated administration code. An earlier version referred to an outdated version.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. I am a tenant and received the same house rules emails stated aboved. Can someone point me to the tenant group mentioned above? I am interested. Thanks!

  2. As a current tenant within a building Veritas purchased and took over control of I can personally attest to the manipulative tactics, harrassment and bullying employed by its management. Thank you, Annika, for amplifying the injustices that thousands of other SF residents are currently experiencing from Greentree/Veritas and for also informing us of our rights to NOT sign the new lease terms (I did not know this!!) . Many of us are not in a position to leave our apartments (“like it or leave it” / as they say ) due to the exploitative leasing market and housing affordability crisis.

  3. The people complaining have run mom & pop landlords out of town, so no more mr/ms nice guy.
    Beware of supervisors, posturing for votes, adding endless laws that make for endless ‘angry’ renters and ‘mean’ landlord stories.
    Same old story in SF, not news. I’m sure Veritas have run this by their counsel.

  4. Do you wonder why so many people are leaving San Francisco? Who wants to live in constant fear and confusion?

  5. Do you really wonder why more people don’t invest their money in building rental housing in San Francisco?

    1. Is this comment satire? I mean, if the demand was not high, the prices would be more like Kansas. Suggesting no one wants to own property here is laughable.

      1. Kim, I don’t think anyone is arguing that owning property is a problem. But rather that for those who do own property, it is becoming increasingly unattractive to offer that property for long-term rentals, because of all the rules and regs.

        And if property owners en masse decide not to offer housing units for rent, then supply goes down and rents go up – the exact opposite of the intent of rent control, but the perhaps inevitable result of it AKA the law of unintended consequences.

  6. Thank you, Annika, for reporting the latest character-revealing antics of Veritas against their own revenue-producing tenants. When will the city family finally crack down on the real estate speculators that are making life a daily hell for the very people who enrich them? Or will it take the FBI or some other federal or state authority to do the deed because our city is too corrupt?

    Please stay on this and do for rental housing what tenacious Joe has done by exposing the rot at DBI et al.

  7. San Francisco has been nothing but hostile to landlords for years. I’m not surprised they will fight back. Over reaching tenants created this hostile environment, don’t complain about what you created.

    1. If San Francisco is so hostile to landlords, it is quite surprising that Veritas would have bought so many buildings that used to be owned by Skyline/CitiApartments/Lembi Mafia. No one forced Veritas to become the largest landlord in San Francisco.

      Oh, and if you don’t know who they are, the Lembi mob was extraordinarily hostile to their tenants.

      1. If Veritas is so hostile to its tenants, its quite surprising that so many tenants would rent from them. No one forced these tenants to rent from them.

        Double edged sword.

        1. Not all Veritas tenants chose to rent from them. Probably not even most.

          Veritas bought hundreds of buildings whose existing tenants, unfortunately, became unwittingly and unwillingly ensnared in their creepy nefariousness, never-ending renovictions, and routine breaches of the quiet enjoyment and harassment clauses of the San Francisco rental ordinances.

          Among their target market new tenants, who tend to come from out of town and out of state, are young and relatively inexperienced, and don’t know better than to rent online from a portal without first viewing their apartments and their buildings, a high percentage flees as soon as their leases expire, sometimes even before they expire. This is what Veritas seems to want, as it keeps the newer tenants on market rate leases that constantly churn.

          What Veritas didn’t seem to count on is tenants actually educating themselves, organizing, asserting their housing rights, fighting back, and not accepting the shoddy treatment, which often breaches the rental code. As seems true for this article, that attracts the media and journalists. They also didn’t seem to think through how their unfair business practices, while no-doubt lucrative for them in the moment, affect their reputation and the word of mouth about them. Every happy customer tells, maybe, five or six people. Every unhappy customer tells more than 20. This is a fairly well-known marketing heuristic. The basic math of that doesn’t pencil out well for them since they’ve abused so many of their customers, but they are too hard headed (to put it mildly) to change course and start doing right by the people who generate their monthly revenue stream. They have even asked some of their tenants to sign non-disparagement agreements to keep them silent about the truth of what goes on in a Veritas building. Others have been offered “incentives” to write favorable online reviews about them or remove their unfavorable reviews in an attempt to offset all the genuine, truthful reviews with photos and other concrete evidence. They are up against a tidal wave of truths that don’t reflect well on them and aren’t helpful to their business model. And the more property they accrue, the more tenants they alienate and the more this becomes absolutely unsustainable for Veritas.

  8. Thank you for covering this Annika. Hopefully this will spread more knowledge, understanding, and that we all
    come together and stop Veritas!