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Rent Control in San Francisco is a Golden Handcuff

Updated: Jun 22, 2022 08:15
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Image of Captain Cool from SF Gate.

It’s a hell of a thing to know
that once you have to move,
you can never come back again.
That this is the last place you will ever live,
in San Francisco,
the City
that you love and that you’ve given so much to.

Having already chosen a life of semi-austerity
where you skip many modern comforts
like washing machines,
and dishwashers,
in exchange for the low rumble of Mission Street mornings.

To live like you’re in a perpetual state of being a college student,
in the sense that,
you reside amongst mini generations of other people’s stuff.
Mixed matched spoons and cutlery;
a revolving door of roommates and their things.

Often times no one knows or remembers
where these droplets of ephemera even came from,
but now they are part of the house
and essentially part of your life,
because you can never leave.

Living in San Francisco,
and having rent control,
has become a sort of golden handcuff.
If you ever need to move,
or get evicted,
you have to essentially trade in your San Francisco citizenship.

The Visigoths are at the gates
and will gladly take your place,
thinking that they’ve moved into something special,
without realizing,
they are pushing out the specialness like spin art.

You are the drops of paint that make the color,
but the faster things spin,
all that’s left,
are the streaks showing where you used to be.

Like this piece? It’s in a collection of some of my best writing called Love Notes and Other Disasters. You can get it here for only $5.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.


  1. Logan Mitchell
    July 9, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    This is exactly how I felt when I moved to SD 3 years ago. I can never live in SF again.

    • July 9, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      I know. It’s pretty sad 🙁

    • johnnycoyo
      July 11, 2014 at 12:32 am

      Left San Francisco for SD 7 years ago …best move i ever made ….SD is SPLENDIFEROUS …but don’t tell anyone … 🙂
      btw GO GIANTS !!!

      • Logan Mitchell
        July 21, 2014 at 10:55 am

        Oh, always the Giants. Even at Petco Park, I’m still going to a Giants game. 🙂

      • Michael Andrade
        March 4, 2015 at 7:34 pm

        SD is full of Republicans. I could never live there.

  2. July 9, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Great piece, dude. You’ve nailed our biggest fear. Our place isn’t perfect, but if for some reason we ever lost it, I can’t see how we’d be able to find another one in our price range.

    • July 9, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      Thank you. And I know. I’m lucky that I’ve got a good landlord but still I worry all the time.

  3. July 9, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    This is so spot on it breaks my heart.

    • July 9, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      Me too.

    • vetipie
      July 10, 2014 at 1:40 am

      me three, It’s so tragic

    • mitzilani
      November 19, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      Me four. Horrific what SF has become.

  4. Jessica Tollefsrud
    July 9, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    This is fantastic, Stuart! As someone that has to leave their rent controlled apartment in North Beach – I’m thinking a sunny start on a different side of the bay. Beautifully written.

    • July 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      I’m sorry you have to leave. SF is worse without you.

    • wee
      July 11, 2014 at 3:08 am

      I, and most people I know, have never had “rent-controlled” anything. We can either afford something, or we can’t. I have a hard time sympathizing.

      • ricksf1
        July 13, 2014 at 6:41 pm

        And I am not a women nor am I black or brown and I have a hard time sympathizing. Not!

  5. Serene Cooper
    July 10, 2014 at 8:08 am

    I left my home town of SF in 1997. I can never afford to live here again Sad but spot on. One of my biggest regrets is moving from SF and losing our amazing flat on Church Street.

    • kimoconnor
      July 14, 2014 at 9:22 am

      And we miss you being here! I will never forget our parties in that flat.

  6. Brad
    July 10, 2014 at 10:19 am

    My gf had a fire in her apartment building and the whole place was devlared unfit to live. Now she lives in Oakland….forever.

  7. Mugato3000
    July 10, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Rent control is as big a reason for high rents in SF as anything else. When you take the pricing of units off the free market, it raises the cost of the rest in supply.

    • robotsrule
      July 10, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Partly true but San Francisco is so small and there is such a premium to live here that if market forces were allowed to operate without regulation, San Francisco would have been overrun with all rich people 30 years ago. There would be no remnants of old San Francisco. No old people on fixed incomes, no poor immigrants, no artists, essentially a bland city of Marina-ites and techies.

      • scott_lewis
        July 10, 2014 at 8:16 pm

        Why are you the judge of what is “bland” or not? Most rich people are far from bland and live quite interesting lives.

      • robotsrule
        July 12, 2014 at 12:30 am

        Most people, regardless of being rich or poor, are consumers of culture rather than creators of culture. Artists, musicians, and other creative types have sacrificed the security of a normal job in order to dedicate their lives to creating culture. It’s a full time job and an actual profession, which means if you already have a full time job, you’re not likely creating much. Most people cannot do what I do, just as I cannot fly an airplane or operate on someones heart. So my bonafides are what they are. Advanced degree in Fine Arts, and a successful emerging art career. Legislators get to make the laws, bankers get to make the money, we get to decide what’s hip and what’s not. That’s how it goes. Typically people that come from money don’t have much of a fire burning under them to achieve much because they’ve started at the top. I went to school with lots of rich kids and most of them don’t have the sense of urgency and desperation needed to achieve greatness. They know they’ll be fine either way. But I have nothing against rich people. Many are patrons of the arts and I make it a point to get to know the ones with taste and that know what makes a city a city. A small number are even artists themselves because they have the luxury of not worrying about money and can dedicate themselves to an art practice. And to some degree, things just speak for themselves. You can’t go to the Marina on a Friday night and look in all the bars and restaurants and say that those are the most interesting and creative people in San Francisco. I can’t prove it, it’s just something you know when you see it.

      • raraf
        August 10, 2014 at 11:54 pm

        Robots – culture is created by everyone living in an area at a point in time not just creative types. If you have a full time job, you’re paying the taxes so culture can exist.

      • robotsrule
        September 25, 2014 at 4:59 pm

        I don’t get much of anything from people’s taxes. No handouts, no welfare, and until recently, no subsidized health insurance. This country does virtually nothing for the average working artist and musician. There are only a small number of grants and the public does whatever it can to not support the arts. People don’t even want to pay for music and film thanks to the wonderful techies who make it possible to steal content. I work hundred hour weeks producing art and if I’m lucky I might make a few thousands dollars a year from it. The bottom line is that if left to market forces art is simply not going to get created at a professional level if no one in this country is willing to pay for it.

      • Heisenburg Blue
        September 16, 2017 at 9:54 am

        Actually, you are given streets running water, a protective government which is the only reason why you also potentially get some sort of rent control. When in time have artists made any money? I quit being a full time musician in ’95 for the same reasons you state here: no money and noone cared. There is a reason for the term “starving artist”. You are living a delusion if you really believe your own bs.
        http ://

      • EssEffOh
        April 29, 2015 at 9:19 am

        “I can’t prove it, it’s just something you know when you see it.”

        Exactly. Mad props on your piece, Robot. Folks who can’t or refuse to recognize what you’re talking about are the same people in this town who prefer to shop at Whole Foods and who are keeping the Starbucks here in business.

        One day, when every last thing that makes SF special is gone forever, they might have a glimmer of recognition of what you’re talking about and lament what they helped destroy. But probably not. They’ll probably be fine living in a city full of chain stores and water-downed corporate pseudo culture. Sad.

      • jimbolandjots
        March 4, 2015 at 11:58 am

        This is precisely the San Francisco that is now coming into being, with another influx of techies and techie jobs, little support for working and middle class workers, and with little regard for the progressive people and culture that made it so prosperous in the first place.

      • Heisenburg Blue
        September 16, 2017 at 5:58 pm

        wtf ru talking about: there are no remnants of old san francisco. The gold rush and golden era are over, and everything has always been in a state of constant change in SF and the world. Standing against the natural change that SF has always had is what is destroying the true remnants of SF.

    • Patrick Connors
      July 11, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Rent control doesn’t remove units from the free market. The rent can be set at market rate – it just can’t be increased annually at ridiculous levels.

      The slightest of slight regulation.

      • ratt
        August 11, 2014 at 12:02 am

        It’s not slight when a substantial piece of the city’s housing stock is rent controlled and new construction is a fraction of population growth.

      • Heisenburg Blue
        September 16, 2017 at 10:09 am

        Technically, below market rate housing does; by law. It is slated to be low priced “forever” and the people who purchase it can never sell it at market rates and make a profit from owning it: it must remain low-cost forever… effectively removing it from the market for those who can actually afford it, and unnnaturally holding the unit hostage against the free market. The subsidized owners will never see any profit from the true rise in property value, because the city wont let those property values rise since they must remain low-income, and (unlike regular housing owners) will therefore never have a retirement nestbed…and instead, merely a roof over their heads.

  8. Heather C
    July 10, 2014 at 11:32 am

    I’m still haunted by the penthouse apartment my landlord offered to me at a discounted rate of $1,050 in the mid-2000’s, which I turned down to live cheaply but briefly in an office (illegally) for $320 a month. Now I have plans to leave my rent controlled apartment next Spring to move out of state, and even though it’s the right thing for me, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. I truly will never be able to move back to where I have spent almost all of my adult life.

  9. robotsrule
    July 10, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    I’m a third generation SF native. If my building gets sold or they try to evict me I’m going to lawyer up and agree to move for no less than 100k, or enough to put a good sized down payment on a house up north somewhere. Other than that I’m staying put.

    • wee
      July 11, 2014 at 2:55 am

      I admire the stubbornness. But do you own your place? because otherwise I’d be really interested in seeing how that could ever work.

    • MH
      July 11, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Good luck on the streets. Market supply and demand will dictate what happens to everyone in SF. And the world doesn’t owe you a free down payment for being a SF native.

      • robotsrule
        July 12, 2014 at 12:37 am

        Market supply and demand? Well then lets start harvesting organs while we’re at it! No restrictions on the free market! It’s un-American. But you’re quite right about the world not owing people anything. It isn’t about what you’re owed. It’s about what you can take. That’s a lesson I learned from watching the rich and powerful. Most people getting evicted just get pushed around and do what they’re told. They’re usually elderly and have limited resources. Fortunately I’m not that kind of person. So if someone tries to take what’s mine, you better believe I’ll figure out a way to make it not worth their time and money.

      • Heisenburg Blue
        September 16, 2017 at 10:24 am

        Im lucky because my rent controlled 3br 2ba house on haight only costs me $900/month…my landlord has never raised my rent since ’91. Considering the fact that they could rent it for >$3500/month, it is costing them a minimum of $31,200/year by not raising my rent, but it IS their house, and they should be able to charge whatever they want for it. At that loss, it would take my landlord 3 years with a new tenant to recoup the $100 in legal fees, but it will take a lifetime of payback for someone who lost a case and had to pay all the legal fees.

      • 415localforlife
        August 29, 2017 at 12:23 am

        Thankfully rent control saves some of us. The world might not owe you anything, but the property owner owes you at least 100k if you are going to give up that lease!

    • Heisenburg Blue
      September 16, 2017 at 10:14 am

      In SF, the loser pays all court fees; I know a lot of people who owe their ex-landlords that much in court fees because their landlords pay attorneys $1k/hr and the residents lost in court. Good luck taking that route!

  10. claudedaisy
    July 10, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Right on. I moved from SF about 18 months ago, partly because I retired and was on a fixed income and could barely survive once I stopped working. I decided to move out of state to be near my grandkids and live where rents are more reasonable and livable. I miss SF so much tho, having lived and worked there for 27 years. Even though I still have family there, in a one BR apt. for almost $2000 a month (a deal ) near Civic Center, I can’t really live there anymore. The large studio apt. I was renting for 7 years,final rent $1100 monthly in the Western Addition, rented 2 months and a paint job after I left, for $1000 more per month in NOPA. Most people I know who are still there, either bought when the market was not sky high or live in a rent controlled unit, whether it’s nice,too small,or neglected by the landlord.
    It’s not the same SF we all moved to, 2 or 3 decades ago, but that’s how it goes and change can be good, but sadly not for everyone. If SF loses it’s character and characters that have made it interesting,artistic,accepting etc. then it just becomes a place for people with lots of money or those hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

  11. vratrm
    July 10, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I had always kind of dreamed turning my back on materialism and the aquisition of things, so I have no complaints about my life in SF. Quite the opposite, I feel extreemly grateful for the opportunity to live in such a wonderful city.

    … and yet, I would never have imagined that as middle-aged software developer — of the middling variety that hasn’t, like most in the tech industry, won the IPO lottery — that I would be living without a car, in a 250′ sq studio appartment without a stove, fullsized refridgerator or proper sink out of financial necessity rather than minimalistic idealism.

  12. T.J. Diggs
    July 10, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Last year around this time – I moved from San Francisco. The place I’d called home for nearly 20 years. Like many middle aged former tech workers – I found myself pushed out. A younger, richer, swankier crowd taking our places. The old techies from the first dotcom boom were a motley crew. We moved to SF with our newly minted degrees eager to discover ourselves. Most of us fancied ourselves artists in our spare time. We were the geeky kids that played D&D and belonged to theater club in high school. But time waits for no one. As it marched on I found myself disillusioned and working towards a new non-tech career. I had always loved psychology. So I took a risk and went back to school. Things went well for awhile. I was earning top honors and competing with students nearly half my age. But the bottom fell out. A quick eviction followed – which being broke I couldn’t really fight. So now I’m here in the midwest. Trying to start over – but mourning the San Francisco that I can no longer be a part of.

    • jimbolandjots
      March 4, 2015 at 11:54 am

      Ooh, hon. Hang in there! Give yourself the time and space to grieve this major loss, but do remember to pick yourself up and move forward, incorporating the beauty, people, opportunities, and gifts that San Francisco lovingly provided you.

  13. weee
    July 11, 2014 at 2:51 am

    this is, really awkwardly, separated, into phrases, that don’t make sense. it’s not, a poem, it’s just a paragraph separated, into random sentences, by lines, and commas.

    it does suck. but SF has always been expensive. ask people in NYC if they’re any better off.

    • yeah
      July 11, 2014 at 2:52 am

      in fact, this isn’t SF specific. This is most of CA in general.

  14. weee
    July 11, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Guys guys GUYS! It does suck. For sure. But you’re whining over basic economics… supply and demand. Times change, and a billion more people enter the world. You live in an area that has some of the best weather on the planet, not to mention is the tech center of the world, and you complain that it’s getting expensive. Well… duh. I don’t like it either, but it makes perfect sense.

  15. Art Riechert
    July 11, 2014 at 9:44 am

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a place like that.

  16. Michelle Klein-Hass
    July 12, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Same deal about Los Angeles. Been living in the Valley and I don’t know if I could find an affordable place to live in the area if I moved or somehow lost this apartment some other way.

  17. Brandon Purifoy
    July 13, 2014 at 8:50 am

    I’m moving to Portland next week. I’m not even going to try to keep up with the cost of housing in this city. I’ve lived here all my life and it’s time I did something new.

  18. July 14, 2014 at 7:01 am

    […] this post by Broke Ass Stuart perfectly illustrate your life in a shared rent-controlled […]

  19. Natasha B
    July 15, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Thanks for the insight. Living in vs. visiting SF

  20. jamie
    July 22, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    i’ve lived with two of ’em. Both men, late ’40’s-early ’50’s, bitter, never get laid, all their friends are old guys that talk about music or buddhism, lived in their places almost 20 years, one worked for a toy store (while me and the other roommate paid his cheap rent), the other did sound at conventions and was missing an arm from jumping trains after drinking micky’s, walls of apartments are painted bad colors. pathetic.

  21. rafra
    August 11, 2014 at 12:17 am

    I’ve recently moved here from South Florida. I get the cost of living question comparison question all the time. Owning? Never gonna happen-even if I had the money. The rent here is actually not that bad compared to other metro areas where you pay similar amounts but still need a car. For the first time in my life I walk to work. My electric bills are a fraction of what they were in Florida, going out is cheaper, insurance is cheaper, and the job opportunities are WAY better. On a per square foot basis, yes, it’s insane but it’s actually more economical to live here than people think.

  22. mitzilani
    November 19, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    I’m sooo tired of people attempting to blame rent control for the out of control rental situation especially when almost all renters in SF benefit. The sole reason the rents are so high is that too many people are trying to live in too small a space. 72% or so of the rental units in SF have rent control, as I understand it. All that means is a landlord can raise the rent *only* 3% a year. Your problem is that you’ve not been here long enough to reap the benefits. Some of us even have lovely landlords who are caring people who don’t raise our rent and we’ve lived in our place a long time, thus paying way below market rent. So what? You are not subsidizing my rent in any way.

  23. coldfish2
    March 4, 2015 at 8:10 am

    “Rent control is as big a reason for high rents in SF as anything else” -> After years of living in the city, this has got to be one of the least informed statement I’ve heard.

  24. December 3, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Ask London,Scott and Ed to offer resolution since controlled powerful crew of gentrified policies rise of corporation interest understand. Policies planning failed to build new housing (rent control) challenged due
    landlords eager to sell can’t evict due lottery system. Gotten offerings 2016 2,800 “TIC” units fight is among us!

  25. Heisenburg Blue
    September 16, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Especially for landlords.