San Francisco Tenants Are Taking On The City’s Largest Corporate Landlord
A new law in San Francisco gives tenant unions new power. Here's how residents are using it to fight for justice.
Video produced and edited by Jordan Zakarin and Ian McKenna
San Francisco renters are taking on the city’s biggest landlord, aided by a groundbreaking law giving tenant unions new power. Veritas, a $4.5 billion company, is neglecting rent-controlled units to force people out. Now tenants at 24+ buildings are unionizing to fight back. Below is a full transcript of the video.
Alex Mozeb: We have problems. We have mice. The way I told you: heat is broken, oven doesn’t work. Like four or five times the building almost get on fire because we smell the gas coming from the oven.
Manuel Alvarado [In Spanish]: There is no insulation. There’s nothing. So [we’re] exposed to the weather, the air comes in underneath the floors. There’s a little girl who is suffering from lead poisoning because of the lead that is stored in the window frames.
Alex: For almost three years nobody respond. For almost three years.
Manuel [In Spanish]: Ever since Veritas bought the facilities, that’s when problems started to worsen. We didn’t have these problems, that we have now, with the previous owners.
Madeline McMillan: I just want Veritas to be accountable for all the wrong that they’re doing to all their tenants.
[Narrator]: Facing intimidation, neglect, and skyrocketing rents, these tenants are taking on San Francisco’s biggest landlord.
Debbie Nunez: I’ve lived at our current building at 1035 Sutter since October 1989, which makes it approximately 32 years.
Madeline: Living in this apartment building for 29 years, I don’t feel like I would be able to move anywhere in San Francisco.
Debbie: One of my fondest memories… of the kids kind of running to one another’s apartments.
Madeline: Veritas bought my building in 2018. Prior to that, it was a family-owned apartment building.
So Veritas investment is a corporate landlord. They are the largest apartment owners in the city.
[Narrator]: The $4.5 billion company, Veritas Investments, owns more than 250 apartment buildings in San Francisco, and has a growing number of buildings in Oakland, Los Angeles, and the city of Alameda. Veritas tenants say the corporate landlord neglects residents in rent controlled units, letting their homes fall into disrepair, and allowing constant construction in the building. Residents say the end goal is to force them out their long-term homes. In 2019, tenants filed 106 lawsuits against Veritas for harassment.
Manuel [In Spanish]: When you tell them the units are rundown, they don’t care. They just want to make a profit. And since with us, they are not making as much as they want which is a problem for them.
Madeline: Veritas is pinning neighbors against each other. Market rate tenant vs a rent controlled tenant.
Manuel [In Spanish]: What they wanted to do was charge us for the water service, the electricity service—of the whole building, but the fee only applied to the old tenants. Not the new ones, despite the fact that the new ones were given dryers, washing machines….
Madeline: There’s a lot of tenants in different buildings that don’t speak English, and they won’t even send them the information in their language that they speak.
Debbie: They never wanna help anyone that doesn’t speak English or doesn’t know how to read or write.
[Narrator]: During the pandemic Veritas tenants went on a five month debt strike and won promises of debt relief from the corporation. Now tenants are unionizing to force Veritas to the bargaining table, aided by a groundbreaking new law in San Francisco that is changing the way tenants fight back against predatory landlords. It’s called the “Union-at-Home” Ordinance and the premise is simple. Tenants who unionize can bargain with their landlords, just like unionized workers bargain with employers.
Debbie: It’s really seeing that together we can get stuff done. You know and not be ignored and not pushed to the side as we were formerly. And that, I think, is the heart of the right to tenant organize.
Madeline: When you have a problem, you’re not going at it alone. You know have the whole Veritas Tenants Association that’s got to support you, and I am gonna be in that group.
Manuel [In Spanish]: I feel a lot of support thanks to the union. We will fight back too. The Union, and myself as well, absolutely. I’m going to fight as far as we can go.
[Narrator]: At least two dozen Veritas buildings have unionized so far, and more are joining the movement.
Debbie: The intent of this is to have a voice and an opinion about where you live, and about your living conditions, about your safety, about your health, about your rent increases.
Manuel [In Spanish]: To all the people living in Veritas buildings: Give it all you got! And come join the fight. Let’s fight together, let’s show them that we can also support each other. It’s awful when we don’t fight for ourselves. For our personal health, for the health of our children. For the health of the people around us.