SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – The ability to work remotely, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to a surge of vacancies in San Francisco’s apartment stock. A new law will allow the city to track just how many units are sitting empty.

“This is long overdue,” Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said as her ordinance passed unanimously Tuesday.

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For several years, San Francisco has held the distinction of being the most expensive city in the world, but tenants have no way of knowing if they’re paying more than their next-door neighbor. Nor does the city have a record of how many apartments owned by corporations and sitting empty, keeping speculation high. That will all change by July of 2022.

Under this new ordinance, landlords will be required to report the following to the city every year: The approximate square footage of each unit, whether it’s vacant or occupied, and the date of any vacancies over the past 12 months, plus each tenant’s base rent. Failure to comply means a landlord’s license to raise the rent will be suspended.

“No one should be scared of information or transparency,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said.

“I think it’s so ridiculous that to find out information about something as important as rents and vacancies in our own city, that we’re looking at Zillow and Craigslist,” Supervisor Matt Haney said.

“We have a lot of concerns about the ordinance,” Charley Goss with the San Francisco Apartment Association said.

“Disclosing which tenants pay what, when all tenants live under the same roof, kind of sows what we call rent animosity,” Goss said.

Landlords gave supervisors an earful about this saying “it’s akin to treating us as sex offenders and criminals, what right do you have to single us out?”

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Others complained, “it is an invasion of privacy.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic vacancies are going up, rents are going down and more people are still ending up on the street every day during an ongoing housing crisis.

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Cynthia Fong with the Housing Rights Committee says everyday scared tenants who can’t pay rent ask her, “Where are the vacancies? What are we doing about them? What’s happening with rents? These are questions that we get asked and when we go back to them and say, well, actually our city has no idea.”

We asked the President of the California Rental Housing Association and Goss with the SFAA that same question about vacancies in San Francisco and got different answers.

“The number being thrown out is 25-30% there,” Sid Lakireddy with CalRHA said.

“We’re tracking a vacancy rate of between 15 and 20%,” Goss said.

Whatever it is, it’s high and it’s not a hard number, two things which are expected to change by July of 2022.

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The rent board will track this, it could cost between $1 and $3 million a year according to city budget analysts. It will be funded by a charge per unit and the landlord can pass 50% of that charge to the tenant, the city estimates that individual unit charges could be as high as $14 a year.