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San Francisco Proposes Vacancy Tax

by Scott Donald, Irvine, December 2019

 

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors wants to place a new tax on landlords to help reduce the large number of vacant storefronts in the city. The so-called “vacancy tax” goes before voters in March 2020. It will need two-thirds approval to become law.

 

Most major neighborhoods in San Francisco have a problem with vacant ground-level retail space. Retailers have suffered due to the increased costs of doing business, dwindling foot traffic, and a strenuous permitting process. Empty stores can create an eyesore in the neighborhood, which reduces shoppers in the area.

 

If approved, the measure would levy a fee on landlords based on the space and length of time their ground-floor storefront has been empty.

 

For properties that sit empty for six months at a time, the tax would be:

  • $250 per linear foot the first year

  • $500 the second year

  • $1,000 for each year after

San Francisco landlords can apply for an exemption from the vacancy tax for various reasons.

 

A similar tax was put into effect in Oakland, where voters approved a fee on property owners and landlords of vacant land occupied fewer than 50 days per year. The tax rate was $5,000 for commercial spaces, and $3,000 for residential lots. A variety of exemptions from this tax exist for special circumstances.