Know your rights: Rent Board helps San Franciscans rent smarter

A Civic Bridge case study from the Spring 2020 cohort.

City Partner: San Francisco Rent Board
Pro Bono Partner: Civic Consulting Alliance

To help tenants and landlords rent smarter, San Francisco’s Rent Board and the Civic Consulting Alliance created a user-friendly website featuring answers to frequently asked questions about City rent ordinances in easy-to-understand language. 

The challenge

Nearly two-thirds of San Franciscans rent rather than own their home or office. And every year, many navigate dense legal codes as they rent, sublet, add a pet to the family, or lease a storefront to someone upsizing a business. The San Francisco Rent Board works hard to support tenants and landlords as they make their way through these processes — yet complex rental codes can generate a lot of confusion and leave those without experience or a legal background feeling overwhelmed. To address this challenge, the City wanted to rethink how it communicates complicated but critical rental information.

The process

A Rent Board team of regulatory experts partnered with Civic Consulting Alliance strategists and designers to make rental codes more accessible and digestible for anyone without a legal background. The project team utilized a human-centered process to tackle the challenge — discover, define, design, deliver.

Discover | Understand and validate the problem

  • Reviewed San Francisco’s rental ordinances
  • Interviewed Rent Board staff to surface their pain points when delivering services to residents
  • Tracked what topics callers asked most about using a “tick mark” sheet
  • Collected data about which web pages were visited most often on the Rent Board’s website to discover priority areas for visitors

Define | Analyze and synthesize findings

  • Analyzed data collected from the Rent Board’s website and call center to identify the topic areas that were most commonly requested — which included rent increases, evictions, security deposits, and roommates or sublets

Design | Develop concepts and prototypes to address the pain points

  • Applied the pareto principle — which states that 80 percent of consequences come from 20 percent of causes — to redesign and center the Rent Board’s website around the most commonly asked about topics 
  • Designed a more structured website layout so that different types of information could be found more quickly by visitors

Deliver | Finalize the prototype and strategy recommendations

  • Drafted easy-to-understand website text content by working with Rent Board lawyers to translate dense rental ordinances to simple language while still ensuring legal accuracy
  • Built a new Rent Board website and merged it with San Francisco’s main sf.gov website to increase visibility, adding design and branding consistent with the City’s style guidelines

The Rent Board and Civic Consulting Alliance project team redesigned the Rent Board website by leveraging a resident-first approach. Their user research to surface the rental community’s needs laid the foundation for a website that was both informative and easy to use.

The impact

The San Francisco Rent Board has many strategies for regular outreach, education, and legal advising. Through Civic Bridge, Civic Consulting Alliance helped the agency extend these services in a new user-centric way to individuals who, unable to find answers to their questions quickly online, might have turned away without receiving help. 

Website analytics show that more visitors are getting their questions answered on the new platform. As of April 2021, only nine percent of views are visitors returning to search for information on the new website — compared to 32 percent of return visitors on the old website. Fewer returning visitors suggest that more residents are able to find the answers they seek on the first try. Built with simple language and thoughtful content layout, the Rent Board’s new website continues to make information about renting more accessible to San Franciscans.

Click here to explore the Rent Board’s new website and learn more about rental processes in San Francisco.

Last updated May 19, 2022

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