The monthly rent, the length of your commute, the relative decrepitude of your washer and dryer -- all these factors are important when you’re choosing a new apartment. But in San Francisco, there are other considerations that can seriously affect your future as a tenant.
Even if you think you’ve found your “forever” rental, consider doing some extra legwork. Taking these basic steps could reveal potential red flags, and save you heartache and money down the road.
Your new place is in San Francisco, so it must be covered by the city’s Rent Ordinance, right? Not so simple. As a general rule, rent control applies to all multi-unit residential buildings in the city built before June 13, 1979. New construction? Not rent-controlled. Additionally, unless you’re moving into a condo or single family home with someone who’s been there since 1996, single family homes and condos are not covered by rent control.
When you’re apartment-hunting, find out when the building was built. One easy way to find this out is to plug the address into the search tool on the San Francisco Planning Department website.
Eviction control applies to all residential buildings built prior to June 13, 1979, including single-family homes and condominiums. If the building has rent control, it also has eviction control (but not vice versa).
Under the SF Rent Ordinance, there are sixteen just causes for eviction. However, if the building was built after 1979, it is not subject to the rent ordinance at all. This means that your landlord doesn’t have to give you a reason for eviction--just sixty days’ written notice (assuming you are a month-to-month tenant and have lived in the unit for at least a year).
As you may have gathered, not all landlords are created equal. Consider these questions before you agree to move into a given property:
Does the landlord has a history of being sued or filing bogus evictions? Bad landlords tend to have a history of wrongful eviction or habitability lawsuits, which you can find in the court records. San Francisco Superior Court has a handy case query site; just search by the name of the company or individual to see a list of lawsuits they’ve been involved in. The SF Rent Board also maintains a searchable database of cases that have come before the Rent Board, but you can only access it in person at their offices.
What’s their reputation? Along the same lines you might try googling the landlord, or searching for them on Yelp. Other places to look include the Eviction Mapping Project’s “Dirty Dozen” list of notoriously bad landlords.
You might also consider asking the landlord point blank whether there is much turnover in the building.
Some traits to look for in both big and small landlords are responsiveness, transparency, and diligence. Are your phone calls returned without delay? When you press for more information about lease terms or the building history, does the landlord get squirrely or defensive? Does she make an effort to address your concerns, even if it makes more work for her? Imagine dealing with this person for the next few decades: how would that make you feel?
Then there’s the property itself. Have any city agencies issued notices of violation? If anyone--tenant or neighbor--has filed a complaint with the city’s Department of Building Inspection, a record of it will show up online. It takes just a few minutes to search by address on the DBI website. These complaints have to do with code violations, so records of many habitability issues will show up here. If there’s a history of violations at the building, it’s a sign of a less-than-attentive landlord.
The smaller the building, the greater your possible exposure to a no-fault eviction, such as an Ellis Act or owner move-in eviction. Under current condo conversion rules, buildings with four units or fewer can be converted to condos, while buildings with more than four units are exempt from conversion until at least 2023. If you want to minimize the chance of a no-fault eviction, you may consider renting an apartment in a larger building.
We know you can't always be picky when it comes to choosing a place to live. But even if you decide to move into that not-quite-perfect place, information you dig up now might serve as armor down the road. There’s nothing like apartment-hunting to make you feel disempowered, as though the landlord’s holding all the cards--but you can take back some control simply by knowing what you’re getting into.
Recovered on behalf of a group of 30 tenants living in an SRO in San Francisco who were living with horrendous conditions in their rent controlled apartments, including rodents, bedbugs, mold, water leaks and harassment.Read More
Recovered on behalf of three families living in a building in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood who were forced to live with substandard conditions for years as a result of their landlord’s negligence, including issues with lack of heat, lack of hot water and cockroach/rat infestations.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a couple living in a rent-controlled home in the outer Sunset neighborhood. Our clients were forced to vacate after the landlord served them with an Owner Move-In Eviction Notice. After the landlords failed to move into the property, our clients filed suit for wrongful eviction.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco tenant in Russian Hill. Tenant was forced to vacate her illegal apartment in retaliation for reporting unlawful rent increases to the San Francisco Rent Board.Read More
Recovered for a single long-term tenant in San Francisco. Our client was forced to move out of his apartment as a result of extreme landlord harassment.Read More
Recovered on behalf of three long-term tenants in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood who were constructively evicted due to noise and nuisance conditions created by their downstairs neighbors, which the owner refused to address.Read More
Recovered on behalf of elderly, disabled tenant who was forced to move out of her rent-controlled San Francisco apartment of 50 years after landlord/owner failed to resolve numerous building code violations that remained outstanding for over a decade.Read More
Recovered on behalf of seven tenants living in a makeshift boarding house in East Palo Alto.Read More
Recovered on behalf of two former San Francisco tenants who were evicted via an Owner Move-In Eviction and owner failed to occupy the unit as her primary place of residence.Read More
Recovered on behalf of an elderly long-term tenant who was forced to vacate her long San Francisco apartment as a result of her landlord’s refusal to address longstanding defective conditions, including lack of heat, mold, rodent infestations, and defective plumbing. Read More
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco tenant who was forced to vacate his home as a result of ongoing, disruptive construction and the owners’ refusal to provide him with alternative housing. Read More
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco family that was constructively evicted from their home in the Richmond District as a result of unlawful rent increases, defective conditions and tenant harassment.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a tenant living in an illegal “in-law” unit. In this case, a new owner purchased the building and then demolished our client’s unit without permits while she was displaced for seismic retrofitting.Read More
Recovered on behalf of two long term San Francisco tenants who were fraudulently evicted from their home of over twenty years under the pretext of an owner move-in eviction.Read More
Recovered for tenant who was injured when their stairway railing collapsed at the tenant’s Mission District apartment building.Read More
Recovered in action for a group of tenants forced to vacate their San Francisco apartment house due to severe habitability defects including mold and water leaks.Read More
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For more information or to discuss your legal situation, call us today at (415) 649-6203 for a phone consultation or submit an inquiry below. Please note our firm can only assist tenants residing in San Francisco, Oakland & Berkeley.