When a landlord sells a tenant occupied building it can have real consequences for the people that live there. But what are those consequences and what rights do tenants have when their landlord is selling the building? This month, we address four common questions that arise when tenants learn their landlord is selling or has recently sold their building.
In order to provide a thorough overview, we’ll be devoting two articles to this topic. In Part 1, we look at open houses, estoppel agreements, changes to the lease agreement. Part 2 will cover owner move-in and Ellis Act evictions, condo conversions, and buyouts.
Not if your building is covered by the Rent Ordinance. While we do see a spike in no-fault evictions when a building is sold, your landlord can’t evict you just because they want to sell or just bought your building. As we’ve discussed before, there are there are 16 “just causes” for eviction for units protected under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. Sale of a building is not one of the 16 just causes for eviction. If your home isn’t covered by the Rent Ordinance, your landlord must provide you with a written eviction notice.
Yes. Civil Code §1954 allows landlords to enter your apartment to show it to “prospective or actual purchasers.” This includes hosting open houses and offering tours. Many tenants understandably balk at the notion of allowing potential buyers and brokers to enter their home. However, denying access to the unit altogether is a bad idea and could open you up to eviction. You can negotiate the timing of the viewings, and insist on being present. At a minimum you are entitled to 24 hours written notice prior to entry.
Not necessarily. As part of a potential sale, landlords or Realtors often ask existing tenants to fill out a form known as an estoppel agreement or tenant questionnaire. On their face, these questionnaires are harmless enough as they seek information about your tenancy and those amenities, services and rights each tenant may enjoy. However, if you leave something important out, you risk forfeiting that right altogether. For example – have a dog pursuant to an oral agreement with your former landlord and fail to mention it? Your new landlord can argue you are breaching your lease for having a dog. Have an understanding with your former landlord about storing items in the garage and leave that out? The new owner could insist you remove your items.
So, how do you deal with this situation? Unless your lease explicitly requires you to fill out the form, you do not have to do it. If you want to be sure your new landlord doesn’t unwittingly encroach on your rights, though, one solution is to write a letter to your current landlord or their Realtor in lieu of filling out the form. In your letter, include the pertinent information you want your landlord to have, but with the caveat that your list is not exhaustive, and instead just those things you can recall off hand. Even if your lease does state you have to fill out the form, consider writing a letter instead. This gives you wiggle room if you later realize you left something important out.
Estoppel agreements are often accompanied by a document requesting information about “protected status.” If you are a member of a protected class under the SF Rent Ordinance—that is, if you’re senior, disabled, or live with a minor child—make sure to inform your building’s new owners of this fact. This too should not be taken lightly. Checking the “no” box for disability could cost you thousands of dollars in relocation benefits down the line in the event of an Owner Move In or Ellis Act eviction. The law defines disability broadly to include any health issue that affects “one or more major life activities.” This means that if you take medication for a chronic condition (think anxiety, depression) or have an ongoing medical issue, you may qualify as disabled.
Probably not. Just because there is a new owner does not mean you have to sign a new lease. Your new landlord may try to persuade you to sign a new rental agreement. However, if the new lease is “materially different” from your current lease, you do not need to sign it. Some examples of a material change include: no pets, changing who is responsible for payment of utilities (tenant v. landlord) , and restrictions on new roommates. So, if your landlord gives you a forty-five page agreement to replace your previous one-page written lease, you are within your right to decline it.
On the other hand, if your landlord presents you with a new lease that is “substantially similar,” you may have to sign it. If you’re unsure whether a new lease agreement represents a material change in the terms of tenancy, consider bringing it to the San Francisco Tenant’s Union or Housing Rights Committee to discuss your situation with a counselor before taking action.
Obviously learning that your home is for sale can be stressful, but the sale alone does not mean you’re going to have to move. You have rights that your landlord has to respect. The best thing you can do is to stay alert, ask questions, and when in doubt, seek assistance. In part two, we’ll discuss the interplay between a sale and tenancy buyouts, Owner Move in Evictions and Ellis Act evictions.
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.