Every tenant inevitably has things come up during their tenancy that require them to contact their landlord. Whether your landlord owns one unit or 1,000, how you communicate with them can affect your legal rights if a dispute arises.
At Wolford Wayne, our San Francisco tenant's rights attorneys help tenants who are dealing with poor living conditions, harassment or have been illegally forced out of their homes. We know what it takes to hold landlords accountable and to prove wrongdoing, and we want to help tenants understand how to better protect their rights. If you have questions about tenant’s rights in San Francisco, talk to our team today.
Most of the time, you probably only need to communicate with your landlord over routine issues, like rent payments or fixing a leaky faucet. But if you ever find yourself in a legal dispute with the property owner or manager, being able to prove you told your landlord about big problems is incredibly important to your case.
Take, for example, a tenant who breaks their ankle on the rickety steps inside their house, and the tenant claims they complained about the stairs to their landlord months before their injury. If the tenant didn’t put their complaint about the stairs in writing, it will be more difficult to hold the landlord accountable. This is because part of a case for negligence requires us to prove that the landlord KNEW or should have known about the problem. Without written evidence, a landlord may try and argue that they had no idea there was a problem with the stairs.
However, if the tenant made the repair request in writing, they can show that the landlord knew about the problem and never fixed it. This will greatly help your case if you need to take action for something like a constructive eviction or personal injury claim.
If you’re in a dispute with your landlord, you must have evidence proving your case. Even if you never have a major disagreement with the landlord, having a clear record of your interactions regarding the unit can be helpful. Here’s how to do it:
When you move into a new San Francisco house or apartment, it’s wise to begin a file containing your communication with your landlord or property manager. Add to that file any correspondence regarding your unit, including the lease, landlord notices, and copies of written documents you have sent to the landlord and/or property managers.
If you have a call or a meeting with your landlord where you talk about a problem – say the rickety stairs – or if something happens, write your landlord a letter or email to create a written record of what happened. Go through what you talked about and any decisions that you and your landlord agreed on. If you are sending a letter, make sure to sign and date it and then keep a copy for your file.
Text is now such a common way to communicate that it’s understandable for tenants to use text to communicate with their landlords. While texts are better than nothing, unlike email, if you lose or break your phone, you risk losing those records forever. If you do communicate with the landlord by text, ensure you back up your phone on a computer to save your texts. The last thing you want is to rely on text messages to keep a record and find out they were all erased months ago.
An oral agreement is an agreement that is made verbally. This may be legally enforceable in San Francisco but proving that the agreement actually exists can be really hard. When making an oral agreement with your landlord that is not reflected in your lease, always follow up with an email or letter that documents the issue.
For instance, if your lease says “no pets,” but your landlord tells you it’s okay to get a dog, make sure you follow this up in writing. Even a simple email that spells out your understanding, like, “Thanks for chatting with me at the house earlier. As we discussed, it is my understanding that you are okay with us getting a dog even though the lease says no pets. Based on this statement, we will be getting a dog this weekend. Thanks again!” will put the burden on your landlord to correct you if they aren’t on board with what you think you two agreed on. Without proof, you run the risk that your landlord forgets the conversation or pretends it never happened if you have a falling out.
Documentation is critical for repair and maintenance requests to your landlord. We recommend you document every repair request and any correspondence that follows about the property's condition. If your request is not addressed, or the repair done is inadequate, be sure to follow up in writing. Showing that the landlord was aware of (or should have known about) a repair issue is vital to holding them liable in court if a dispute occurs.
Having proof that you made several written complaints about rotting steps before falling through them, for example, will go a long way in proving that the landlord is liable for your injuries.
Sometimes no matter how hard you try to be nice, your relationship with your landlord can go south. But you will not help your situation by being rude or insulting in your communications. When you write your landlord – write it as if one day a jury may be looking at it. Even if your landlord is being a complete jerk, you don’t gain anything by being rude back. The more clearly you appear to be behaving reasonably and politely, the clearer it is that your landlord is in the wrong and not you. Any negative comments you make could make a juror or judge feel less sympathetic toward you if your case goes to court. So, no matter how frustrated or angry you may feel, keep everything clean and professional when communicating with the landlord.
This is another reason why sticking to written communication can be helpful - it allows you to re-read and edit your comments before sharing them and can help you avoid an overly emotional response.
Clear, respectful communication may help you avoid disputes with your landlord. And when disagreements do happen, good documentation can be critical to winning your case.
If you find yourself dealing with serious problems in your home, it’s time to start talking through your options and your rights. At Wolford Wayne, we’ve helped hundreds of tenants protect their rights and to take legal action when needed. Contact our San Francisco tenants’ rights attorneys at Wolford Wayne today if you need assistance.
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco couple who were forced to give up their home of over twenty years after their landlord’s dog attacked and killed their dog.Read More
Recovered on behalf of an Oakland tenant who suffered a serious injury due to her landlord’s negligent maintenance of her home.Read More
Recovered on behalf of a San Francisco tenant who suffered personal injuries and was forced to vacate his home of fifteen years after dealing with many months of environmental contamination and disruptive and nuisance construction conditions.Read More
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