In San Francisco there are thousands of apartments that are illegal. An illegal unit is a residential unit that is being rented out for residential use but lacks a separate Certificate of Final Completion and Occupancy (CFC). In California, it is illegal for a landlord to rent out a unit that lacks a CFC or collect rent from a tenant. While these units may be perfectly safe or look “normal” these units were built without going through the necessary permitting process, and thus the City has not signed off on them.
Renting an illegal apartment can pose risks to tenants. Common issues that tenants in illegal units deal with include: unlivable conditions such as water leaks, sewage backflow issues during rain storms, mold/mildew, increased risk in the case of fire, and pest infestations.
The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection is responsible for inspecting residential rental units and determining if they meet local zoning and building codes before a CFC is issued, which is required for the unit or building to be legally rented.
There are some indicators to look for if you think your rental unit may be illegal. Common forms of illegal apartments include:
Many single family homes in the Richmond and Sunset Districts have illegal “granny” or “in-law” units in the basement that were built in the 1950s or 60s without permits. Illegal units are often created when a landlord converts a property, such as a garage, basement, or other space, into a rental unit without obtaining the necessary permits and inspections. However, even a “normal” apartment can be illegal if it does not meet the city’s residential building codes. For example, a unit without two means of egress or very low ceilings may be an illegal apartment. Units that fail to meet health and safety codes, like those related to electrical wiring and plumbing, can also be categorized as illegal.
Before renting an apartment, especially one that meets any of the criteria above, it’s a good idea to verify legal occupancy status. The CFC is a public document, and you can request a copy through the city’s Records Management Division. You can also look up properties on the City Planning Department’s Mapping website to see how many units are listed. For example, if the property in question says 1 Unit, but you know there are two, chances are the second unit is illegal.
Tenants in illegal units have rent control and eviction protections under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, regardless of when the unit was built. While the Rent Ordinance generally only protects tenants living in units built before a certain time period (for rent control, June 1979), illegal units are automatically covered by the Ordinance. Landlords have a duty to provide tenants in illegal units with a habitable, safe place to live.
Landlords are not allowed to collect rent on illegal units, and tenants may be entitled to reimbursement for rent paid while residing in an illegal unit. If the Department of Building Inspection learns that an owner is renting out an illegal unit they may compel the landlord to legalize the unit. This can be a complex process for landlords and tenants alike so it is generally better not to notify the Building Department until you have discussed your options with an attorney in order to best protect your tenancy.
Addressing the issue of an illegal apartment and taking proper action for tenants requires an understanding of local housing laws, regulations, and legal remedies. If you live in an illegal apartment with safety issues or building code violations, reach out to the tenant attorneys at Wolford Wayne to discuss your rights.
We can assess the situation, determine if filing a claim is in your best interest, and, when necessary, take the appropriate legal action to hold your landlord accountable. Contact us today to learn more.
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