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What You Should Know about Renting an Illegal Apartment

What You Should Know about Renting an Illegal Apartment

What You Should Know about Renting an Illegal Apartment


What You Should Know about Renting an Illegal Apartment

San Francisco and other cities in the Bay Area continue to be some of the most expensive in the country. Due to the high rents, some landlords may be inclined to illegally rent out spaces that aren’t legitimate apartments in order to exploit their recovery for rent. However, as a tenant you may not even realize that you are living in an illegal apartment unit which can affect your tenancy rights.

What is considered an illegal unit?

An illegal unit is a residential space that doesn’t have the required Certificate of Occupancy from the city. Although the rental unit may not be legal, it can still be subject to the San Francisco Rent Ordinance unless it’s exempt for some other reason.

Signs that you’re living in an illegal unit

If the dwelling is an in-law apartment, a garage apartment, in an attic, or basement or a cottage in the backyard, chances are that it may be an illegal unit. Some other indicators of an illegal unit include the following:

  • If there is a separate entrance
  • If there is not a separate mailbox
  • If the residence doesn’t have its own address
  • If you have to walk through a garage to get to the unit
  • If the address includes a “1/2” or a letter like “A” or “B”
  • If the unit doesn’t have its own gas or electric meter
  • If there are unusually low ceilings (less than 7 feet high)
  • Lack of windows
  • Visible piping and ducting along the ceiling

Even if your unit doesn’t have any of these elements, it may still be an illegal unit due to merely not being in compliance with housing and building codes. A Certificate of Occupancy is a public record. This means that, for instance if you want to find out if your San Francisco unit is an illegal or non-conforming unit, then you can look it up online to see if there is a certificate recorded for your place.

Habitability Issues

Part of the problem with living in an illegal unit is that it may not be safe. Since it hasn’t gotten an occupancy certificate, the apartment could have housing violations. Under California law, landlords are still obligated to provide the same standard of habitability to tenants in illegal apartments that they would have to provide to tenants in conforming units. This includes:

  • Proper plumbing, gas, electricity facilities
  • Weather protection of roof and outside walls and unbroken doors and windows
  • Hot and cold running water
  • Sewage disposal system
  • Adequate and safe heating
  • Electrical lighting and maintenance in working order
  • Floors, stairwells, and railings maintained in good repair
  • Adequate containers for trash
  • Space free of trash, vermin, rodents, and other pests

What Can Happen if It is an Illegal Unit?

A lease to rent an illegal unit is considered void because the law doesn’t allow parties to go into a contract for an illegal purpose; they aren’t obligated to perform the contract duties. In other words, if there is no certificate of occupancy, the landlord isn’t entitled to collect rent from the tenant. However, being in an illegal unit can still make you subject to an eviction.

Discuss Illegal Unit Issues with a Tenants’ Rights Attorney 

If you’re worried about living in an illegal unit, then you should address them with an experienced tenants’ rights’ attorney. Whether your landlord is trying to evict you or you have safety concerns, a Wolford Wayne attorney can help direct you as to what to do about the situation. Contact us today.

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