Fraudulent Owner Move-In Evictions

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Everyone in San Francisco knows someone who has been evicted thanks to an “owner move-in eviction.” But what happens if a tenant moves out of their apartment and their landlord doesn’t follow the law and move in? What happens if a landlord re-rents the apartment to a new tenant? In this article we discuss the consequences for what we commonly refer to as a fraudulent owner-move in eviction and the options for tenants who have been wrongfully evicted.

What is an Owner Move-In Eviction?

For starters, it’s important to address what an owner-move in eviction even is. An Owner Move-In Eviction happens when a landlord evicts a tenant from so that the owner or one of the owner’s relatives can move into the vacated apartment / house. An Owner Move-in – or “OMI” Eviction is one of the sixteen allowable grounds for an eviction in San Francisco. However, for an OMI Eviction to be valid a landlord must follow a number of requirements that are outlined under the Rent Ordinance.

Rent Ordinance Requirements for an Owner Move-In Eviction

To do an owner-move in eviction, a landlord has to follow certain rules under the Rent Ordinance. They can’t simply tell a tenant they have to move. These rules include but are not limited to:

  • Proper notice: A landlord must give a tenant a sixty day eviction notice. This notice must state the reason for the termination of the tenancy is because landlord or landlord’s relative will be moving into the unit, who it is that will be moving in, where they currently live, their ownership interest in the property and their interest in other properties. This notice must also be filed with the San Francisco Rent Board. A verbal warning or a letter from the landlord stating that he intends to move in to the unit is not enough. If a landlord fails to provide proper notice a tenant can refuse to vacate and challenge any eviction attempt in court. If the tenant prevails, the landlord would have to start over with a new sixty-day notice. Details on the notice requirements can be found here
  • Landlord must actually move in: If a tenant moves out in response to an owner move-in eviction notice the landlord must actually move in. And, they are required to do so within three months of the date the tenant actually moved out.
  • Principle Place of Residence: A landlord can’t simply store their stuff in your old apartment and call it a day. Rather they have to occupy the unit as their “principal place of residence” for at least 36 consecutive months. That means they have to actually live there and be able to show it.

If a landlord doesn’t continue to live in the apartment for five years they have a duty to offer the unit back to the evicted tenants.

Fight or Stay?

Tenant who get served with an owner-move in eviction notice have a choice to make: fight the eviction or move out within sixty days.

1. Fighting the Eviction

Fighting the eviction means that the tenant will have to prove that their landlord lacks the “intent” to move into the apartment as their principle place of residence. However, proving a landlord’s lack of intent is its own sort of challenge. If a tenant truly doesn’t think their landlord will move in, then this can be a good option to explore.

2. Moving Out

For many of our clients it’s no small feat to just move out of their long-term home. However, for those tenants who do choose to move out, we strongly advise that they monitor their old apartment. Tenants who have been evicted under a bogus owner-move in have potential claims for hundreds of thousands of dollars for a wrongful eviction.

Watch Your Apartment

Just because a landlord says they will move in doesn’t mean they will follow through. In many instances landlords DO re-rent these apartments, leave them vacant or use the place part time. Each of these uses violates the law.  

Here are some ways tenants can keep tabs on their former landlord to see if they are being honest:

  • Stay in touch with your neighbors and let them know the situation. Ask them to check in and let you know who is living in your old home, if anyone, and keep you updated on how the property is being used.
  • Drive or walk by your former home to see if it looks lived in, or who might be there from time to time (within reason – we don’t want you jumping fences or breaking any laws), or whether there is construction going on there.  
  • Set up an alert on Craigslist or Airbnb to see if your old home has been listed on the rental market.
  • Hire a private investigator or meet with a tenant lawyer to do a background check

What if a Landlord Doesn’t Move In?

If your landlord doesn’t follow the law and either leaves your apartment vacant, or re-rents your place to someone new you likely have grounds to sue your landlord for what is called a “wrongful eviction.”

Tenants who are forced to vacate on the basis of an owner or relative move-in eviction under false pretenses are entitled to substantial financial damages.  wrongful owner move-in eviction case can result in substantial damages.

Suing Your Landlord for Wrongful Eviction

Your rent-controlled apartment is a huge asset and losing it has real financial consequences for most tenants. If you are forced to leave and you suspect your landlord isn’t following the law regarding an owner move-in eviction it is critical that you contact a dedicated tenant’s rights lawyer to explore your options. You may be able to get your home back or recover money for your landlord’s wrongdoing.

Because there are time limitations as to when you can file a lawsuit against your old landlord it is important not to sit on this information or suspicion.

Just because your landlord claims they are evicting you in order to move in doesn’t mean you’re out of options or that you should take their word for it. Your landlord has to follow several steps in order to comply with the law and there is no guarantee they will do so. Many landlords assert they will move in and then never do. Given what a tenant is losing when they move out of their rent-controlled home and the potential to recover significant money from a landlord that violates the law, it is worth taking these steps.