Common Issues Faced By San Francisco Tenants

Evictions by new building owners: Unfortunately, when your building is sold, you may be the target of an attempted eviction.  In today’s real estate market it is becoming more common for unscrupulous purchasers to look for any reason to evict long-term rent controlled tenants.  This profiteering takes the form of several different types of evictions against which you may have legal protections, including evictions for alleged lease violations related to prohibitions against subletting, enforcement of no pets clauses, threatened Ellis Act evictions, and owner move-in (“OMI”) evictions to name a few.  When your building is purchased it is important for you to know your rights and protect yourself.

Entries by landlords: Oftentimes landlords make multiple entries into the homes of their tenants to snoop, harass, or conduct multiple open houses.  In many cases the landlords are abusing the rights of their tenants and breaking the law.  Civil Code Section 1954 governs landlord entries, and provides that except in the case of emergency or abandonment, the landlord must give a 24 hour written notice before entering a unit, and can only enter for the following reasons:

  • To make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, decorations, alterations, or other improvements;
  • To show the rental unit to prospective tenants, purchasers, or lenders, to provide entry to contractors or workers who are to perform work on the unit, or to conduct an initial inspection before the end of the tenancy;
  • If a court order permits the landlord to enter; or
  • If the tenant has a waterbed, to inspect the installation of the waterbed when the installation has been completed, and periodically after that to assure that the installation meets the law’s requirements.

Discrimination: Residential tenants are protected from unlawful discrimination by a complex web of both California and Federal Laws.  Examples of unlawful discrimination  include a  landlord refusing to rent to a tenant or making other rental decisions based upon a tenant’s:

  • Race, ethnicity, and national origin;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Sex and gender identity;
  • Age;
  • Marital status;
  • Disability (including HIV/AIDS);
  • Religious affiliation; or
  • Pregnancy

A successful discrimination lawsuit may result in the recovery of economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages, and the court may award attorney’s fees.  Economic damages include rent differential damages and other out-of-pocket expenses. Non-economic damages include emotional distress [humiliation, grief, fear, and anxiety] and general damages awarded by the jury.  If you have been discriminated against it is important to contact a lawyer immediately, as you will need to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) within a short time of the occurrence of discrimination and request a right to sue letter.  More information about the complaint process can be found on the DFEH website: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/ or on the DFEH FAQ page: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_HousFAQ.htm.

Habitability Issues: The warranty of habitability is implied in all residential rental agreements and imposes upon a landlord the obligation to maintain the leased dwelling in a habitable condition throughout the term of the lease.  This implied warranty of habitability is a corollary to the [residential] landlord’s statutory obligation under Civil Code Section 1941, which delineates specific habitability requirements for residential units.  Habitability defects can be used as a possible defense in a non-payment of rent eviction case brought by a landlord, can be the basis of a decrease in services petition with the San Francisco Rent Board, or a civil lawsuit for damages, and when the conditions are severe, can possibly justify a claim of constructive eviction.

Retaliation: Civil Code Section 1942.5 prohibits landlord retaliation.  Every tenant should read Civil Code Section 1942.5.  This section creates a presumption that any adverse action taken by a landlord against a tenant (i.e., causing the tenant to vacate involuntarily, increasing rent, decreasing services, etc.) within 180 days of a tenant’s exercise of his/her rights by [among other things] complaining about the conditions of the dwelling to a governmental agency or the landlord is a retaliatory act.

In addition to Civil Code Section 1942.5, the SFRO’s protections against retaliation include, Section 37.9(d) which provides as follows: “No landlord may cause a tenant to quit involuntarily or threaten to bring any action to recover possession, or decrease any services, or increase the rent, or take any other action where the landlord’s dominant motive is retaliation for the tenant’s exercise of any rights under the law. Such retaliation shall be a defense to any action to recover possession. In an action to recover possession of a rental unit, proof of the exercise by the tenant of rights under the law within six months prior to the alleged act of retaliation shall create a rebuttable presumption that the landlord’s act was retaliatory.”