Renting in San Francisco
Based on the age of the building they’re renting in, San Francisco has two kinds of renters. The lucky ones are those who live in a building predating June 1979, because they enjoy the safeguards from outrageous rent hikes and unfounded evictions. In other words, they are protected by the Rent Ordinance of 1979.
The rest are covered by a multitude of laws designed for renters’ protection, but for their landlords it is somewhat easier to file an eviction notice.
Those with Rent Ordinance protection can be evicted only for just cause, which is limited to these 16 scenarios. Below there are other scenarios, specifically applicable in San Francisco.
- Illegal unit – even though your landlord made up your unit without an actual permit, tenant law can still apply. In most cases, the Rent Ordinance protects you, even if the unit received the certificate of occupancy date after 1979. This happens because illegal units lack a certificate of occupancy. Without one, landlords cannot claim that the unit was built after 1979, thus is exempt from the Rent Ordinance. Furthermore, you’ll also benefit from the eviction protections, like all renters covered by the Rent Ordinance.
- Deposit confusion – at the start of your lease, your landlord requests you pay a deposit. Yet, did you know that even though he is hanging on to it, it is technically still yours? This means that you have a right to the interest it accumulates during your tenancy. In the San Francisco Administrative Code, section 49.2 it is stated that if you’ve lived in your apartment for at least a year (provided that you don’t live in subsidized housing), you are entitled to that interest when you move out. Moreover, this is applicable for everyone, not just those under the Rent Ordinance protection.
- New horizons – if the unit you’ve leased was advertised as having great views in the total package, be it of the Golden Gate or the Bay Bridge, etc., you know that is an amenity for which you paid extra. Thus, if a new construction gets in the way of your view, you can apply to have your rent reduced. You will need to file a decrease in services petition with the Rent Board. This doesn’t’ apply for market-rate tenants, sorry.
- Eviction – under just cause, meaning that your unit falls under the 1979 rental ordinance, if your landlord wants to move in or wishes to take the unit out of service, he will have to pay you. Usually he is required to pay around $5,300 for each tenant, but the amount varies depending on the eviction cause and increases each March. The same goes for illegal unit, as well.
- Under the Rent Ordinance, if the owners kick you out of the unit so that they move in, they should move in within three months and live there for at least three years following your eviction date. If they move out before the three years are up, they are required by law to offer the unit back to you at your old rental rate (plus allowable increases under the Rent Ordinance.)
- Under the Ellis Act, you have the same protection, but for a ten-year period, and the original rent has only to be offered for five years. In case your apartment was sold to new homeowners, those people will be bound by the Ellis Act, too. if they relocate during the ten-year period and decide to rent out their home, they’re required to offer it to you first. The not-so-pleasant part is that you will have to be your own detective—the owners are supposed to notify the Rent Board of their intent to re-rent, but somehow, this step often gets skipped.
- In the unfortunate event of a fire, flood, or some other natural catastrophe, you can move back in your apartment once its restored, at the same amount you paid before the improvements, plus any increases allowed by the rent board, such as the standard annual rent increase.