My Landlord Is Selling My Building, How Pessimistic Should I Be?

My Landlord Is Selling My Building, How Pessimistic Should I Be?

My Landlord Is Selling My Building, How Pessimistic Should I Be?

I’ve lived for three years in the in-law apartment of a residential, two-family home built in 1900 (the landlords live in the main house upstairs; I live in the in-law/garden apt on the first floor). It’s in  Bernal Heights.

My landlords, with whom I have a very good relationship, are approaching their 80s, and just informed me last week (via a handwritten note on a piece of cardboard) that they are putting the house on the market.

I am 35, I have a dog (who I just adopted two months ago), and my rent is $1300, and hasn’t gone up since I moved there. As I understand it, any new owner would just slip in and become my new landlord…unless they do an Owner Move-In, in which case they would have to give me a bunch of money and 60 days to vacate and physically have a family member move in. Is that about right?

I’m a born pessimist, and I realize this is subjective, but does it happen often that a tenant in a situation like mine is forced out? Is it at least possible that a potential new owner would want the already-installed tenant and their monthly check? I’m trying not to freak out, but I just know that finding a similar place in SF (I love both my apt and Bernal very much) is basically impossible at this point, as would be buying a home. I don’t want to have to leave.

You claim to be a born pessimist. Perhaps you’re not being pessimistic enough. People who buy houses with in-law units rarely want an “already-installed tenant and their monthly check.” Why? Because your monthly rent will barely cover the new property taxes based upon the insane price a new owner paid for the house.

In other words, even if a new owner wants to rent his in-law unit, he doesn’t want to rent it to you. You’re not paying enough rent. San Francisco rents increased from 15% to 25% citywide last year according to an October article in the SF Examiner.

“It’s been an exciting, epic year for the rental market in San Francisco,” said Laura Gray, who handles rentals for Paragon Real Estate.

She attributes the increase in younger single tenants to the the aggressive hiring of tech firms such as Google, Apple and Twitter.

With demand for smaller rentals so high, many younger tenants are choosing to double or triple up in a larger three-bedroom flat. With singles prepared to pay anywhere from $1500 to 1800 per month for a shared rental, larger flats in San Francisco are easily renting out for $5000 to 6000 per month.

Hey, it’s been an exciting and epic year and San Francisco taxpayers (you) have subsidized Twitter-Motherfuckers so that their employees can pay $1,800.00 per month for a room in a three-bedroom flat. That same flat rented for about $1,800.00 total a couple of years ago. Based on my many conversations with tenants looking for apartments, the trend continues.

The first question you must ask: “Is my unit illegal?” In my experience most in-law units, like the one you describe, are illegal. I have written much on this subject over the years. I outlined the factors to make that determination in “SF Appeal Tenant Troubles: Can I Be Evicted Just Because My Apartment’s An Illegal Unit?”

You need to understand this because the present owners or a new owner can “remove the unit from the rental market” because it is illegal pursuant to Rent Ordinance section 37.9(a)(10).

All an owner has to do is inform you of his intent to demolish and get an over-the-counter building permit to remove the unit. Then the owner can serve you a 60-Day Notice to vacate with the permit attached and pay you the requisite relocation payment to move. The relocation payment this year beginning in March 2013 is $5,153.00. I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider that a bunch of money when it will likely cover about three or four months of your new Twitter-based rent.

To add insult to injury, I’ve seen many instances when a landlord will reinstall a kitchen in an illegal unit and re-rent it. There is absolutely no penalty for this unless the new tenant finds out and reports the unit to DBI and sues for fraud.

Epic. Happy fucking New Year! How’s that for pessimism?

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Does My Illegal In-Law Make My Single Family House Into A Rent-Controlled Building?

Does My Illegal In-Law Make My Single Family House Into A Rent-Controlled Building?

Does My Illegal In-Law Make My Single Family House Into A Rent-Controlled Building?

I currently rent a single family home with in-law unit (more than likely illegal) that was built around 1930.

I moved in about a year ago and my lease is just about up.

My lease states that after the first year, my rent is supposed to go up $100, which isn’t that big of a deal, but now my landlord wants to raise the rent by $300 (12%).

My lease also states that I am allowed to sublet the in-law unit which I am currently doing.

The Housing Rights Committee’s website states: “If you live in a single-family dwelling and there is an in-law unit attached to it, or a garage or basement apartment (whether or not this unit is legal), then your building is considered to have two units and you are fully protected under rent control.”

This makes me believe that I am fully covered under rent control.

The SF Tenants Union website states: “Annual Rent Increase Effective 3/1/11-2/28/12: 0.5%” Is this correct?

Should I consider speaking to a lawyer? I want to have all my facts straight before speaking to my landlord.

The Housing Rights Committee is correct. A house, built before 1979, with an illegal in-law unit is a rent controlled unit for purposes of both the annual allowable restrictions on rent increases and for purposes of “just cause” evictions.

Rent Board Rules & Regulations §1.17 provides: “Rental Unit means a residential dwelling unit, regardless of zoning or legal status, in the City and County of San Francisco and all housing services, privileges, furnishings (including parking facilities supplied in connection with the use or occupancy of such unit), which is made available by agreement for residential occupancy by a tenant in consideration of the payment of rent.” Of course, there are several exceptions, but an illegal in-law in not one of them.

To determine if the in-law is illegal please read, “Tenant Troubles: Can I Be Evicted Just Because My Apartment’s An Illegal Unit?”

It seems that you should be able to make a strong case that, regardless of the provision in your lease that requires an illegal rent increase, your rent can only be increased by .05%

So this is a no-brainer, right? Not so fast. It’s clear to me that the landlord is going to argue that he rented the whole house to you. A single-family dwelling is not covered by the rent limitations of the Rent Ordinance. He’ll claim that subletting the illegal unit is your problem, not his. That’s why he wrote the lease as he did in the first place.

Does that argument win? I think it’s unlikely. Should you seek some advice before you assert your rights? Absolutely.

I don’t know if you need to talk to a lawyer, but you should at least bring your lease and all document related to your tenancy to either the San Francisco Tenants Union or the Housing Rights Committee and have a counselor read your lease to determine its impact upon your rights.

What’s the lesson here for tenants? Don’t do your landlord’s dirty work for him.

I think it’s fair to say that the landlord, in this case, knows the in-law is illegal. He allowed you to sublet it so that he could increase the rent on the house. If, for some reason, the tenant downstairs is injured due to inherent safety issues in an illegal unit, you’re going to be named in the lawsuit along with the landlord. If the tenant reports the unit to the Department of Building Inspection, sure, the landlord has the duty to remove the unit. But if you didn’t tell the sub-tenant that the unit was illegal, you may be on the hook for a fraud allegation.

Clearly there were some advantages to your arrangement with the landlord. The ability to choose the downstairs tenant is an obvious one. However, you should have added a clause in your lease indemnifying you from any problems or damages that could arise from sub-leasing the illegal unit.

You have stepped into the landlord’s shoes. You rent the unit independently and you have assumed many of the risks. Why do you wanna be a !$&#@!$ landlord anyway?

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(415) 552-9060

Can I Be Evicted Just Because My Apartment’s An Illegal Unit?

Can I Be Evicted Just Because My Apartment’s An Illegal Unit?

Can I Be Evicted Just Because My Apartment’s An Illegal Unit?

Apartment’s an illegal unit.

I’m a protected tenant (65yrs old + 15 year resident) in an illegal unit. The building was recently sold and purchaser was aware of my protected tenant status. It appears that the strategy that is being used to get me out, is to have a building inspector come in to declare unit illegal and also possibly identifying some kitchen defects (venting). Owner has offered $5000 above relocation costs if I agree to get out without having inspector involved. The new owner would be reclaiming my unit for his own use without plans to use it as rental unit.

Can you please tell me what if any options I have if my apartment’s an illegal unit.

First, you need to determine if indeed your unit is illegal. Often illegal units take the form of in-law units under single family dwellings. One can find many of them in the Richmond and the Sunset. There are three characteristics that indicate a unit may be illegal.

No separate PG&E bill. If you are sharing your gas and electric bill or the landlord is paying the utilities, the unit is not separately metered. Of course there are quite a few big buildings and complexes like the Golden Gateway that are not separately metered. But two and three unit buildings usually have separate meters.

Ceiling height. Generally the Uniform Building Code requires a minimum ceiling height of 7’6″. If the ceilings in your unit are lower and you share PG&E, there’s an even bigger chance the unit is illegal.

Secondary egress. If a unit has no secondary means of egress (a second door or window to use to escape from a fire), that’s another big indicator that the unit could be illegal. Think garden apartment at the back of a garage where the only entry and exit is through the garden. Units that only exit into a garage are usually illegal. Converted attics without a fire escape are often illegal units.

SF Assessor-Recorder’s website. In a typical scenario one will find that the Assessor lists the property as a single family house with one unit, even though there is an in-law in the building.

Finally, you can search the Online Permit and Complaint Tracking at the DBI website or if you cannot find any information there make a records request to view the permits and the certificates of occupancy or certificates of final completion at the DBI Office.

Now to your question. You can never be a protected tenant if you live in an illegal unit. Not possible. Because the unit is illegal, it should not be rented at all. You must dispel yourself of the notion that you will be able to stay if the landlord calls the DBI to violate the unit.

The “kitchen defects” to which you refer are not defects. If the DBI cites the unit as illegal, the landlord will be required to “remove the unit from the rental market.” That is accomplished by removing the kitchen, the factor that defines the apartment as a separate dwelling unit.

You should be aware that in order to be legally evicted, the landlord will have “to demolish or to otherwise permanently remove the rental unit from housing use” pursuant to Rent Ordinance section 37.9(a)(10). The landlord must obtain all the necessary permits, give you with a sixty-day notice to vacate and provide you $8,502.00 in statutory relocation benefits.

It is interesting that the landlord does not want to report the unit to DBI. He has not offered you much more than the statutory amount to vacate and he misrepresented (lied about) the relocation amount. Something is very fishy.

I flat out don’t believe the claim that the new owner wants to use the unit for himself. If that’s the case, why all the subterfuge? Forgive me my cynicism, sometimes I can confuse cheap and cheesy with diabolical. But the results are the same–the tenant gets screwed.

You should also understand that the landlord may be liable to you for civil damages. For example, if the landlord originally rented the unit to you and represented it as a legal unit, you may have damages for fraud and/or void contract that could, theoretically, entitle you to demand that the landlord refund all of the rent you paid for 15 years. I say theoretically because there are a whole bunch of factors that need to be evaluated for your specific case.

Go to the San Francisco Tenants Union to discuss your specific options. In the meantime don’t sign anything.

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