Foreclosure: Banks Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Obey the Law

Foreclosure: Banks Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Obey the Law

Foreclosure: Banks Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Obey the Law

A well-organized gang blatantly violates the law for the sole purpose of lining their pockets. What? Are the Sopranos back in business? They may not use terms like “vig” or “nut”, but the banks are foreclosing as zealously as loan sharks. And they’re throwing innocent tenants out of their houses in the process.

During the last few weeks came revelations that banks have been foreclosing on properties that they may not even own!

None of this comes as any surprise to tenants and tenants’ rights organizations who have been complaining, since the meltdown, about banks’ illegal practices, including tenant evictions.

In May 2009, Congress passed the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act which required, at minimum, a ninety-day notice to vacate for tenants without a term lease. Banks have been routinely violating the Federal law since it passed.

Even in San Francisco, with just cause eviction protection (foreclosure is not a just cause), we defended tenants who had already provided the bank (Wells Fargo) with copies of their leases! The bank’s attorneys filed an eviction anyway only naming the owner who didn’t live there (they had been informed of that too), but still seeking to remove the tenants from all of the units.

In May 2010, Tenants Together released its 2010 Report: California Renters in the Foreclosure Crisis. In late June, California Attorney General, Jerry Brown, announced that he would investigate whether tenants rights are violated in foreclosures. This month, the Governator signed Senate Bill 1149 which will help tenants who defend improper bank evictions maintain their credit ratings and require banks to inform tenants of their rights with an eviction notice.

Will these new requirements help? Maybe, but if San Francisco’s law requiring landlords to notify tenants of their rights upon placing a building for sale is any indication, the answer is: Not much. Most of the banks’ soldiers in the field, real estate agents and brokers, can’t read at all, let alone read and understand the law. And they don’t give a shit. If their bosses can act with impunity, why can’t they? Think back to why we got here in the first place.

The only real legal solution to this mess is to pass a statewide just cause eviction law. Even Tony Soprano’s home state, New Jersey, allows eviction for 16 just causes and foreclosure is not one of them.

What can you do if your building is sold in foreclosure?

Occasionally tenants will receive a notice of default meant for the owner. If you do, you have an advantage because you can begin to check public records to see if the there will be a foreclosure auction.

When you know the sale is final, stop paying rent to the owner. Remember the owner has been collecting your rent all the while he hasn’t been paying his mortgage. He needs the money and he will lie about the foreclosure to keep collecting your rent as long as he can. I’ve seen several cases in which the owner still wanted to collect rent in exchange for writing up new leases. This may sound attractive, but if a bank can prove you negotiated a sweetheart lease in anticipation of foreclosure, you could lose rights you may have to stay. Besides, it’s fraud.

Don’t spend the rent you withheld. After foreclosure, banks don’t often inform tenants how and where to pay rent, even if tenants ask. After a few months, they simply serve a three-day notice to pay or quit. If you don’t have the money to pay them you can be legally evicted.

Don’t communicate with the “representative of the bank” without proper notice. Often the first inkling you’ll have that the property is bank-owned is when you see a “representative” skulking around the building. He wants to ask you questions about your tenancy. He’s a real estate thug. He will want to talk about a “cash for keys” program and use veiled threats that you could be evicted if you don’t go along. Get his identification and as much information as you can about him and his employer. You can give him a copy of your lease if he will sign a receipt. You can also mention you know your rights as a tenant. Then politely inform him that you will call the cops if he ever shows his face again without proper notice pursuant to the law. In California it’s Civil Code section 1954.

Gather information. Try to find out who you can contact at the bank. It’s usually impossible because, like all experienced con artists, banks don’t answer the phone. Try to find out which attorneys represent the bank. If you happen to be dealing with a representative and ask him where to pay the rent, he might reply vaguely, “Oh don’t worry about that, the lawyers will send you something.” That’s the time to ask, “Who are the lawyers?” You need to be ready if you receive a notice to quit.

If you receive an unlawful notice to quit, don’t panic. If you live a a jurisdiction like San Francisco or Santa Monica that has a rent ordinance and eviction only for just cause, write a letter to the attorneys on the notice and point that out. Also tell them that if they proceed with an eviction you will file a complaint against them at the State Bar.

If you have a lease and you don’t live in an unenlightened city, send the lawyers a copy and tell them you have the right to stay until the lease expires under Federal law or 90 days whichever is longer. Once again, if they try to evict you illegally you will file a complaint with the State Bar.

Always communicate in writing. When I say “tell” I really mean write a letter.

Report abusive real estate agents to the local board or the California Department of Real Estate. When their licenses may be on the line, sometimes realtors will back off.

You get your security deposit back. Just because the bank did not collect the security deposit from the owner does not absolve it of its legal obligation to refund your security deposit in California. Civil Code section 1950.5(j) is clear that the landlord’s successor in interest is liable for your security if a transfer of the deposit has not be made to the new owner according to  Section 1950.5 (h). In a foreclosure scenario that transfer isn’t made because the old owner defaulted.

The foreclosure mess is far from over. It is time for Just Cause Eviction to be enacted statewide. The best thing you can do is to support Tenants Together with your money or your time.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Does My Landlord Get To Ask About My Pot Plants?

Does My Landlord Get To Ask About My Pot Plants?

Does My Landlord Get To Ask About My Pot Plants?

I have an otherwise reasonable landlord. I rent a house with a completely fenced private yard. I have two pot plants. I am a medical marijuana patient. My disability is visible. I’m also a professional psychologist with a license to protect and I know I’m not breaking the law.

The landlord, with my permission brought a workman over to repair a shed. Since I knew he’d see the plants amidst the tomatoes and strawberries I decided to tell him in advance about them and my medical clearance. No further mention was made, and the shed was repaired. I decided to move the plants anyway, since I’ve had them stolen in past and now a workman has seen them.

So they are not on my property now but before the landlord knew that, he wanted to see my medical papers, claiming that his WIFE is concerned – she works in a police station and doesn’t want MY activities to reflect badly on HER. Well, of course if she doesn’t blab about it – how would anyone even know?

That is beside the point. My question is: Does the landlord, or anyone, have the right to demand to see my medical papers?

I believe I have privacy rights as a citizen and as a patient. I also have a prescription for vicodin, and have that in the house, but he’s not demanding to see my medical records on that. Both substances are illegal without medical clearance; both are covered under medical record privacy laws. Or am I wrong?

In addition, just because he owns the house, does not mean it’s his business, nor his or his wifes responsibility for what I do in it. I’m not destroying the property, nor disturbing the peace. It’s my private yard and if I garden naked or grow pot in that garden (within the limit) is not his or anyone’s business. Or am I wrong?

I believe I can only be compelled to show any such papers by court order, or maybe if I want to avoid arrest in some circumstances it would be smart and appropriate to show medical clearance. But can the landlord demand my papers just because he owns the house?

I want to be clear on my rights here. Can you direct me to someone who can answer these questions?

I wish my answer could be simple, something like: We live in San Francisco, the most tolerant city in the world. Of course, you can tend to your marijuana garden in the nude. Doesn’t everybody? Note that my simple answer implies that marijuana use and cultivation is legal and has been for, say, the last forty years. Unfortunately, this simple analysis is not available…yet.

Our society has long maintained conflicting attitudes toward marijuana. Our policies are simply schizophrenic. In California we laud the plant as having beneficial medical value while we still prosecute those who smoke it “illegally.” One might argue that those who make marijuana policy should sit down, smoke a joint, listen to the Dead and think about what they have wrought.

In San Francisco we passed an initiative to make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority for our police and in 2006 established the Marijuana Offenses Oversight Committee to monitor the implementation of the ordinance. Yet on September 30, 2009, the Police Department issued a press release encouraging all citizens to report suspected illegal marijuana cultivation.

As you can imagine, the paradox extends to landlord-tenant relationships. As a medical marijuana patient, California supports your right to smoke and cultivate pot.

Federal law, however, makes it a misdemeanor to possess and a felony to cultivate pot. Rent Ordinance §37.9(a)(4) provides a just cause for eviction if, “The tenant is using or permitting a rental unit to be used for any illegal purpose.” It is also likely that your lease has a similar provision.

So what do you do? I think your decision to remove the plants was a prudent one, given the absolute uncertainty of the law.

Does the landlord have the right to demand to see your medical papers? It depends upon your definition of medical papers. If you mean your medical records that qualified you for your status as a medical marijuana patient, the general answer is no, not without a court order.

The landlord can only get a court order if there is a pending lawsuit. That lawsuit would likely be an unlawful detainer (eviction) action–difficult and expensive to defend.

Why force the issue? Do you have one of San Francisco’s optional city-issued medical marijuana ID cards? If so, I suggest that tenants simply show the landlord their cards. Then the landlord is on notice that you have a viable defense in case he tries to evict you. His eviction could be viewed as disability discrimination.

Is it the landlord’s business to know what’s going on in this building in general? Absolutely! The landlord has the duty to repair and maintain the building. He has the right to inspect the building to perform those duties. I always argue that the landlord knew or should have known about defective conditions in a building when I prosecute a case for breach of the warranty of habitability.

Is it the landlord’s business to know about and control potential illegal behavior in this building. Absolutely! Landlords get sued by municipalities all the time for allowing their buildings to be used as crack houses, for example, under the rubric of “public” nuisance.

I know marijuana is not crack. Tenants have possessory rights to their units as well as the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment. In other words the landlord is mostly required to leave you alone…unless you’re doing something that’s illegal. (Nude gardening doesn’t count unless you live in Boulder, CO.)

The marijuana laws are just as confusing to a landlord. While it’s highly unlikely, a landlord’s property could be seized if a court determined that he had some culpability in an illegal growing scheme. Landlords can be subject to stiff fines for public nuisance. Finally, what are they supposed to do if other tenants or neighbors complain or dutifully report cultivation to the police department? This is one of those rare situations when I see that the landlord is also acting prudently.

As tenants, we can help allay our landlords’ confusion. We can begin to reverse the idiotic policies that lead to conundrums like this. We can vote Yes on Proposition 19 for the legalization of possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Your Landlord Is Lying To You, Why Are You Lying FOR Him?

Your Landlord Is Lying To You, Why Are You Lying FOR Him?

Your Landlord Is Lying To You, Why Are You Lying FOR Him?

Nov. 1, 2008 – Brad, Carmen, and Carole signed a 1 year lease for a single family house built in 1952 in San Francisco.

Aug. 1, 2009 – Carmen is laid off and posts an ad on Craigslist that I answer and then replace her on the 1 year lease.

Oct. 1, 2009 – Carole moves in with her boyfriend and we find a girl named Alison to replace her on the lease as well.

Nov 1, 2009 – The original 1 year lease expires and Brad, Alison, and I opt to stay here on a month to month basis.

May 1, 2010 – Alison moves out to go away to college and a girl named Valerie takes over her month to month status.

Sept. 16, 2010 – The landlord emails us saying we must vacate by Nov 1, 2010 and suggests using our deposits as rent.

Sept. 17, 2010 – I respond telling her that’s a No-Fault Eviction and that he will need to pay me and Brad $4,500 each.

Am I wrong or right about my interpretations of Prop H? I have been here a little over 1 year and Brad has been a little over 2 years.


A bank employee had come to the house several times the past few months asking if the landlord lives here and I gave purposefully vague answers and then called the landlord who asked that I lie to them next time and say she does live downstairs but was out that day.

This morning I was awakened by the mailman ringing our bell and I threw on my robe and answered the door and I had to sign my name for the envelope that I assumed was our eviction notice. However, I forgot to check the name on it and, after opening it, found it was addressed to the landlord and contained a document that is titled “NOTICE OF DEFAULT AND ELECTION TO SELL UNDER DEED OF TRUST”. I assume that means this place is in foreclosure.

When I mentioned the bank employee in my email to the landlord about relocation fees he called and said the bank has nothing to do with our eviction and that he is just having family from Hong Kong move to the US and needs a place to stay.

He was lying to the bank that he lived here and I think he may be lying about his family moving in too but I don’t think it even matters, no?

Am I really being “evicted”? I thought that was a legal term like bankrupt or divorced and is not the same as being asked to leave when a lease expires. Eviction is something a sheriff and a locksmith do, no? What is the point of the lease at all if the landlord can almost never ask you to leave when it expires without paying you? And what does month-to-month really mean if both parties can’t just up and walk away at a month’s notice?

I read the email thread attached to your question and decided to change the names of the members of your household because I don’t want the landlord to get any ideas if he reads this.

Your analysis of the situation is fairly accurate, but let’s review:

The fact that you live in a single family dwelling built before 1979 means that your tenancy is entitled to the protections of the “just cause” provisions of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. In other words, you cannot be evicted unless the landlord can demonstrate one of the fifteen just causes under Rent Ordinance §37.9(a).

Your landlord’s email (which you also sent me but in the interests of brevity we did not include in this article) demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the Rent Ordinance when he claims that your lease is expired and that he has the right to ask you to leave. This is a common misconception harbored by landlords and tenants in San Francisco because it would be true without rent control.

If you study Rent Ordinance §37.9(a)(8), the owner-move-in (OMI) just cause, you’ll find that the owner cannot evict you to allow a relative to move in unless they live in the building too.

If the owner deeds the relative a 25% ownership of the house (very unlikely, given that it may be in foreclosure), then the relative (as an owner) can evict your household base on the OMI just cause. Then you and Brad would be entitled to relocation payments, as outlined in Rent Ordinance §37.9C. This year you’d get $5,101.00 apiece assuming you have no disabilities and neither of you is over 60 years old.

The “eviction notice” you received by email from your landlord could never support an unlawful detainer action, a lawsuit filed in Superior Court to formally evict tenants and thereby receive the court’s permission to get the sheriff to kick them out. So, no, you are not being evicted in the formal sense of the word.

How can the landlord evict you? Because you live in a single family dwelling (a house or condominium) and you moved in after 1995, your tenancy is exempt from the annual allowable rent increase section of the ordinance. The landlord can raise your rent as much as he wants as long as he can make a case that he didn’t increase the rent just to evict you. If you don’t pay the increase, the landlord can evict you for nonpayment of rent.

Given your recent interactions with the landlord, I think it would be tough for him to prove that he raised the rent in good faith, without ulterior motive. But you should understand that raising the rent could be the next gambit.

The next time a “bank employee” comes by the house, tell them politely that if they show up again, you’ll call the cops. They have no right at all to bother you if they don’t own the property. If they do own the house, they still need a 24-hour notice to inspect pursuant to California Civil Code §1954. Under that provision of the law, they would not have the right to “inspect” in order to grill you about the landlord’s whereabouts.

If anyone stops by to inquire about the property, always ask them for their ID before you kick them out. You never know who these jokers could be. They could be casing the joint to burglarize it.

Your landlord is probably a liar. This is could be a desperate attempt to empty the house to try to make a last ditch effort to sell it. Your landlord doesn’t have any problems lying to you. I hope you would never consider lying for him.

In this case, if you led the bank to believe that the landlord lives with you, the bank will claim that you are not tenants, but lodgers, when they come to evict you after foreclosure.

It may not be true and the law doesn’t support the premise, but the banks don’t care about the law.

I’ve written about this over and over. Your relationship with your landlord is not personal, it’s simply a business transaction. What if you were my client and I asked you to lie to the bank about the amount you paid me for my services? You’d think I was a sleazy lawyer who should be reported to the State Bar. And you’d be right.

Tenants: Never, ever lie for your landlord!

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Management Company Only Pretends We Have A Resident Manager

Management Company Only Pretends We Have A Resident Manager

Management Company Only Pretends We Have A Resident Manager

I understand that The California Code of Regulations stipulates that a building of 16 units or more is supposed to have a Resident Manager who shall “have charge of the apartment building.” It looks like certain landlords enjoy making sport of circumventing the clear spirit of this regulation (which certainly could benefit from being more specific) by making the defined duties of their Resident Manager non-existent.

I live in a 30-some-unit former Citiapartments building on Nob Hill, which is now in receivership.The interim property management (we’ve redacted the company’s name) company has installed a company employee in the unit that has always been the Manager’s Apartment. We received a paper notice announcing this person’s arrival as our “Resident Manager.”

However, the phone number the notice provides is answered, during their regular business hours, by the “Guest Services” desk of the property management company’s short-term rental operation. I’m not at all sure these humans are aware of the existence of actual tenants here, as opposed to short-term “guests,” and I believe not one of them has ever or will ever set foot on the premises.

So, when the police arrive at 2 in the morning and want to get in, they wake the first tenant listed on the directory. Likewise when a “guest” arrives after hours. Or the cable guy, exterminator, emergency plumber, or elevator repair team. I often find these kinds of folks standing helpless at the door or randomly dialing on the entry box, as do my neighbors.

The property management company can and does send repair people here, but they don’t buzz them in and show them where the problem is or give them access to it (e.g. the boiler room is locked). Sometimes these folks are given the entry code to buzz themselves in, which creates a whole other security issue, with all kinds of people having the run of the building.

Just this week, there was no heat for almost a week and there was never a notice posted or distributed about it. The phone answerers either had no idea what was going on or were providing nonsensical and/or contradictory information, and that only if you called and pushed for it. When the elevator goes out (not an infrequent event, given its age) there are no repair status reports posted or, more importantly, distributed directly to the disabled, so no way for disabled tenants to work around the outage or even know enough about what’s happening to ask for assistance to survive it.

When I needed repairs in my unit, the property management company told me to leave my door unlocked because they aren’t here to let the folks in and out of my apartment.

They also can’t, from their offices, supervise any repair work or the people doing it. So one comes home to complete messes, incomplete or incorrect repairs, and, in once recent case, a creepy note from a young workman affixed to a female tenant’s fridge.

We have reported the it’s-just-pretend Resident Manager situation to the Department of Building Inspection but when they investigate the complaint, the powers that be at the property management company points to this faux Resident Manager and the BI throws up his or her hands helplessly. The people who answer the phone at the property management company don’t even bother to pretend that this person living in the building has anything resembling “charge over the premises” when we call now. So the message to the regular tenants on this issue, seems to be “Suck on This.”

But must we? I’ve Googled up at least a couple of cases* in which the Rent Board granted “decrease in services” petitions to renters who reported the absence of a Resident Manager. Truly we would rather have the real thing than a bit of extra cash, but we’ll take what we can get.

Is there another or better way to persuade the property management company to comply with the spirit as well as the letter of California Code of Regulations, Title 25, Article 5, Section 42, Page 105? Or, if indeed the reg is too vague to be enforced in cases like ours, any chance there’s a campaign afoot to give it some real teeth?

Lately there has been a lot of discussion about vacation rentals and their impact upon rent control and affordable apartment inventory. New York and Paris have recently cracked down on vacation rentals and pied-à-terres.

You’d think that your property management company’s website alone would be prima facia evidence that the property management company has offered units for tourist or transient use, a blatant violation of San Francisco Municipal Code §41A.5.

Notice that that the Director of the Department of Building Inspection is responsible for the enforcement of Section 41A.5. You and your fellow tenants should write letters describing your property management company’s illegal practices to:

Ms. Vivian L. Day, Director
San Francisco Department of Building Inspection
1660 Mission Street, 6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 9410

Copy your letters to:

Mr. Dennis Herrera
City Attorney
City Hall, Room 234
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102-4682

Ms. Kamala Harris, District Attorney
850 Bryant Street, Room 322
San Francisco, CA 94103

This will still be a tough case to prove. Why? Because your property management company will maintain that they would be happy to continue to rent “suites” to tenants even as rent controlled tenancies. What do they care if they have a long-term tenant paying $14,000.00 (or whatever) per month?

That’s why you may perceive some reticence to investigate and prosecute from the officials charged with that duty. Although the potential benefit in tax revenue to our cash strapped city should be motivation galore. (Yes, Laramar, Golden Gateway and others who rent “executive suites” should be paying the hotel tax!) But before I begin to castigate our public servants, let’s see what happens.

Write another version of the letter to the building’s receiver emphasizing the lack of the resident manager and the habitability issues. If the receiver has been appointed by the court they have a duty to protect assets, one of which is to avoid being sued.

You should also begin to document all of your complaints in writing. In other words, send letters to the “resident manager” directly, so that you can ask him or her questions like, “Did you receive our complaint?” “What did you do about it?” “Isn’t it your job as the resident manager to respond to tenant complaints?” “Answer the door for the police and workmen?” and “Just what do you do?” in the hearing for your decrease in services petition at the Rent Board.

Report the violations of the warranty of habitability to a Housing Inspector at the DBI.Notices of violation are also good evidence for decrease in services.

Refuse to buzz anyone in who isn’t coming to visit you. Let the “guests” do that. It will make them feel neighbors, members of the building community.

Finally, the Code of Regulations is clear that buildings with over 16 units must have a resident manager, janitor, housekeeper or other responsible person, but it doesn’t provide a penalty for a violation. A housing law written without a remedy is the legislature’s version of “Suck on this!”

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

A Lease With An “Introductory Rate”?

A Lease With An “Introductory Rate”?

A Lease With An “Introductory Rate”?

I moved into my apartment in June of this year. The lease I signed gave me an introductory rate of $950 per month for the first 6 months and $995 for the last 6 months. When I remarked about the increase to a co-worker, he told me that this increase sounded illegal and probably violated rent control laws. I had no idea. Is the $45 increase legal?

Am I getting a whiff of Parkmerced? Parkmerced, the sprawling group of high-rise apartments and townhouses next door to San Francisco State, is the largest rent controlled apartment complex in the City. Parkmerced comprises approximately 3,400 units. In order to increase upside in their investment, Parkmerced’s various owners, including the notorious (and now deceased) Leona Helmsley, have tenaciously challenged the San Francisco Rent Control Ordinance in court and devised schemes to try to contract around it. The Parkmerced Residents’ Organization is one of the oldest tenants’ associations in the City. They can tell you some stories.

Before I start slagging another broke (yep, belly-up, victims of their own greed, boo-hoo), big landlord, we need to understand if you are, in fact, being flim-flammed.

We need to see if you live in a rent-controlled apartment.

Generally, if your building was built before 1979 and it has two or more units, your tenancy is covered by the rent ordinance price and eviction controls. If you unit has been converted into a condominium, your tenancy is not subject to the allowable annual increase. In other words, the landlord can raise the rent as he pleases.

If you are not sure if the building was built before 1979, go to the SF Assessor-Recorder’s website., click the disclaimer and enter your address. Check the pop-up window to see when the building was constructed.

Enter Parkmerced. Five years ago when Parkmerced was the “Villas at Parkmerced” they had a program to entice renters called “Bonus Bucks.”

The scheme went like this: A tenant signed a one-year lease to rent an apartment for $1,675.00 per month, but received a monthly rebate of $350.00 effectively paying $1,375.00 per month. At the end of the lease term, Parkmerced increased the rent, using the allowable increase of 1.7% but based the increase on $1,675.00 rather than $1,375.00. The increases amounted to over 28%.

The Rent Board found that the increase was illegal and later, Parkmerced settled a class-action lawsuit reimbursing the illegal increases. Essentially, you cannot contract around the Rent Ordinance.

If your tenancy is rent controlled, your lease violates the Rent Ordinace in two ways. First, it establishes an increase six months after the inception of the tenancy. Second, the increase of $45.00 is about a 4.7% increase. The allowable increase this year is .1% Yes, one tenth of one percent!

In December, send your landlord a nice Christmas card explaining why you’re not going to be paying the $45.00 increase.

If the landlord sends you a three-day notice to pay or quit, pay the increase and file a petition at the Rent Board alleging an unlawful rent increase.

Okay, I’m dying to know, is your landlord Parkmerced?

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Can My Landlord Search My Apartment For Pot?

Can My Landlord Search My Apartment For Pot?

Can My Landlord Search My Apartment For Pot?

So, I just got this letter in the mail from the real estate company who owns the apartment building I’ve live in (about 15 units), and it just seems weird to me:

INSPECTION OF PREMISES – for Unsanitary Living Conditions, Hoarding, Alterations, Pets, and growing, cultivation, sale or use in any form of marijuana.

The owners and management company will notify and issue a 24-hour notice to inspect the units and building for Unsanitary Living Conditions, Hoarding, Alterations, Pets, and growing, cultivation, sale or use in any form of marijuana to protect and secure ALL tenants in the building.

Refusal to allow access is just cause ground for eviction Please do not lock the bedrooms, our owners; contractor and insurance representative would like to see the condition of each room.

Your advance cooperation is greatly appreciated by the Owners and [redacted].

Do no hesitate to contact this office if you have any questions or comments.

(All whacky punctuation is theirs.)

So, first, the obvious: Marijuana growing or any kind of use?? Are they going to check all the ashtrays and garbage cans for roaches and seeds? How much are they allowed to search? And ARE they allowed to search for something like a half smoked joint somewhere on the premises? I realize pot is illegal, and that counts as illegal activity, but do I really have to toss my stash? (Just kidding. Of COURSE I don’t have a stash!)

Second, does 24-hour notice have to come in the form of a phone call? Or can they mail a letter that I might not get until the day of or after the inspection and have that count as 24-hour notice? And do I really not have the right to insist on a different day if I prefer?

Lastly, who decides what counts as “hoarding” anyway? Could they evict a tenant for having too many magazines stacked next to the bed because they deem that as hoarding? I mean seriously, WTF? And even if they were to claim something like that as hoarding, can they evict you then and there, or does a tenant have a legal right to rectify the situation and keep their apartment?

From what I understand of the code about landlord entry and from your earlier column, they can only come in the case on an emergency, to make repairs etc. that we’ve agreed upon, or to show the unit to potential buyers or tenants. I guess the real question is, are they allowed come in for the reasons they are listing?

If they aren’t, then they can’t really evict me for refusing, right? And, if they aren’t allowed to come in for this “inspection,” and were to do it anyway, essentially illegally, then how could they use anything they find as a legal means of eviction?

But seriously. Looking for POT? And hoarding? WTF?!

WTF?! I have always said that successful real estate brokers and sales people are proof that the United States is not a meritocracy. Imagine my disdain for those involved in property management–real estate “industry” groupies who will do anything to rub up against the big money. I’m guessing that the recent real estate conference, “It May Not Be As Easy To Steal, But Sure As Shoot You Can Still Lie!” had a seminar called, “Evict ‘Em Now Before It Becomes Legal.”

This notice comes straight from the CitiApartments playbook.You probably heard the story about how their goon squad illegally entered an apartment, videoed a bong and then threatened the tenant with eviction for illegal drug use. An entry based on this notice or a subsequent notice with a date and time would be just as illegal from my reading of California Civil Code §1954. Reread “Sorry, CitiApartments, Routine Inspections Are Illegal.” Remember any such notice must be in writing, no phone calls.

We live in a cynical era where politicians and demagogues advance their own petty agendas by justifying them in the name of security. We all know that the Fourth Amendment, indeed the entire Constitution, has taken a beating for the last 30 years. It’s not surprising that I have seen an uptick in landlord demands for passports and greencards of visitors and relatives or inspections like this. My take on this (and I may be too idealistic) is that one still has to get a warrant to search for marijuana in this manner. The key exception is emergency or “exigent circumstances” when the court will allow a warrantless search. But this applies to the police.

Landlords still can’t deputize themselves, declare an emergency and demand entry. I hope I’m not being naïve. Because we don’t live in Arizona, I find it hard to believe that the police would act on an emergency call from the management company based on any of the allegations above. That’s not to say the landlord won’t make something else up, however, they would not be able to conduct the inspection in the manner they wish if the cops are searching for roaches and seeds. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of asking a cop to see the warrant, show him the notices and suggest (as delicately as possible) that he has been duped by the landlord, wasting valuable public resources.

Real hoarding and cluttering, not a stack of magazines next to the bed, is often the symptom of a disability–depression, elderly dementia, obsessive/compulsive disorder. In my experience at the Homeless Advocacy Project where I more or less specialized in the issue, you know hoarding and cluttering when you see it or smell it. There is a real nuisance or fire hazard.

I’ve seen three-bedroom apartments stacked to the ceilings with newspapers, magazines, clothes and trash. I had a client who, literally, picked up every cigarette butt and every shiny object or piece of metal he found on the street and took it home to supply and construct his spaceship.

Often landlords learn of the problem because other tenants report cockroach and mice infestations or unrepaired leaks from above. If a person is threatened with eviction for creating a nuisance by hoarding, they can often request a reasonable accommodation for their disability to get the time and resources to clean up the mess. If you know anyone in your building who may be hoarding and vulnerable to eviction, refer them to the San Francisco Mental Health Association or the Homeless Advocacy Project.

Your final question is the most difficult one because it presents the universal tenant conundrum. How can you enforce your rights if the landlord tries to evict you illegally based on this idiotic notice? Lawyers are expensive. While many tenant lawyers, ourselves included, will take an occasional case to make a point, it doesn’t happen that often. That’s why many advocacy groups may suggest that you allow entry so you won’t jeopardize your tenancy.

It’s a shitty deal. It’s the reason to contact your legislators, the courts and anyone else involved in the program to find out how you can voice your issues to help implement the new law in California guaranteeing low income tenants the right to representation at an unlawful detainer. Call Tenants Together and ask how you can get involved.

In the meantime, put down that joint, hide your stash, toss the magazines and inform the management Nazis, in writing, that you feel secure enough in your building and that their pre-notice is illegal pursuant to Civil Code §1954.

If you receive another notice, try to take it to the San Francisco Tenants Union or a tenant lawyer to develop a strategy for your next response.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Why An Absentee Master Tenant Is A Bad Idea

Why An Absentee Master Tenant Is A Bad Idea

Why An Absentee Master Tenant Is A Bad Idea

Our issue is this: we have a ‘new’ housemate that just is not working out well. She’s constantly being a nuisance despite many verbal and written requests to change her behavior and has a habit of damaging other housemates property as well as the unit itself. We would like to have her out but don’t know if it is legal for us to ask her to move or do we ask the master tenant to evict her?

She’s been living here 8 months and there has been some issue each month that causes us utter consternation at her lack of respect of property and forgetfulness as to the written house rules (despite the verbal and written reminders). If nothing else, due that I cannot keep my property from being damaged (I’m not talking normal wear and tear), I have to now keep furniture/appliances/etc… in my room and have lost space in the house–would this constitute a loss in services and may I reasonably ask for a rent reduction because of it?

When I received this question, my first inclination was not to answer it at all. Why? Because you are asking me a question, in your capacity as a landlord, for advice on how to evict a tenant. I don’t give eviction advice to landlords, period. But, as you can see, I think your issues need to be addressed because they are, after all, very common.

What you have here is a personality conflict. The San Francisco Rent Ordinance does not articulate a just cause to evict someone because of a personality conflict. Your facts, as you state them, do not indicate that your roommate is at all a nuisance in the legal sense. So, based on your question, I don’t believe it would be legal for either the household or the master tenant to attempt to evict your roommate. In fact, you could be liable for any damages she suffers from any “wrongful endeavor” or “harassment” to evict her.

Work out your problems with your roommate. If you need help to resolve your differences, you should try mediating the dispute with Community Boards. I don’t have any direct experience with them, but I have heard, from many sources, that they provide effective, professional and successful meditations for disputes like these.

With respect to a claim for decrease in services, I don’t see that moving your stuff into your room constitutes a substantial decrease in services. Besides, who would you name in your petition? The landlord? The so-called master tenant?

This brings me to real tenant issue implied in your question. The master tenant doesn’t live in the unit and he may not have permission to sublet.

With every complaint to the landlord you run the risk that he will begin an “inquiry” into subletting in the unit. He could claim that, despite any prior permission he gave the master tenant to sublet, he never gave permission to sublet to the current set of tenants. This happens all the time. The landlord was fine with the situation as long as there was no trouble. If he has to deal with trouble anyway, why not just get rid of all the tenants and raise the rent? The fact that the landlord lives in the same building and probably knows you and your roommates is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be spared a long and costly legal battle to save your tenancy.

Every complaint to the “master tenant” increases his desire to evict you. As I pointed out in, “Tenant Troubles: What Rules Govern Master Tenants?” many master tenants like to throw their weight around.

Let’s say the “master tenant” is a great person who isn’t profiting on his control of the unit and won’t try to evict you. (An unlikely scenario, as I point out in my blog post, “Bad Master Tenant.”) What if the landlord sells the building or dies? Do you honestly believe that your tenancy wouldn’t be jeopardized?

Tenants, it’s always a bad idea to rent a room in an apartment with an absentee master tenant. Too many things can go wrong.

Your problem, simply put, is that you have too many landlords. You’re a landlord wannabe. The master tenant is an absentee landlord. To top it off, the real landlord lives in the building. I see a shit storm in your future.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060