If I Need To Break My Lease, Am I Responsible For Finding A New Tenant?

If I Need To Break My Lease, Am I Responsible For Finding A New Tenant?

If I Need To Break My Lease, Am I Responsible For Finding A New Tenant?

I had a chaotic experience the first time moving into an apartment. We were first told by the onsite manager that we got the apartment, only to be told (after paying $120 application fee) that we might not pass since most of us are international students and we have no credit.

The property management told us the only way to rent to us was for us to find a guarantor, and on top of that he /she needs to be a home owner. After pulling all connections we found someone who would do that for us. When we signed the agreement we were told initially that if we want to move out prior to the end of the lease, we would need to tell them and then they, with our co-operation would try to find another tenant. Should a new tenant pass the application process then it would be ok to move. Now we are trying to relocate since my mother’s health is failing and she needs to move in with me.

Yesterday I called them to tell them we had to move. They told us that to help us advertise, it would cost us $895. I also received this email today:

You are allowed to find someone that is interested on your own. A friend or acquaintance. If they like the property they can call me and then submit an application and go through the acceptance process. If they qualify we can move forward. You may not advertise the property for rental.

I don’t understand. How am I suppose to find someone to move into my place if I cannot post anything saying I need to find someone to rent it? We were also forced to buy renter’s insurance for our property as condition of rent. Is this what renting are like in America?

This is a typical scam used by lazy landlords to guarantee their income without doing a lick of work. While the landlord may want you to think he owns you, he doesn’t. You can move whenever you want to, but you may be liable for damages to the landlord for breaching your lease.

These situations happen all the time. Tenants have to break their leases to deal with emergencies, job changes or simply because the unit wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.

When you choose to move and to technically breach your lease, the landlord has the duty to mitigate (lessen) his damages.

What are a landlord’s potential damages? If you signed a year lease and you want to move after six months, the landlord has an expectation that he would receive the same rent as you pay for the next six months. These are called “expectation damages.” He must mitigate those damages by renting the unit for the same amount as you were paying, not more. If the landlord can only rent the place for $100.00 less than you paid, he would incur $600.00 in expectation damages and you would be liable for those damages. The landlord might also incur costs to re-rent the unit. You mention a potential cost–advertising. Other costs can include reasonable payment to a rental agent or expenses incurred in re-keying a unit, etc. You may be liable for those costs, if the landlord can prove he spent the dough.

You are not responsible for finding another tenant. Period. That’s the landlord’s job! If he doesn’t try to find another tenant he is not mitigating his damages.

You should simply give your thirty-day notice (in writing) and move. Please don’t call them any more. Make them commit their idiotic assumptions in writing.

If the landlord tries to sue you for damages, the email you provided will serve as excellent evidence that the landlord was shirking his duty. Remember, the landlord has to prove that he incurred his claimed damages. Since when does a craigslist ad cost $895?

Yes, this is what renting is like in America. Like our health care system (37th in the world according to the WHO); our infant mortality rate (51st in the world according to the CIA); our incarceration rate (1st in the world according to the International Centre for Prison Studies); renters fair about as well as they do in most other third-world banana republics where tenants have few rights and El Jefe runs the show.

In Germany–health care system (25th in the world according to the WHO); infant mortality rate (205th in the world according to the CIA); incarceration rate (166th in the world according to the International Centre for Prison Studies)–renters comprise 57% of the population. Renters enjoy some of the cheapest rents in the industrialized world and they have some of the strongest legal protections, including no summary procedure (get ’em out quick) for evictions and state provided defense attorneys. Additionally, landlords do not enjoy the same tax breaks as they do in the United States. I use Germany as an example because my German business partner and I frequently compare our two countries and because I ran across this insightful article, Most Germans don’t buy their homes, they rent. Here’s why, by Matt Philips.

What’s my point? It comes as no surprise that the lords of your living space, who frequently exact a tax of over 30% of your income, don’t give a shit about the few rights you may have. They Don’t Call ‘Em Landlords for Nothing.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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3 Tenant Troubles–Roommate Rousting, Co-Tenant Challenges, Condo Craziness

3 Tenant Troubles–Roommate Rousting, Co-Tenant Challenges, Condo Craziness

3 Tenant Troubles–Roommate Rousting, Co-Tenant Challenges, Condo Craziness

Three Tenant Troubles in one.

I’m the master tenant in my three-bedroom apartment. Me and one other roommate are unhappy with the third roommate for a number of reasons I won’t get in to (none of which fall under the “just cause” list for reasons for eviction). She’s a headache and a mess but she does pay her rent.

I don’t believe she signed a lease when she moved in. I can’t find a copy of it in my files.

My landlord gave me permission to sublet and told me that the subletters don’t have the same rights for eviction and I can ask them to leave at any time without just cause. If we want to ask the third roommate to leave is that true?

Have you ever heard the old adage, “Free advice is worth the price”? Getting eviction advice from your landlord is like getting dating advice from that uncle who’s spent most of his adult life in prison–your landlord wants to evict anything that moves. San Francisco Rent Board Rules & Regulations §6.15C(1) is clear on this point:

For any tenancy commencing on or after May 25, 1998, a landlord who is not an owner of record of the property and who resides in the same rental unit with his or her tenant (a “Master Tenant”) may evict said tenant without just cause as required under Section 37.9(a) only if, prior to commencement of the tenancy, the Master Tenant informs the tenant in writing that the tenancy is not subject to the just cause provisions of Section 37.9.

If you do not have a sublease with your roommate, you’ll have to make like the late Rodney King and try to get along.

Remember, I will not represent nor will I provide advice to master tenants seeking to evict their subtenants.

I am named on the lease in the SF rent controlled building where we currently rent (Tenancy since 1979!).

My co-tenant is not named on the lease, but has been my co-tenant from February 1993, well before implementation of Costa Hawkins.

If I were to leave, would my co-tenant therefore be protected from egregious rent increases per your article, “Another Tenant Screwed By Costa Hawkins“?

Yes, your co-tenant would be protected because he or she has a tenancy created before the enactment of Costa Hawkins.

Your co-tenant must be able to prove that fact. Start to gather records that show your co-tenant occupied the unit with the landlord’s consent before 1996. Get voter registration documents, driver’s license information, old PG&E bills–any documents that corroborate residence dated prior to 1996. For good measure, if you still have them, collect old Christmas cards with post marked envelopes.

We live in the a 595-unit condo complex constructed in 2005.

We rented our condo in The Beacon from the condo’s owner in July 2012. We signed a one year lease and have been month-to-month since July 2013. Our landlord emailed us just before New Year’s Eve to let us know he planned to list the condo for sale. He expressed interest in selling to us if we are interested, especially since the buyer may not want to continue renting the unit. We told him to let us know that asking price for the unit and to please give us proper legal notice once he has more information.

Since receiving this information, we have not heard from the landlord again. His realtor emailed saying they are finalizing the sale price and will be in touch.

We are exploring our options to buy in San Francisco, but have recently discovered that due to an ongoing lawsuit between the building owners and the developer/architect, lenders will not give mortgage loans for the Beacon, our lender included.

Now that we know we cannot buy the unit we live in, regardless of the sale price, we would like to know what our rights are as tenants. Our lease states that once our lease goes to month-to-month after the term of our one-year lease, the landlord must give us 60 days notice of an eviction and we must give him 30 days notice if we are to move.

As of yet, we have not received any “official” notice, just mention that he plans to sell.

What are our rights at this point? Anything we should know that is to our advantage or does he just have to give us 60 days notice…and that’s it?

That’s it.  You have a right to a 60 day notice but nothing else.

Welcome to California’s version of tenant rights–no just cause evictions. They have ‘em in New Jersey and a few other state

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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Do I Really Get A Life Time Lease If My Apartment Becomes A Condo?

Do I Really Get A Life Time Lease If My Apartment Becomes A Condo?

Do I Really Get A Life Time Lease If My Apartment Becomes A Condo?

Background: I live within San Francisco in a 4 unit rent-controlled building (currently a TIC). I’ve lived here for a couple of years (had a 1-year lease but have been month to month since then). My apartment building is being converted into condos due to the new bypass law. My landlord has announced his intent to sell when the conversion is complete. I know he has to offer to sell the apartment to me first. If I decline to buy it, I’ve read that he has to offer me a life time lease. I don’t really understand what protection this would give me (if any), since I thought intent to sell was a just cause for eviction. What does this “life time lease” mean for me? If I can do nothing about eviction, does the landlord owe me any relocation costs? I have a good relationship with my landlord and don’t want to cause any strife, but I’d like to see what my protections are – if any!

The new condominium lottery bypass law and new requirements for condominium conversion of buildings with three to six units can be found in San Francisco Subdivision Code sections 1396.4 and 1396.5. Remember, two-unit buildings are still exempt from the lottery and consequently from the new requirements.

You are correct. The landlord must offer to sell you the unit pursuant to the old condominium conversion law. The new law provides that that any tenant (not just elderly, catastrophically ill or disabled tenants) must be offered a life time lease. Subdivision Code §1396.4(g)(1) is clear:

Any application for conversion under this Section shall include a certification under penalty of perjury by the applicants that any non-purchasing tenant(s) in the building has been given a written offer to enter into a life time lease in the form and with the provisions published and prescribed by the Department in consultation with the Rent Board. Such written offer for a life time lease shall be executed by the owners of the building(s) and recorded prior to the time of Final Map or Parcel Map approval.

In other words, proof of the offer must be submitted to the Department of Public Works and any life time lease must be recorded before any conversion under the new law can be finalized. Other language/requirements for such a lease are listed in Subdivision Code §1396.4(g)(2).

Rent Ordinance §37.9(a)(9) tells us:

A landlord shall not endeavor to recover possession of a rental unit unless [t]he landlord seeks to recover possession in good faith in order to sell the unit in accordance with a condominium conversion approved under the San Francisco subdivision ordinance and does so without ulterior reasons and with honest intent.

However, the drafters of the new legislation foresaw that landlords might attempt to evict tenants to prepare a building for conversion, so they prevented conversion of a building that has any “no-fault” evictions. Subdivision Code §1396.4(b)(10) states:

In addition to all other provisions of this Section, […] the applicant(s) must certify that to the extent any tenant vacates his or her unit after March 31, 2013 and before recordation of the final parcel or subdivision map, such tenant did so voluntarily or if an eviction or eviction notice occurred it was not pursuant to Administrative Code Sections 37.9(a)(14) then the applicant(s) shall certify that the original tenant reoccupied the unit after the temporary eviction.

As long as you pay your rent, comply with the covenants (terms) of your lease and don’t commit nuisance (a meth lab in your apartment is a no-no), you cannot be evicted.

Unfortunately I predict a rash of bullshit three-day notices in the future to get around this requirement. For example, a three-day notice endeavoring to evict my client because she listed her business address at her home, allegedly violating a clause in the lease providing for residential use only. The extent of her commercial use involved making phone call from home.

I suggest that you continue to monitor the conversion process in your building. You can do so by reading the general information at the San Francisco Department of Public Works website. Or you can see the progress at your specific address.

All tenants who suspect that their building are undergoing conversion should look at this site regularly. Why? At least 20 days before the issuance of a “tentative map,” DPW must publish the addresses of buildings being considered by approval on its web site and any interested party may submit information contesting the eligibility and request a hearing.

Clearly you will want to challenge a bogus document purporting to have offered you a life time lease. Who would turn that down?

You will also want to challenge a bogus claim that an owner lived in the unit for the requisite period of time. I been involved in several cases in which landlords had their mail delivered to a tenant’s unit, later claiming that they lived in the same unit. When you receive the landlord’s mail, inform him that you are not Mailboxes Etc. If he refuses to change his address, make like Elvis Presley’s angry ex-girlfriend, “Return to sender, address unknown. No such number, no such zone.”

These three articles provide in-depth analyses of the condominium bypass legislation:

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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How Can I Avoid Getting Screwed By Landlords Application Fee Scams?

How Can I Avoid Getting Screwed By Landlords Application Fee Scams?

How Can I Avoid Getting Screwed By Landlords Application Fee Scams?

Ubi jus ibi remedium. “Where there is a right, there is a remedy.”

I have read your column for quite awhile, and I look forward to it every week. I have a question that might be outside of your typical coverage, but it might also be helpful for your readers. I have been looking for my own apartment in Oakland for several months, but I think my question would apply for San Francisco as well (and Marin, and the South Bay.)

I know through my research that there is a limit to the amount that a landlord may charge for an application fee/background check, and I believe it is currently $44.21. My research into California laws has also led me to believe that if a landlord does not actually perform a background check on me, or does not otherwise process my application, then s/he must refund it, otherwise it is illegal to accept the application fee payment. (An example would be, if the landlord accepted an application before me, processed it, offered the apartment to that person, and they accepted, thus my information was never looked at.) I always thought that this was the reason that landlords asked for checks, so that if an application was not processed, they would just not cash the check.

However, I have been coming across apartments that request an application fee be paid in cash or cashier’s check. Is this legal? I subscribe to Experian, so I can see when my credit is checked, and I’m in regular contact with my references, so I would know if this information was followed up on.

Do I have any recourse if I can tell that there was never a background/credit check performed on me, or do I have to just accept that there might be landlords out there collecting application fee payments on top of their already-guaranteed rent? I appreciate any thoughts you may have on this matter.

Rental application fees are governed by California law, therefore the comments I make here will apply to anyone in California who is looking for an apartment.

California Civil Code §1950.6 governs the collection of screening fees. In 1998, the fee to screen an applicant’s credit, etc. was capped at $30.00 with annual adjustments pegged to the Consumer Price Index. In 2012, he most a landlord could charge to screen an applicant’s credit was $44.51.

You are correct that the law provides that a must refund the fee if “the landlord or his or her agent does not perform a personal reference check or does not obtain a consumer credit report…” (Civil Code §1950.6(e).)

While the the law does not prohibit the collection of a cashier’s check or cash, it does provide, “The landlord or his or her agent shall provide, personally, or by mail, the applicant with a receipt for the fee paid by the applicant, which receipt shall itemize the out-of-pocket expenses and time spent by the landlord or his or her agent to obtain and process the information about the applicant.” (Civil Code §1950.6(d).)

Check out the California Department of Consumer Affairs article “Looking for a Rental Unit” for more detailed information.  Their advice:

Before you pay the application screening fee, ask the landlord the following questions about it:

  • How long will it take the landlord to get a copy of your credit report?
  • How long will it take the landlord to review the credit report and decide whether to rent to you?
  • Is the fee refundable if the credit check takes too long and you’re forced to rent another place?
  • If you already have a current copy of your credit report, will the landlord accept it and either reduce the fee or not charge it at all?

If you don’t like the landlord’s policy on application screening fees, you may want to look for another rental unit. If you decide to pay the application screening fee, any agreement regarding a refund should be in writing.

One way to avoid the fee is to get a copy of your most recent credit report before you begin to search for apartments. Under federal law you are entitled to a copy of your credit report annually from all three credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax. and TransUnion. Each of the companies have their requirements to obtain one. Here is an example from Experian.

You can print out the report and provide copies to prospective landlords when you apply for apartments. I’ve done this in the past without a problem. I tend to think that a landlord who insists upon charging the fee despite your offer of a recent report, is either scamming you or such a Cheese Ball that you wouldn’t want to rent from him anyway.

Last week I talked to a tenant who told me that the leasing agent for an apartment in San Francisco wanted to charge $500.00 for a screening fee. My advice? Don’t pay. Get as much information as you can to prove the allegation and report the guy to the District Attorney. If you’re standing in a line to apply for an apartment with a bunch of other folks (typical these days) and the agent is collecting $500.00 a pop, flag down a cop.

While that may work when a landlord is blatantly running a con game, what if the landlord charges $50.00 per application or does not refund your fee after he fails to collect the information? Do you have any recourse if the landlord violates Civil Code §1950.6? Just like the Department of Consumer Affairs said, you can walk away or while you’re in line, negotiate a written agreement to get a refund.

You may wonder, what kind of bullshit, namby-pamby advice is that?

It’s the only kind of advice one can offer when the namby-pamby, bullshit law does not contain a remedy, a penalty for its violation.

Reread the statute.  Note that it doesn’t provide a tenant with any recourse to enforce it. Could it be that the legislators who drafted and passed the law wanted to appear to be reformers while still guaranteeing  one more illicit income stream for their landlord benefactors?

Some lawyers are familiar with this Latin phrase: Ubi jus ibi remedium. “Where there is a right, there is a remedy.” Conversely, where there is no remedy, there is no right. Get it? You’re a tenant not a lord.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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A Just Cause Eviction Does Not Mean “Just ‘Cause Your Landlord Said So”

A Just Cause Eviction Does Not Mean “Just ‘Cause Your Landlord Said So”

A Just Cause Eviction Does Not Mean “Just ‘Cause Your Landlord Said So”

I am 26 years old and living in a 4-unit three-story building in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. Two other roommates and I are living in one of the four units.  The building was constructed in 1909.  One roommate has been living in this unit for almost three years now. Myself and another roommate are on the current one-year lease, which will be concluded at the end of February.

Currently we pay $3,200.00/month for our unit.  We are on very good terms with the landlord, have an excellent track record with no complaints and we all have excellent credit scores and steady jobs. One roommate does have two cats, but the landlord consented and only requested an additional deposit fee when we moved in and signed our one-year lease. 

Now on to my question:  The various owners of the building have gotten together and put the building as a whole on the market (one 4-unit building).  The building has been on the market for over 4 months and has been shown to many parties with no offers made.  

The landlord has informed us that if the building does not sell as a whole by the end of the year (12/31/2013), she plans on selling her individual unit that we are currently occupying.  She has informed us that if this is the case, she will be asking us to vacate the unit when our one-year lease expires on February 28, 2014. I was curious as to what our rights are as good tenants that have come to love this home and do not want to be forced to move at this particular moment.  

Do we have any rights?

In the 4+ years I’ve been writing “Tenant Troubles,” I can’t remember addressing this basic question. Yet it’s a question I answer on the telephone two or three times a week. Here is the bumper sticker answer that you (and each and every tenant living in a rent-controlled unit in San Francisco) need to burn into your brain along with your name, the taste of chocolate and the first time you had sex. This is your new mantra:


Try it again, only this time imagine me as Glinda the Good Witch, my wand circling over your head. Close your eyes, tap your heels together three times and think to yourself, “I don’t have to move, I don’t have to move, I don’t have to move…”

In this respect, if you live in a unit built before 1979, you are not in tenant-Kansas. You can only be evicted for just cause. Contrary to what many landlords think, a just cause is not, “Just ’cause I said so.” Indeed the simple sale of a unit is not a just cause.

Rent Ordinance §37.9(k) defines several disclosures that must be made to tenants before the sale of a unit or building.  Rent Ordinance §37.9(k)(1)(A) states that such a disclosure must include a “statement in bold type of at least 12 points that tenants cannot be evicted or asked to move solely because a property is being sold or solely because a new owner has purchased that property.”

You don’t have to move if your lease expires, but you may have to move if the landlord sells the unit, or if she starts to accuse you of fictitious breaches of the lease like stealing her sister’s shoes. Even in San Francisco, there are bad witches, gangrenous green with greed. When you refuse to move as your landlord has “nicely” requested, she could turn on you. You could be dodging fireballs and flying monkeys. Worst of all, she won’t melt if you douse her with a bucket of water.

Given your description of the ownership, I’m assuming that the building is owned jointly. In other words, your landlord owns her unit along with the rest of the owners as a tenancy in common or TIC. If that is the case, she could sell 25% of the building to a new buyer and that new buyer could evict you using an owner-move-in eviction. Of course you and your roommates would be entitled to receive at least $15,621.00 in statutory relocation payments providing you all live in the unit at least a year (Rent Ordinance §37.9C.)

If the unit is a condominium and the landlord sells the unit to a new buyer, Cheese Ball new owners are known to use the fact that the unit is now exempt from rent control provisions of the ordinance to try to increase the rent to avoid paying relocation payments.

The truly wicked landlords, incensed that you dare to assert your rights, just start to drop by, cursing and cackling, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”

Given the current San Francisco real estate market buoyed by the bubble-headed notion that land is a commodity somehow governed by a free market, your situation is bleak. I’ve often said that when a landlord wants a tenant out, they can get them out. That’s the prerogative of the landlord class despite your anemic “rights.” My point? Fight as hard as you can, but have an exit strategy.

The moral of the story: San Francisco tenants who love their apartments and begin to believe “there’s no place like home” are those most in danger. Landlords don’t want you to feel comfortable in your apartment (their property) because that usually means you’re not paying enough rent. Like Dorothy, you may come to realize that Oz is a fiction and you’ll have to settle for Kansas.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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If I Need To Break My Lease, Am I Responsible For Finding A New Tenant?

Is My Landlord Lying, Claiming We Don’t Have Rent Control?

Is My Landlord Lying, Claiming We Don’t Have Rent Control?

My wife and I (both in our 60s) rent a one bedroom apartment in a 12-unit building in lower Russian Hill, built in the 20’s.  We have rented for 30 + years.  When we first moved in (in the early 80’s) the Landlord was in the process of converting the building to condos and asked if we were interested in buying.  We said yes, he proceeded with the condo conversion, and put them on the market for a couple of months.  He didn’t sell enough units (my understanding was that he was required to sell more than half, or at least 7), so he took the condos off the market and has been renting them ever since.  They are currently recorded with the Assessor as 12 separate condos, all owned by him.

We continue to rent the same unit and the landlord has complied with SF Rent Control Laws for our unit and for one other long-term tenant.  Most of the units (10 out of 12), however, are being rented out with the understanding that, because they are condos, they are exempt from rent control (even though they are still owned by the original landlord and subdivider).

I have two questions:

1-  My understanding is that the condo exemption under the Costa-Hawkins law does not apply to condos that have not been legitimately sold by the original subdivider.  Is the Landlord violating the SF Rent Ordinance when he tells new tenants that the units are exempt? (Most of the affected tenants have been there for 5-10 years or less).

2-  The landlord has recently begun doing significant work on four units, no doubt in response to the hot rental market (the building is generally well-maintained).  This work is all being done without permits and there are a number of issues that are not code compliant (I am an Architect by profession).  I have not mentioned anything about this to the Landlord or to DBI (I have taken some photos).  Before we do anything drastic, we thought we should get a better understanding of our status with respect to the Ellis Act, or any other precedents that could put our tenancy in jeopardy – for example, could the landlord try to sell our unit out from under us?  

I am sure the landlord would like us to move, although we generally have a civil relationship.  Were we to file a complaint, that might change.

If none of the condos in your building have been sold to new buyers, none of them are exempt from rent control.

The Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act (which should be repealed) exempts “a condominium dwelling or unit that has not been sold separately by the subdivider to a bona fide purchaser for value” from its prohibition on rent control for single family dwellings. (Ca. Civil Code §1954.52(3)(B)(ii)).

Of course, your pre-1996 tenancy would also be exempt if you were renting any single-family dwelling built before 1979 in San Francisco.

Your landlord is simply lying to his newer tenants and if they have been paying illegal rent increases, they should file petitions alleging illegal rent increases at the San Francisco Rent Board.

Unless the landlord has decided to sell the condominiums in the building (as the recent renovation could indicate), evicting all of the tenants in the building using the Ellis Act seems like an unlikely move. If he rents a renovated unit, I think it’s a safe bet that he won’t Ellis. You should also understand that California case law prevents a landlord from evicting tenants from a condominium in a multi-unit building. (See Valnes v. Santa Monica Rent Board (1990) 221 Cal.App.3d 1116.)

Certainly, the landlord can sell the unit in which you reside. A new owner could also evict you using an owner move-in eviction. Even though your wife and you are over 60 years of age and have resided in the unit for over 10 years, the OMI protections do not apply to you because the unit is a condo. Interestingly, the protections would apply if the landlord himself wanted to move in and evict you because he owns more than one unit in the building. All of this is covered in Rent Ordinance §37.9(i).

As you may know, I try to give my readers practical, functional advice that doesn’t always recommend asserting each and every right one may have. I do so because I know that landlords take their titles of nobility seriously.

As long as tenants are ignorant or their rights or choose not to assert them, everything is fine. But when a tenant complains about conditions in a unit, illegal construction, illegal rent increases…anything really…landlords retaliate. They channel their inner alter ego, Edward I (Longshanks), as played by Patrick MacGoohan in the film, Braveheart. 

Just substitute Scots for tenants and understand that 600 years ago the vast majority of Scots were tenant farmers or serfs.

Yes, your relationship with your landlord will change if you complain about the illegal construction in the building. The next time you see him he will have donned his crown, his tights and his cod piece.

It is understandable if you choose not to report the unpermitted work. But we have building codes for a reason. Do you have a duty to others who rent and or eventually buy the illegally remodeled units. Do you have a duty to yourselves  or other tenants in the building who could suffer if the construction is unsafe? It’s your choice.

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

My Landlord Is Selling The House I Live In, Do I Have To Move Out?

My Landlord Is Selling The House I Live In, Do I Have To Move Out?

My Landlord Is Selling The House I Live In, Do I Have To Move Out?

My husband and I live in a 2-bedroom single-family home in San Francisco, a cottage built in 1922 (no in-law unit, no garage, just a cottage & a large yard). My husband moved into the place 8 years ago, and I moved in with him over 5 years ago. My husband has been the master tenant since I moved in. Our landlord lives in Santa Barbara and has always rented the house to family or friends of family (we’re in the latter group). We have one of those absurdly good deals: our rent is nearly a third of market rate ($1300/month) and it hasn’t been raised in 5 years. In exchange we are responsible for all utilities, and if any maintenance is needed we just have to notify our landlord, pay the bill ourselves, and deduct it from the next month’s rent.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. Our landlord is planning on selling the house in order to get some money for a down payment to buy a home in Santa Barbara (he is newly married and ready to start a family). The realtor he’s using has been very honest and forthcoming with us and told us the estimate is a bit bleak: a LOT of significant work needs to be done on the house. He’s offered to sell the house to us directly for $600k. If we don’t buy it, he wants us to vacate the house before he puts it on the market.

We are most likely not going to buy, because there’s no way we want a $600k house that needs over $100k in repairs. Obviously this means we need to move out, but I don’t know what our rights are as tenants since there are so many exceptions to rent laws for houses. I’m pretty sure this falls under the Ellis Act, which means we get four months notice to vacate and relocation money. I don’t know if our landlord is aware of the relocation money, since he’s been extremely hands-off for nearly 10 years and doesn’t even live anywhere near San Francisco. Even though we’ve had a good, non-contentious relationship with him, I want to be armed with all the relevant facts. Besides, that relocation money is a huge boon to getting a place that let’s us keep our dog! Any help you can give me is greatly appreciated.

You asked about your rights so I’m going to lay them out for you. I’ll let the readers discuss your moral obligations.

Because the house was built in 1922, it is subject to the just cause provisions of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance section 37.9. The landlord cannot ask you to move or serve notice to evict you simply because he wants to sell the house.

Of course, selling the house devoid of tenants is ideal for for staging and marketing it for maximum profit. I see various estimates of the value of selling an empty unit/house ranging from 5-25% of the market value of the property. If the landlord wants you to leave before he sells, he will have to negotiate a deal with you to vacate.

The landlord can evict you using the Ellis Act (a 1985 gift from California legislators greased with payola from the real estate industry). The landlord can “exit the landlord business,” evict you, and sell the house. A future owner’s ability to rent would be prohibited/severely limited for ten years, but that isn’t often a concern for the buyer of an overpriced San Francisco house who simply wants to live there.

You and your wife would have 120 days to move and receive relocation payments of $5,210.91 apiece or an additional $3,473.93 per disabled tenant.

Or he can increase the rent because because you live in a single family dwelling and your tenancy commenced after 1995. (See my comments on the reprehensible, immoral Costa Hawkins Act last week.)

Costs Hawkins tells us that the landlord can increase the rent to any amount he wants. Even if the landlord uses the current market value as a barometer, using your estimate, he can increase the rent to $3,900.00 per month.

If you move based upon a rent increase you cannot afford, you could argue that the landlord’s dominant motive for increasing the rent was to make it high enough to force you to move rather than continue to rent it–that really intended to sell the house. There are a few cases in the courts litigating that issue right now.

If you don’t move and the landlord sells the building with you in it, the new owner can increase the rent.

If a new owner wants to move in, he can evict you under Rent Ordinance § 37.9(a)(8). In that case you and your wife will be entitled to $7,225.00 apiece and another $4,817.00 if you are disabled, with 60 days to vacate.

Suffice it to say that your good, non-contentious relationship with the landlord vanish as fast as you can say “relocation money.”

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