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Tenants in Affordable SF Housing Are Under Fire

nancyWelcome new and old tenants alike.   In the roiling cauldron of landlord tenant relations in San Francisco, we need to review the rules of engagement.

First, do you have a rental agreement? Newer tenants almost always have written rental agreements or leases, especially as the business of renting apartments becomes increasingly a big business endeavor. Sometimes long-term tenants cannot find their original lease agreements, or only had a verbal agreement. Those folks often worry that they need a written agreement. Not true! A tenancy is automatically renewed on the same terms.

The most common oral agreements are month-to-month tenancies that automatically renew each month upon payment of rent. In San Francisco and neighboring cities with eviction protection controls, tenants are usually better off with a verbal agreement than a written agreement, unless you can secure a long-term lease. Written agreements are full of terms that can form the basis for an eviction based on breach of a covenant of the lease. Such frequently breached terms include no pet clauses, limits on roommates, and subletting and payment due date requirements.

With the recent increased rental property sales, many tenants have new landlords, who often seek to enhance their investment by ridding their newly acquired property of below market renters. One weapon in their arsenal is getting tenants to sign new rental agreements, which replace oral agreements or older lease agreements.

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The new rental agreement is often presented as a benign document, which is needed by the owner and also for your protection. Beware! These new shiny written agreements often provide tenants with no additional protections and are minefields filled with potential grounds for eviction. You want to get along with your new landlord, though, and you want to be compliant and to keep your home. Resist your impulse to sign the shiny new lease. Just say “no,” or say you need to get some legal advice before signing it. Under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, tenants can be required to sign lease agreements with the same terms such as, for example, renewing your extant written one-year lease agreement for another year, but this is rare.

It is important to be vigilant in landlord tenant communications. Tenants in affordable housing in San Francisco are under fire. Long-term tenants are at the highest risk, because upon obtaining a vacancy, landlords can raise the rent to market rents.

The SF Chronicle reports newly constructed apartments at Market and Dolores in San Francisco’s Castro District rent from $2000 a month for studios to $8000 a month for three bedrooms. If your rent is significantly less, your landlord is likely having bouts of envy. Fueled by a desire to cash in on this rental gold rush, landlords are spending substantial sums on attorneys specializing in residential evictions. Your landlord’s seemingly innocuous communications may be setting the stage for your eviction that is directed and orchestrated by a skilled legal specialist.

Remain vigilant. Be proactive. Do not wait until you are facing an eviction. Join the San Francisco Tenants Union. Seek advice from the San Francisco Rent Board. Get legal advice from an experienced tenants’ attorney. It is a lot less expensive to pay for an hour of legal advice now than to defend an eviction later, or obtain replacement housing. Remember, forewarned is forearmed. You will not only sleep sounder, but you may also be able to secure your home for years to come.

San Francisco-based attorney Nancy M. Conway specializes in civil litigation, tenant rights litigation, bankruptcy, family law, real estate and personal injury.