Things you should be doing to avoid eviction

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Don't be a sad box -- do what you can to avoid eviction.
PHOTO BY ANTON TANG

Did everyone read Friday's Wall Street Journal home trends piece on the romance between wealthy tech workers and the Mission and Noe Valley? By way of paraphrasing, we quote: 

Real-estate agents say it's a cultural shift. The new generation of Internet executives—younger than the last generation of dot-commers—eschews the trappings and responsibilities of expensive properties. They want to bicycle, walk or take public transportation. They like living near food trucks and dive bars.

Rents in the two neighborhoods have risen 10 percent in the last six months.

HISS. Ahem. The WSJ article comes on the tail of a March 14 announcement from the Huffington Post that SF now has the highest average rent in the country. It now takes the income from 4.6 minimum wage jobs (thank goodness for our high minimum wage!) to afford the average two-bedroom apartment here. 

With all this good news for landlords, it's high time those of us without Facebook shares start taking defensive measures against losing our homes. You remember what happened in the last tech boom, right? (For those who don't, a trip to the library for tech writer James Gleik's anthology of his SF Chronicle articles What Just Happened and/or Erick Lyle's 2004 punk chronology On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City will serve you well.)

Richard Hurlburt has been practicing as a tenant's rights attorney in San Francisco for 16 years. In a Guardian phone interview, he said that evictions are always "a hot topic," but that with the burgeoning tech industry, he expects to see an uptick in the amount of tenants evicted. And because of that, renters should be on their toes.

"The developers have a lot of money and they have new resources," he said. "Evictions happen so fast, they're so litigation-intensive. Even when people have meritorious cases it's hard to defend themselves in court. They're afraid of the process. It's so... it's fast and complicated."

But, Hurlburt says, there are things that you can do to shield yourself from a landlord who is hoping to get a new, more loaded tenant onto their property. Here is his list of things you can do to improve your chances of staying in your home. Of course, should you get any kind of fishy correspondence from your landlord, contact the Tenants Union. Should you need legal counsel, he also recommends (in addition to his own services) the Eviction Defense Collaborative, a collaborative that provides emergency legal help to 5,000 San Franciscans each year.

TIPS TO AVOID EVICTION

1. Comply with the lease. "Pay the rent, and pay the rent on time," Hurlburt says. "You can get evicted for late payments. It's a lot easier to just pay on time if you can."

2. Know your unit's legal status. This doesn't help if you're already in one, but those in-law apartments so common in SF are not legal housing, and as such, you don't have the typical tenant's rights if you live in one. "They're not legal units if they're supposed to be a single family house," says Hurlburt. "The city has a policy of looking away because we need the housing, but the landlord is always able to evict from those units with a 60-day notice. There's no defense for that." He adds that in larger buildings, landlords are less likely to perform an Ellis Act eviction, but you're still not safe.

3. If you can, buy. "I'm a licensed real estate broker, and I help first time home buyers," the lawyer says. "Really, the best way to preserve your housing is if you get a chance to buy it, buy it. Sometimes people actually want to sell to their tenants. It can be a relief if the landlord wants to switch to TICs and they don't want to evict the little old ladies. Or, just buy your unit if you can." Again, a good tip for those who can use it.

4. Keep it clean. This one didn't actually come from Hurlburt, but the word on the street is that one eviction excuse du jour is that a tenant has become a hoarder, and is unhealthily accumulating mountains of stuff on the property. We know your apartment's tiny to begin with... just think simplicity (and about how moving to your sister's house is going to suck.)

Comments

If you do get an eviction notice, don't panic: Evictions are expensive and time-consuming for landlords, too -- if you fight back. Often landlords will cut a deal and pay you to leave if they think you're going to cost them a fortune in legal fees. Call a tenant lawyer right away; many will work with you on the fees. Low-income tenants have free legal assistance options, and the Tenants Union can help you with the right referral. 

Don't try to fight your landlord alone; there's help out there.

Posted by tim on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 2:00 pm
Posted by Longtime Lurker on Mar. 21, 2012 @ 10:13 am

too low, relative to the open market. Landlords rarely evict any tenant who pays a market rent.

So the real issue that defines whether you can stay in your home long-term is whether you are paying a reasonable and realistic rent.

So another idea if you feel at risk is to offer to sign a new lease with your landlord at a higher rent. You'll pay more, of course, but no more than the going rate. And you won't have to worry that your LL will be looking for the first excuse to kick you out.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

This is a nice solution, except it is totally illegal under San Francisco's rent control laws. A tenant CAN NOT waive their rights under the rent law, and CAN NOT agree to a higher rent that what is locked in under rent control. Basically if a tenant agrees to pay a higher rent after the inception of the tenancy, they can come back YEARS later and file at the rent board for a unlawful rent increase, and have the increase AND ALL SUBSEQUENT (legal) increases refunded! This lack of flexibility in the rent law is one of the reasons for many Ellis act evictions. Basically the rent law assumes that tenants are like children and can not consent to anything outside of the rent control rules.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

If a tenant freely signs a new lease for a new rent, that is legally binding. I have seen that done successfully a number of times when a landlord said that he was otherwise going to Ellis or sell. Rather than take the risk, the tenants freely chose security over cost. It makes perfect sense.

Rent control starts anew with a new lease - vacancy control is illegal under CA state law.

Posted by Anonymous on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

Those subsequently renegotiated leases are not legally enforceable, at least not the rent amount in excess of the allowable, and again, the tenant can come back YEARS later and get all those rent increases refunded. Such arrangements are legal under some more flexible rent control laws, such as Oakland's, but not San Francisco. If you don't believe me, call the rent board and ask. I am certain I am correct.

If some tenants are pulling this trick to escape an Ellis act, then they may be pulling a con, because when they are ready to move on, or the threat of an Ellis act eviction has passed, they can get all the increases rent back!

Vacancy control kicks in when there is a change in tenancy, not just a new lease!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

be valid. So it is prudent when doing this to change various aspects of the lease. One example might be to add the use of, say, a yard or storage, which can then justify the higher rent.

Again, I am only suggesting this for those most at risk of eviction i.e. those who know their rent is too low.

Posted by Anonymous on Mar. 21, 2012 @ 5:54 am

Don't go by what you read here, see an expert from the SF Tenants Union if you are facing eviction.
Per the Guest who said tenants are evicted because their rents are too low, landlords are converting their properties from rental units to privatized TIC's and condos. Why should they care about raising the rent $1000 / month when they can sell the apartment for $600,000?
Never offer to pay your landlord more rent. Even if you pay low rent the landlord can't evict you. (Exceptions are owner move in evictions). The owner must evict all the apartments in the building through the Ellis Act or paying the tenants to move voluntarily. If they Ellis Act evict none of the units in the building can ever get a condo permit and the building must remain a TIC. TIC units are worth about $100,000 less than a condo so the speculator pig will try to bribe you to sign papers saying that you moved voluntarily. people are getting 20-30k or even more to move.

Posted by Guest Jerry on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

If you plot the rate of tenant evictions against the amount the rent is below market, you will find an almost perfect correlation. Landlords are always happy to have good tenants paying market rents and, if that is you, then you have nothing to fear from the scaremongering in this piece about being evicted.

But the more your rent is unrealistic and uneconomic, the more the landlord must get rid of you as a simple economic imperative. That might be thru an Ellis, an owner-move-in, a relative-move-in, a rehabilitation of the building or even, as you suggest a small payoff.

The method will vary but the need to depart is inevitable. The cheaper your rent, the less secure your home is - it's really that simple. And forget about those five figure payoffs - the legal cost of an eviction is rarely more than 5K - don't expect more than that, if anything.

Posted by Anonymous on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

Interesting blog with some good advice for tenants. Though I think you missed a golden opportunity for a quote from everyone's favorite drug dealer and "speculator pig", Chris Daly.

Maybe next time :)

Posted by RamRod on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

Way too many tenants get evicted for subletting in violation of their lease, when they could have avoided the problem by following a simple procedure. Read what your lease or written rental agreement says about subletting, if anything. If it it limits your right to sublet then go to the Rent Board's website (sfrb.org) and read Rule 6.15. Follow the correct part of of the rule (A), (B) or (C). Do this before you get the new roommate!

Posted by Richard Hurlburt on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

Another laughable list of tips. Pay your rent on time, damn you!!! Duh!! Wish Ida thought of that. Oh yes! Wouldja take out the garbage once in awhile. The best: Turn the tables...buy then evict your landlord.

Posted by DanC on Mar. 20, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

But we welcome your additions to the list. Or we would, hypothetically speaking.

Posted by caitlin on Mar. 21, 2012 @ 9:48 am

WEll heres a good one for you. I was evicted from public housing place because the landlord decided to retaliate.. THe landlord decided to retaliate because I called HUD on her so she got a hold os some tapes that I had left messages on another tenants phone and she used it against me saying that I committed a crime on my lease. When in fact the other girl I had left messages on had recently had charges filed against her. Go figure.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2012 @ 8:44 am

What else would you either expect or want?

It's one of the 15 just causes for eviction in SF.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 24, 2012 @ 9:26 am

My neighbor downstairs catches rats in a cage in our backyard. He drowns them, skins them, throws the skins in our shared trash bins and then hangs the meat out in the sun to cure. We complained to the landlord and our landlord is trying to make him stop, but he won't. We have pictures of the horrific act and plenty of eye witnesses to the slaughter. The tenant board treated my landlord like he was a slumlord trying to evict my neighbor because he pays a rediculously low rent. What laws protect the other tenants against this unhealthy and disgusting behavior. The lease that my landlord has with the man was written long ago by the previous owner and doesn't cover anything like detailed rules of shared back yard. What's the best way to go about this? I can't find and laws that prohibit this behavior.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2013 @ 4:02 am

In house where the landlord rents one room out of five rooms, how does San Francisco Rent Ordinance apply here?

Posted by Guest Erick Lee on Mar. 18, 2013 @ 8:10 pm