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.)