Things to Know About Tenant Rights in San Francisco

Posted by Chris Morales on Thu, Feb 06, 2014 @ 07:00 AM

Introducing Rebecca Gray, writer for Rebecca joins us today as a guest blogger who will be discussing "Things to Know About Tenant Rights in San Francisco." Thank you Rebecca for sharing this information with us.                                                                                                          

Landlord/tenant relationships are sometimes tenuous, with each party acting in his or her best interest.  While harmony is maintained most of the time, occasional issues arise, pitting building owners against the rent-paying occupants of their buildings.

Each case is different, requiring unique approaches to resolve tension, but there are certain legal principles that apply to every landlord/tenant dispute.  Successful negotiation and peaceful co-existence starts with education about your rights as a tenant, strengthening your position as you face housing obstacles.

General rights prevail across the country, further reinforced by state statutes protecting renters.  In cities like San Francisco, additional laws are enforced to make sure tenants get a fair shake.  In fact, several tenant advocacy groups operate in the populous California city.  What are some of the things you should know about tenant rights in San Francisco?

If Your Building is Sold

Landlords have intrinsic rights attached to ownership, like the freedom to put their properties up for sale.  While an ownership change is a significant milestone in the life of a building, it doesn't mean tenants are in jeopardy when it occurs.  In fact, most of the conditions of your lease cannot be changed due to a real estate transaction.

For starters, new building owners cannot evict you without cause; even if they have other plans for your rental unit.  In addition to honoring the duration of your lease, new landlords are prohibited from changing the terms outlined in your rental agreement.  In other words, if your current lease accounts for pets; a new building owner cannot prohibit them when the building changes hands. New landlords can raise the rent, under certain circumstances, but they are generally bound by the same rent control policies governing your original landlord.

Two important exceptions apply; called OMI and Ellis Act.  Owner move-in (OMI) is allowed, accommodating purchases made as primary residences.  In addition to that scenario, another exists for buildings with less than six units.  Ellis Act allows buyers to clear properties out entirely, furnishing four months for occupants to secure new housing.  This stipulation applies when building owners want to change the use of buildings, taking them out of the rental market.

Heating Requirements

Tenants have very specific rights to have heat provided by landlords.  According to San Francisco Housing Code; landlords must provide permanent heating appliances capable of maintaining a temperature of 68 degrees, based on an outdoor temperature of 35 degrees.  The code governs all living spaces, except bathrooms and shared hallways. In addition, law requires the heat to be made available for a minimum of 13 hours daily, between 5am - 11am and also from 3pm - 10pm.

Building Entry

Tenants are protected from surprise landlord visits, by laws articulating exactly when building owners and their representatives are allowed to enter units.  In any case, landlords must provide 24-hour written notice before entering rented premises; and they must have a reason for coming in.  A few justifications for entry include:

  • To make repairs or upgrades
  • To show the unit for rent or for sale
  • When tenants have moved and landlords secure court-ordered access
  • Emergencies

Security Deposits

While it is perfectly just for landlords to require various deposits of tenants, they are regulated precisely, in terms of how they are handled.  In most cases, security deposits cannot exceed two months' rent for the unit in question.  In San Francisco, interest must also be paid on funds held for more than one year.

As you prepare to move, landlords must furnish a walk-through inspection 2-weeks prior to your move-out date.  This gives you time to address any repairs or other issues revealed during the inspection, so you get your security deposit back.  There is no such thing as a nonrefundable deposit in California code.

Author Byline:

This guest post is contributed by Rebecca Gray, who writes for She welcomes your comments at her email id:

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Tags: San Francisco, Tenant Rights, landlords, terms, Laws