Tips and Definitions

Before You Search

San Francisco offers a variety of neighborhoods to make your home. Following are some factors to consider when searching for a place to live:

  • Safety: Do you feel safe walking around the neigborhood at night?
  • Transportation and Parking: What is the proximity to bus lines, Bart stations, or major taxi routes? Is there street parking readily available or will you need a garage?
  • Food and Restaurants: Are there nearby grocery stores and/or restaurants?
  • Geographical attributes: Is the neighborhood marked by steep hills or can you walk around comfortably? Is it a foggier part of the city or does it tend to be sunnier?

Tips

Finding housing in San Francisco can be a competitive endeavor. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Start looking early, and give yourself 2-4 weeks or more to find housing.
  • When you see a "For Rent" sign, be prepared to contact the landlord immediately.
  • When you are viewing a property, bring your Renter's Resume and checkbook. If you like the place, you should be prepared to make a deposit immediately.
  • Walk or drive through neighborhoods looking for "For Rent" signs. Many landlords will use that as their only means of advertising.

What should I ask before renting off-campus housing?

Rent: How much; When it is due; Starting date?
Deposit: How much; How will it be used; How and when is it refunded?
Damages: Who pays for breakage or other damages over and above normal wear and tear- individuals or all occupants?
Subletting: Is it permitted; What is the procedure?
Roommates: Should all roommates sign the lease; Are roommates responsible for only a portion of the rent; If someone     moves out must the remaining roommates make up the difference?
Alterations: May the unit be altered, such as painted; Can you hang pictures on the wall (and how)?
Laundry Facilities: Are they available and are there any restrictions?
Noise Restrictions: For musical instruments, stereo, TV, or social events?
Inspection by Landlord: When may the landlord enter your unit; How much notice must be given?
Parking: Is it available; Is it included in the rent or is it an added charge?
Pets: Are pets allowed; Is there an added charge for having a pet?
Utilities: What utilities are included in the rent; How much is the installation fee for those not included; What are the billing and payment procedures?

What should I know before I sign a lease?

If the landlord makes any promises or representation about the apartment, have them put it in writing!
Make sure the lease reflects the fact that you’ll have new furniture, parking is guaranteed, etc. Verbal contracts can be impossible to enforce; some leases expressly preclude verbal agreements.

Don’t sign a lease until you are certain you want the place.
It can be difficult and/or expensive to cancel a lease once it’s signed.

Don’t commit yourself to a place you can’t afford!
Each fall, there are students who have rented a multi-bedroom place in the spring and still have not been able to round up enough housemates to make the payments. Anyone who has signed the lease remains legally liable for the full rent.

Be sure to get a copy of the signed lease.
Get this from your landlord and keep it in a safe place. The landlord is required by law to give you a copy.You may need it for future reference if any problems occur during the term of the lease.

Before signing the lease or paying any money, you should inspect the property with the landlord and a witness.
You should also be allowed to inspect the utilities - the appliances, the electrical system, the plumbing, heating and lights - as well as locks and windows.  Write down all existing damages. Both you and the landlord should sign and date the list. You may also want to videotape or take photographs to document your descriptions. This list will prevent the landlord from trying to charge you for these damages when you move out. Landlords can refuse to cooperate (these are not “rights” legally enforceable in court), but cooperation is advised. To have a list is in the best interest of both landlord and tenant, since it protects all parties if there is a disagreement about who is responsible for any repairs.

The lease should state who is responsible for paying which utility bills.
In some cases, the landlord pays for heat, electricity, and water. Sometimes the tenant is responsible for these bills. If this issue is not addressed in the lease, the tenant and landlord should work out their own understanding. It is good to put this agreement in writing, and have it signed by both parties. Information about utility shut-offs can be found in the handbook, Landlords and Tenants: Rights and Responsibilities.

Types of Housing

  • Apartment: several units on the same floor with a common entrance.
  • Efficiency: smaller than a studio; kitchen is usually very small or part of the living room.
  • Flat: an entire floor of an older building with a private entrance.
  • Jr. One Bedroom: studio apartment with a sleeping alcove.
  • In-Law: apartment unit added to but separate from a single family home.
  • Studio: an open-plan one-room unit consisting of a combined living room, bedroom, and kitchen, and a bathroom.

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