Living In

Maintenance & Repairs

According to California law, a rental unit must be fit to live in, or 'habitable.' The landlord is responsible for repairing conditions that seriously affect the rental unit's habitability as well as materially affecting tenants' heath and safety. For less serious repairs, the rental agreement may state that the landlord or the tenant is responsible for maintenance.

Basic Requirements

In order to be habitable, the unit must meet these basic requirements:

  • Roof and walls must not leak
  • Doors and windows must not be broken
  • Plumbing and gas must work
  • Hot and cold water must be provided
  • Sewer and septic system must be connected and operating
  • Heater must work and be safe
  • Floors, stairways, and railings must be maintained and safe
  • Lights and wiring must work and be safe
  • Can or bins with covers must be provided for trash
  • Upon move-in, the rental unit must be clean, with no trash, rodents, or other animals or pests

Repairs

If you believe your rental unit needs repairs and that the repairs are the landlord's responsibility, you should notify your landlord by telephone and by letter. Keep a copy of the letter for your records. In most situations, you should allow the landlord 30 days to make the repair(s). If the landlord does not make the repairs, and does not have a reasonable justification for not doing so, you may pursue one of these options:

  • File a petition for a rent adjustment.
    The San Francisco Rent Board has the authority to adjust a tenant's rent based on a lack of repairs and/or maintenance. For more information, go to Handling Repair Problems.
  • Call the city building inspector.
    You may file a complaint with the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection regarding the necessary repairs/maintenance in your unit. If the repairs/maintenance are necessary for making the unit habitable, the city building inspector will require the landlord to complete the repairs. For information on how to file a complaint, go to Filing a Complaint.
  • Repair and deduct.
    If you notify your landlord with a letter of needed repairs and the landlord does not respond within 30 days, you may make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost of the repairs from your rent, provided they do not cost more than twice your monthly rent. You may only exercise this option twice in a 12 month period. Be sure to keep detailed documentation of all repairs made, including letters, photos, and receipts.
  • Seek legal counsel.
    Some organizations offer legal advise at low- or no-cost. Here are some websites to visit:
    Legal Assistance
    San Francisco Tenants Union

Whatever happens, you should never stop paying your rent even if your landlord does not make the needed repairs. If you do stop payment, your landlord may have grounds to evict you.

Your rights as a tenant

Tenants are afforded certain rights. Some of the things a landlord cannot do include:

  • Evict you without first going to court
  • Turn off your utilities or services
  • Lock you out or change the locks on your unit
  • Harass you
  • Enter your unit without your permission

If your unit falls under the protection of rent control, you may call the SF Rent Board to file a petition. Here are similar organizations that can provide you with further information and assistance:

San Francisco Rent Board
Tel: (415) 252-4600
Web: www.sfrb.org

Small Claims Court
Tel: (415) 551-4000
Web: www.sfsuperiorcourt.org

Department of Building Inspection, Housing Inspection Division
Tel: (415) 558-6220
Web: www.sfdbi.org

Department of Public Health
Tel: (415) 554-2500
Web: www.sfdph.org

Your rights as a subletter (subtenant)

As a subtenant who may be renting for a short period of time, it is important to know your rights. First, you must make sure the original landlord is allowing the tenant to sublease to you. If a tenant rents to you when a lease or rental agreement prohibits it, the landlord can evict both the tenant and you, the subtenant, even if you did not know that subtenancy was prohibited. Ask to see a copy of the original lease to make sure you are legally able to sublease. In most situations, you will not sign a lease with the original landlord, instead you will deal directly with the original tenant. However, the original landlord may require you, the subtenant, to sign a separate rental agreement giving you all the rights and responsibilities of a tenant.

Master Tenants and Subtenants

A tenant may choose to rent out part of a unit to another tenant if the lease allows. This is called an apartment share. The master tenant is the person who originally moved into the unit, signed an agreement with the landlord, and is now renting part of the unit to another tenant, called a subtenant. The subtenant is the person who pays rent to the master tenant and has no relationship with the landlord. Co-tenants, or simply roommates, are equal tenants who are both on a rental agreement with the landlord.

Subtenants Rights with a Landlord

If a landlord gains 'actual knowledge' (e.g. accepting a rent check, getting a letter, doing a credit check, etc.) of a subtenant and does nothing about it for 60 days, the subtenant is treated as a co-tenant for the purposes of eviction and rent increases, and has the same rights as a normal tenant. If the landlord gives notice to the subtenant within 60 days or 'actual knowledge' that s/he recognizes the subtenant merely as an occupant and not a tenant, the subtenant remains a subtenant for the purposes of eviction and rent control. This means that when a master tenant is evicted or moved out, the landlord can increase the price of the unit to a fair market value because rent control rules do not apply. The subtenant will have to pay this higher price if s/he wants to remain in the unit.

Other Resources

For further information and assistance regarding tenancy issues, please refer to the following resources:

San Francisco Bar Association
iris@sfbar.org
Tel: (415)-989-1616

California Department of Consumer Affairs
Publication: California Tenants: A Guide to Residential Tenants' and Landlords' Rights and Responsibilities
1625 North Market Blvd, Suite N 112, Sacramento, CA 95834
Tel: (415) 800 952-5210

Community Boards Program of San Francisco
A non-profit mediation service that assists in resolving community conflict.
3130 24th Street, San Francisco, CA
Tel: (415) 920-3820

The Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco
Free tenants' rights counseling and education.
417 S. Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94103
Tel: (415) 703-8644

San Francisco Rent Stabilization Control Board
Also known as SF Rent Board.
25 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102
Tel: (415) 252-4600

San Francisco Tenants Union
Advocacy for tenants' rights and affordable housing.
558 Capp Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
Tel: (415) 282-6622

St. Peter's Housing Committee
Tenancy advocacy and education.
474 Valencia St, Suite 156, San Francisco, CA
Tel: (415) 487-9203

Tenants' Rights: California Tenants' Handbook
by Moskovitz and Warner (Nolo Press)

Eviction

A landlord cannot evict you without going through a lawful procedure. Under San Francisco's rent control ordinance, the landlord must properly serve you with a notice stating one of the 'just causes' for eviction allowed by law. The sections below will provide you with information on just causes for eviction, the eviction process, as well as additional resources.

Just Causes for Eviction

  1. Non-payment of rent, or habitual late payment or frequent bounced rent checks.
  2. The tenant has violated a term of the rental agreement. For example, if your rental agreement prohibits having a pet in your unit and you adopt one anyway, this is a violation of the terms of the rental agreement.
  3. The tenant is creating a nuisance in or damage to the unit. For example, if you like to throw loud parties that disturb the neighbors, you may be deemed a nuisance and the landlord will have just cause for evicting you.
  4. The tenant is using the unit for an illegal purpose.
  5. The tenant refuses to renew a rental agreement for the same period of time and under materially the same terms as the prior agreement.
  6. The tenant has refused the landlord reasonable access to the unit as required by state or local law.
  7. The only person left in the unit when the rental agreement expires is a subtenant who has not been approved by the landlord.
  8. The landlord or an immediate family members wants to move in to unit and will remain a minimum of 36 consecutive months.*
  9. The landlord seeks to sell a unit which has lawfully been converted to a condominium.*
  10. The landlord seeks to demolish or otherwise remove the unit from rental housing use.*
  11. The landlord seeks temporarily to remove the unit from housing use to carry out capital improvement or rehabilitation. Under these circumstances, a tenant has the right to re-occupy the unit once the work is completed.*
  12. The landlord seeks to carry out substantial rehabilitation.*
  13. The landlord seeks to withdraw from housing all the units in the building or a unit detached from another structure on the same lot (e.g. a cottage).*
  14. The landlord seeks to temporarily recover possesion of the unit for less than 30 days for the purpose of abating lead paint problems.*
  15. The landlord seeks to recover possession in order to demolish or to otherwise permanently remove the rental unit from housing use in accordance with the terms of a development agreement entered into by the City.*

* Under these just causes (8-15), the tenant may be entitled to received relocation benefits.

Eviction Process

In order to evict a tenanct, the landlord must follow judicial procedure and file an "unlawful detainer lawsuit." Landlords are not permitted to try force the tenant out by changing the locks, cutting off utilities, removing the tenant's belongings from the unit, or other similar actions.

When a landlord files an unlawful detainer lawsuit, the tenant must usually file a response. In an unlawful detainer lawsuit, a hearing is held and the parties are allowed to present evidence and explain their case. The court will determine if a tenant must be evicted.

Units Not Under Rent Control

If your unit is not covered under rent control, a landlord must still give you proper notice to end a periodic tenancy (e.g. 30 days notice for a month-to-month agreement). When a fixed-term lease expires on a unit not under rent control, normally you are expected to move out right away unless you and the landlord sign a new rental agreement. In both of these cases, the landlord does not have to have just cause since the rental agreement is expired. However, if your rental agreement is stil in effect, the landlord must still file an unlawful detainer lawsuit and show just cause for the eviction.

Additional Resources

DISCLAIMER:

THE UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO PROVIDES INFORMATION REGARDING HOUSING IN THE SAN FRANCISCO AREA FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE ONLY. THE UNIVERSITY MAKES NO REPRESENTATION AS TO THE CONDITION OR SUITABILITY OF ANY OF THE LISTED RESOURCES OR ESTABLISHMENTS, NOR DOES IT ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR CONDITION OR RELIABILITY, OR FOR ANY AGREEMENTS YOU ENTER INTO WITH THEM. THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE, AND IT SHOULD NOT BE USED AS SUCH.