Tenant Rights

Temporary COVID Protections

Know Your Rights!

Tenants in SF have rights! If you’re experiencing harassment or pressure from your landlord, or fear you might be evicted or have to move, click on your issue below. Find a list of tenant rights groups who can offer help here.

** There are many important tenant protections in place during the COVID-19 crisis! Scroll down to the bottom of this page to find more information about the current eviction moratorium.**
You don’t have to leave just because your landlord tells you to! An eviction follows a very specific legal process that your landlord must follow. All eviction notices must be in writing. Additionally, most tenants can only be evicted for a specific set of reasons called “Just Cause.”
Under section 37.9(a) of the SF Rent Ordinance, landlords of rent-controlled apartments must have just cause to evict tenants from those units. For a full list of allowed reasons for eviction, see www.sftu.org/justcauses/
Some causes for eviction are because the tenant has violated their lease agreement or the law. These are called “For-Fault” evictions. Some common examples include:
  1. Nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment, or frequent bounced checks.
  2. Breach (violation) of a term of the rental agreement that has not been corrected after written notice from the landlord.
  3. Nuisance or substantial damage to the unit (waste), or “creating a substantial interference with the comfort, safety, or enjoyment of the landlord or other tenants in the building.”
There are a limited set of reasons that a landlord can evict a tenant who did not violate their lease or the law. These are called “No Fault” evictions. Often, tenants have the right to relocation payments. Some common examples include:
  1. OMI: Move-in of the landlord or a close relative of the landlord (if the landlord lives in the building).
  2. Sale of a unit which has been converted to a condo. Seniors and permanently disabled tenants cannot be evicted for condo conversions.
  3. Capital improvements or rehabilitation. The tenant has the right to re-occupy the unit at the prior rent, once the work is completed.
  4. Ellis Act evictions, which require withdrawal from rental housing use all of the units in the building. 
Eviction notices can’t be given verbally. A real eviction begins with a written notice, usually for 3, 30 or 60 days. You do not have to leave your home by the end of this notice, and your landlord can’t force you out. If you haven’t moved by the end of the 3, 30 or 60 days, the landlord can then begin the court eviction process with a summons (Unlawful Detainer).
If you receive a “Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer.” YOU MUST RESPOND TO THIS IN FIVE DAYS, or you may lose your right to a trial and the eviction will move much quicker. Weekends and court holidays do not count towards the 5 days.  If you do not respond, you will lose automatically and can be evicted by the Sheriff in a week.
THE ANSWER: You respond to the Summons by completing a court form called an “Answer.” You may also be able to first file court motions attacking the validity of the eviction. It is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you can get help filing these at the Eviction Defense Collaborative.
Landlords don’t evict: judges and sheriffs evict. When you rent, you have a legal right to stay until you either choose to leave or the landlord gets a court order. Before you can be evicted, you have the right to bring your case to a jury. If you win, you get to stay. If you lose, only the sheriff has the right to remove you.
LEGAL ASSISTANCE:                       
To respond to an Unlawful Detainer, you need to obtain legal assistance. The Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) assists tenants in responding to the court papers. Bring your papers to the EDC (1338 Mission Street; 4th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103) Mon.-Fri. 9:00-11:00 am and 1-3 pm. Do not call. Drop in to talk to a counselor during counseling hours.
California Civil Code 1942.5 says a landlord cannot retaliate against tenants by evicting them or raising the rent. If your landlord tries to evict you within six months of an action you have taken to assert your rights, you may have a defense against it. Make sure you keep copies of all actions which might be cause for retaliation, such as Rent Board notices, Building Inspection notices, etc.
Your rights don’t change just because your landlord does. You can’t be evicted, have your rent raised, or have your rental agreement changed just because your building was sold.
So don’t panic! This is a time when knowing your rights is important, but there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself and stay in your home.
When a building is sold, typically one of three things happens:
  1. The building is converted into condos or a form of joint ownership called “tenancy in common (TIC)” for sale as homes for buyers.
  2. The landlord seeks to live in one or more of the units and may want family members to live in other units.
The landlord might be able to do an owner move-in (OMI) to move into your apartment, but they must follow the legal OMI process. Many OMI evictions are fake and apartments are found vacant or re-rented to new tenants at market-rate, illegally.
  1. The building continues as investment rental property (the landlord lives elsewhere).
Buying a building in today’s market is expensive, and new landlords may be looking for ways to increase their profits:
  • They may try to get tenants to sign new, more restrictive rental agreements or they may try to take away services to get more out of your rent money.
  • They may encourage tenants to move out by offering money to leave (a buyout offer). You do not have to accept this offer. It likely will not be a good deal for you.
  • Sometimes harassment is aimed at longer-term tenants paying affordable rents, because once a long-term tenant is out, they will be able to raise the rent to whatever they like.
What is an “Estoppel Agreement” or “Rental Questionnaire”? Should I sign it?
When a building is for sale, the realtor often gives tenants an “estoppel agreement” or “rental questionnaire” to sign. The landlord is seeking information in this form to solidify what you do and don’t have access to and what you can and can’t do on the property. You do not have to fill out or sign this form unless your rental agreement requires you to. You might want to write your own informal letter instead, which will be less likely to be held against you if you left something out, and could allow you to document verbal agreements such as additional roommates, pets, parking, use of the backyard, etc.
If the landlord questions whether or not you are a “protected tenant” for purposes of owner move-in evictions (i.e., senior, disabled, or family with children), you must answer this in order to assert your protected status later.
Do I have to sign a new lease?
Many new landlords try to force tenants to sign a new rental agreement. You do not have to sign a new agreement which is significantly different from your current agreement!! Only if your landlord offers you the same agreement which you now have could you be forced to sign it. If you had a lease when you moved in, but are now on a month-to-month agreement, it would probably be safer to sign another lease. Also, it may be to your advantage to sign a lease that will protect you from the no-fault evictions (such as the Ellis act evictions or OMI) during the period of the lease.
A new landlord cannot raise the rent above the allowable amount, unless they are ‘banking’ on rent increases the previous landlord did not take. Those increases must be the allowable ones for the years in question. The rent increase requires a written 30-day notice. If the banked rent increase is 10% or more, a 60-day written notice is needed.
If you building in for sale, you should know about the Ellis Act. This is a state law that allows landlords to go out of the rental business by evicting all the tenants and taking the building off the market. This law gets used as a loophole around rent control, by getting new tenants in a building paying market rents. It also increases the sale of a building as property sells for more without tenants in it.
Tenants facing an Ellis Act eviction have 120 days to move, unless they’re seniors or disabled, in which case they have one year. They also receive relocation money. Though it is possible to fight these Ellis Act eviction by drawing attention to its dishonest usage.
A buyout is an offer of money in exchange for the tenant vacating the premises. Often landlords offer buyouts when they have no grounds for a legal eviction, or to get around the constraints of the legal eviction process, including potential restrictions on what happens to the unit after the tenants are out.
Buyouts are almost never a good deal for tenants, especially with the cost of living in San Francisco at all-time high. Let’s look at an example to see how quickly buyout money can disappear in today’s housing market:
Carla moved into her 2-bedroom apartment in 2003. Her apartment cost $2,000. With allowable rent increases each year, her rent is now $2,532.07.
Carla’s landlord offers her $10,000 to move out. She negotiates and gets the offer raised to $20,000. She accepts the offer!
Now Carla has to move. She searches and searches her neighborhood, where the average rent is now over $4,500. She decides she can squeeze into a 1-bedroom to make rent more affordable, and finds a place for $3,500.
Before signing the lease, she sits down to do a budget.The new landlord wants first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit up front. That’s $10,500.
She decides she’ll pay for the cost of hiring movers with the money she makes from selling off all of the furniture that won’t fit in her new, smaller apartment.
Now Carla has $9,500 left of her buyout agreement. But rent on this new place is an extra $968 month. That means she’ll have spent her entire buyout on that extra rent in less than 10 months.
Carla realizes that $20,000 isn’t a good deal after all. She had 45 days under city law to rescind her buyout agreement, and so she tells her landlord that she has changed her mind, and that she plans to stay in her home.
Many tenants who have taken buyouts would have preferred to stay in their apartments but were pressured through intimidation, harassment, or threat of eviction. Buyouts are now regulated by the City and a tenant has 45 days to change their mind and rescind a buyout agreement. Some things to consider when offered a buyout:
  • How much is rent on a new lease in your neighborhood?
  • How much time did you plan to stay in your unit or your neighborhood?
  • Will you find another place here in SF?
  • There is a reason your landlord wants you to take a buyout. Is your apartment worth more to you than the money?
Information about the new law regulating buyouts:
A landlord must register a buyout offer with the Rent Board via a “pre-buyout negotiations disclosure form” and also give the tenant a second form that includes a list of tenants’ rights groups, before negotiations can begin.
A tenant does not have to agree to enter into a buyout negotiation, but if they do, they may consult a lawyer and back out of the agreement within 45 days of signing it. The final agreement must be filed with the Rent Board within 46-59 days.
Any violation of this law can be enforced via civil action in state court. A landlord’s ability to condo convert may be effected by buyouts if a senior, disabled or catastrophically ill person is given a buyout, or if two or more tenants got buyouts up to ten years before the condo conversion is approved.
Your landlord can’t verbally or physically harass or threaten you, or call the police to try to force you to leave. Your landlord cannot discriminate against you because of your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, immigration or citizenship status, religion, age, parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, disability, AIDS or because you have a kid. Threats about your immigration status are harassment and are illegal under the rent ordinance.
Your landlord must give you 24 hours’ notice in writing to enter your unit, and they can only come in to:
  • Make necessary or agreed-upon repairs or services.
  • Show the unit to prospective tenants, buyers, mortgage holders, repair persons, or contractors.
  • Inspect the unit at the request of the tenant for a security deposit refund.
  • When there is a court order authorizing entry by the landlord.
If a landlord illegally enters your home, you should write a letter demanding 24 hours’ notice for future entries, and stating that you want the illegal entries to stop. You can also demand that the landlord only schedule times to enter during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 8am – 5pm). Realtors may enter on weekends to show the unit on a limited basis.
Your landlord may not shut off any of your utilities for purpose of evicting or harassing you. If your utilities have been turned off, call the utility company and try to have them turned back on. If that doesn’t work, try the Public Utilities Commission at 415-703-1170. If it’s a water turnoff, call 415-551-4767 to get the bill put in your name.
Keep a list of all incidents, the dates, and the length of time that your service was turned off. You should also inform your landlord in writing that you know your rights and that the utility cutoff is illegal, Keep a copy. If it’s your landlord who is not paying the utility bills, you can get them turned back on in your name.
Go to the SF Rent Board file a ‘decrease of services petition’ (25 Van Ness Ave.) for a potential rent reduction.
Your landlord cannot lock you out of your home.
If you have been locked out:
  • Under Penal Code 418, your landlord is guilty of a misdemeanor and could be arrested.
  • You have a right to regain entry to the premises even if you must break in. Keep proof of your tenancy with you at all times.
  • Keep a record of these incidents and write a letter to your landlord stating that you are aware of your rights and that you want the situation stopped without further harassment. Keep a copy.
  • Keep a written record. Save copies of letters you send to your landlord. Save receipts. Keep a log of what the landlord said or did to you, noting the place and date that each incident took place. In the case of harassment, note any witnesses as well.
  • If the harassment persists, write a letter to the landlord spelling out the offensive behavior. Include dates and times. If the harassment continues, you might consider a decrease in services petition at the Rent Board (if you’re under rent control), a Small Claims Court action or consulting with an attorney about some other kind of legal action.
  • You have the right to file for a Restraining Order in Superior Court restricting when your landlord may contact you. Forms are available at the Superior Court Clerk at the Superior Courthouse, corner of Polk and McAllister Streets.
A city mandated retrofit of a building designed to safeguard buildings in an earthquake. By September 2020, landlords must have completed all of the work on buildings designated by the city to be retrofitted. To check if your building is on the city’s list, go to https://sfdbi.org/softstory.
The work is only done on the lower level, usually in the garage, to reinforce the structure to hold up during an earthquake. The garage or a commercial area is the most vulnerable in an earthquake, which is why they need to be reinforced.
In 99% of the cases, you will NOT have to move. The most likely case in which you will have to be relocated is if you live in the apartment on the ground floor next to the garage.
State law says you must first receive a written 60-day temporary eviction notice (30-days if you’ve lived there less than a year). The landlord must have all permits applied for and approved by the Department of Building Inspections before s/he can issue a temporary eviction notice.
You must also receive half of the relocation benefits (check with the groups listed below for info about the amount), and the other half when you leave. The notice must state that you have the right to return and provide dates that the work will be done (not open ended). It is recommended, however, that you send the landlord a letter confirming the fact that YOU WILL BE RETURNING when the work is done. If you do not send the letter, do not panic. You still have the right to return. You may simply want to send the letter at a later date.

Even if you do not have to move, your tenancy may be disrupted by the seismic retrofit work. This might include temporary loss of parking or storage. If this happens your landlord must either provide a substituted replacement service or financial compensation for the value of the lost service, capped at 15% of your rent for each service

COVID-19 Updates

Updated 6/28/2021
The patchwork of local and state laws can be confusing, but there are lots of groups here to helpState emergency eviction protections have been extended through September 30, 2021. 

Tenant Protections

If you can’t pay because of pandemic-related income loss or increased expenses, you cannot be evicted for the debt and you have some time to come up with the money to pay it back. For information about rent due before September 2020 or for more details about all the topics below, scroll down to the Eviction Moratorium section of this page.
For rent due September 2020-September 2021, state laws AB 3088 and SB 91 lay out a very specific process that both you and the landlord have to follow. 
  • If your landlord gives you a notice to “pay or quit,” you have 15 days to return the form Declaration of COVID-19-Related Financial Distress”, signed under penalty of perjury. If you do not file in time, an eviction proceeding may be filed against you.  If you make more than 130% of area median household income, your landlord may demand proof of your COVID-19 related hardship. 
  • You must pay at least 25% of your September 2020-September 2021 rent on or before September 30, 2021 or your landlord can begin eviction proceedings.
  • The remaining 75% of your rent can be collected via small claims court or other debt collections processes, but you cannot be evicted for that portion of the rent. 

Learn about how to apply to rent relief programs here. Help is available regardless of immigration status.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a temporary national moratorium on most evictions for nonpayment of rent from September 4, 2020 to July 31, 2021. In most cases, the state and local laws provide better protection for San Francisco tenants, but in some cases, it may provide additional coverage.  Reach out to a tenant rights group if you want help figuring out whether it’s helpful to you. In order to access the protections, all adults in the household must submit this declaration to the landlord.  The National Housing Law Project and the National Low Income Housing Coalition have created an easy to read Fact Sheet for tenants to understand if they qualify and how to access protections.  NHLP has also created a more detailed legal analysis of the order, and has compiled more resources here.

State law defines protections for eviction based on non-payment of rent.  Local legislation bans all other kinds of evictions (except for those related to health and safety or the Ellis Act) until September 30, 2021. We are working to ensure that these protections continue. Additionally, the CDC Order prohibits nearly all evictions, including Ellis evictions, for covered tenants until July 31, 2021, and allows a declaration to be provided to the landlord at any time (more information is available here).
State laws AB3088 and SB 91 add penalties of up to $2,500 for landlords who attempt to illegally evict their tenants (by changing locks, shutting off power, removing belonging, etc) and makes it illegal for landlords to use other kinds of evictions as retaliation for protected non-payment of rent. The federal law adds penalties of up to $200,000 for violations of the federal order.

Other Changes in Tenant Protections

State law bans rent gouging during a state of emergency.  That means it is illegal for any landlord to charge (or advertise) rents 10% or above what they were charging before February 10, even if you do not have rent control.  It is also illegal for a landlord to evict tenants and then re-rent the vacated unit at a higher rent than what the evicted tenant was paying. Use this Tenants Together sample letter if you received a notice of increase above 10%  during a State of Emergency.

All lotteries in San Francisco will go on as scheduled, but they are now only accepting online applications.  See this page for more information.

The local eviction moratorium applies to tenants in SROs, even if they have not gained tenancy yet (i.e., been in their room for 32 consecutive days).  If a tenant has not gained tenancy yet (ie; they had only been in their room for 22 days), they are protected from eviction during the crisis, but when the moratorium is lifted, the clock on their tenancy starts where they left off (ie; at 22 days). Additionally, there are a number of new laws and guidelines specifically aimed at protecting those living in residential hotels right now.
One emergency ordinance requires the city to make private hotel rooms available to SRO residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 and establishes a hotline for residents to call with questions about testing, healthcare, and access to hotel rooms. A second emergency ordinance prohibits future evictions for non-payment of rent owed by SRO tenants during the moratorium and establishes a COVID-19 SRO Relief Fund to cover these missed rent payments.
On March 10, the Department of Public health ordered that residential hotels are required to clean all common areas and frequently touched surfaces at least once per day and more as needed. The minimum cleaning standards can be found here.

Those staying in a tourist hotel or tourist unit of a residential hotel are not covered by the residential eviction moratorium, but are protected by an April 14 executive order that prohibits removing guests who want to shelter in place during the current public health emergency. Guests must continue to pay for the hotel room and inform the hotel that they have either tested positive for or are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or are self-isolating or quarantining because of potential exposure to COVID-19. More information can be found here.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission won’t cut-off power and water services due to non-payment right now, and they will waive late fees on overdue payments. Pacific Gas and Electric Company has also suspended service disconnections for non-payment for both residential and commercial customers and will offer a payment plan to customers who indicate either an impact or hardship as a result of COVID-19.

Eviction Moratorium

If you live outside of San Francisco: your protections may be different.  See the COVID-19 Tenant Defense Toolkit developed by Tenants Together for California renters. Information about AB 3088 for a statewide audience is available here.
San Francisco Tenants: if you can’t pay rent right now, you are not alone. Please reach out to a tenant rights group if you do not plan to pay your rent this month! Click here to connect to organizing for a just recovery.
State laws AB 3088 and SB 91 protect you from eviction if you are unable to pay rent due because of financial hardship due to the pandemic.  The laws cover the period between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021 if certain requirements are met. There are additional local and federal laws that may protect you from evictions due to causes other than non-payment.
Missed rent payments from this period can never result in eviction, as long as they are due to COVID-related hardship.  Your landlord can still collect rent in civil court, but non-payment cannot lead to eviction. Both state and local laws cover this period:
  • AB 3088 requires that you return the Declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to your landlord within 15 days of them giving you a notice to “pay or quit.” They must include this notification and include the above declaration for you to fill out, and it must be in the language of your rental agreement.
  • San Francisco law protections also ensure that your landlord can never evict you for unpaid rent due March 16-August 31, 2020 (but can still bring a civil lawsuit to collect any remaining unpaid rent).
For rent due September 1, 2020- September 30, 2021: you are covered by the state law AB 3088. To qualify for protections under the law, you have to return the Declaration of COVID-19-Related Financial Distress”, to your landlord within 15 days of receiving a rent non-payment notice.  Additionally, you must pay at least 25% of your September-September rent on or before September 30, 2021 or your landlord can begin eviction proceedings. The remaining 75% of your rent can be collected via the civil debt collections process, but you cannot be evicted for that portion of the rent.  See more about how to access these protections below.

Frequently Asked Questions
about State Eviction Protections

AB 3088 covers tenants who are unable to pay all of their rent because of increased costs or loss of income due to the pandemic. The rules apply to all residential housing regardless of whether it is covered by the local rent ordinance.  This includes private-market rentals, single family homes, BMRs and other units where the rent is regulated by the city, and SROs and boarding houses.   Tenants are covered regardless of immigration status.
To access the protections for non-payment of rent, you must return the Declaration of COVID-19-Related Financial Distress”, to your landlord within 15 days of receiving a rent non-payment notice AND pay at least 25% of your September 2020-June 2021 rent on or before September 30, 2021.
Yes, but a notice is just one step of the eviction process. The state law allows landlords to give you a notice for nonpayment (notice to pay or quit) but extends the amount of time you have to pay or respond to 15 days from the typical 3 days.
If you don’t respond to the notice in 15 days, either with the required declaration or by paying your rent, your landlord can file for an eviction. If you didn’t respond in time because of an unintentional error, you may have a defense in court.
You are protected from an eviction if:
  • You respond to the notice within 15 days with the required declaration. Each adult in the household should sign the declaration, and you should repeat this each month.
  • AND you pay 25% of the total rent owed September-June before October 1, 2021.
If you have completed both of the above steps, your landlord can move to collect the remaining rent via the small claims or superior courts but cannot evict you for the remaining debt. If you do face an eviction action for rent due March 4, 2020-September 30, 2021, this state law “masks” (limits the public disclosure of) the court records.  
You can deliver the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress to your landlord by mail to the address indicated by the landlord in the notice; in person or by email if the form indicates an address where you can do that; or any way that you pay your rent, if it is possible to deliver the declaration by that method.
The declaration must be sent or received within 15 days of receiving the non-payment notice from your landlord.  It is important to keep proof that you delivered the declaration, such as asking for a receipt if you deliver in person or sending certified mail if you send by mail.    

In order to be protected, you must sign and return the declaration within the 15-day time period given in the eviction notice. However, if you do not do so on time, you may be able to do so later in any court action that is filed if you can provide a good reason why you did not return the declaration within the 15-day time period.    

The landlord may ask for documentation of financial hardship if the tenant is known to be “higher income,”   But the landlord cannot demand any tenant to provide income information in order for the tenant to seek relief under AB3088.   If you receive a request for proof of income you should seek advice from an attorney or a housing counselor.
Most tenants do not have to provide anything other than the declaration of COVID-19-related financial distress. “High-income tenants” (those earning more than 130% of median household income) must provide documentation to support their declaration if a landlord asks for it. A landlord can only require additional documentation if they already had evidence of your income before serving a nonpayment eviction notice.
In San Francisco, a “high-income tenant” is defined as a household making at or above the following income limits:
1 person household: $130,250
2 person household: $148,850
3 person household: $167,450
4 person household: $186,050
5 person household: $200,950
6 person household: $215,800
7 person household: $230,700
Documentation of hardship could include tax returns, pay stubs, a statement from your employer, medical bills, or many other things that are evidence of your hardship. If the landlord has provided the appropriate notice and request for documentation, and the tenant fails to provide both the appropriate documentation as well as the signed declaration, the tenant will not be protected from eviction for nonpayment of rent under the Tenant Relief Act.    
Neither the local board ordinance nor the state law cancels rent.  We are joining groups from around the state and country to call for full rent cancellation, and we will keep fighting to ensure that this recovery is not on our backs!  Join us!      
Protections ensure that you cannot be evicted for 100% of missed rent March-September 2020 and 75% of missed rent October 2020-September 2021, provided you follow the above guidelines.  But this protection from eviction is not the same as rent cancellation, and your landlord can try to recover the money through small claims or superior courts.
State law says that landlords cannot try to collect this rent in small claims court until October 2021, and cannot use other civil courts until October, so you have some time to try to get assistance (see the next question below).
Contact a tenant rights group if your landlord sues you for back rent!

Yes, though eligibility depends on the program, your income, and other factors.  See this page for more information about rental assistance.

No.  SB 91 clarifies that your landlord cannot apply current rent payments retroactively to back rent or other charges and cannot use your security deposit to recover the debt without your explicit consent. Additionally, you cannot be charged late fees for rent owed during this period.

No. The state law does not affect evictions for reasons other than nonpayment due to the impacts of the COVID-19 emergency, though it makes it illegal for your landlord to try to use other kinds of evictions as a back door to evict you for non-payment. Currently, a local law bans all other kinds of evictions (except for those related to health and safety or the Ellis Act) until September 30, 2021.

Landlords who use other kinds of evictions as a way to get around restrictions on eviction for nonpayment of rent face enhanced penalties under the new state and federal laws. Under the state law, it is illegal for a landlord to bring a different kind of eviction case in order to retaliate against a tenant or as a pretext for eviction based on nonpayment of rent, and those who attempt to circumvent the required court process for evictions can be fined $1,000-$2,500 for each violation.  The CDC order adds penalties of up to $200,000 for violations of the federal order.