Tenant Rights

Know Your Rights!

Tenants in San Francisco:

Remaining COVID tenant protections may have expired on August 29th, 2023 but you still 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.

Visit sf.gov/renthelp for help paying rent.

** 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. All San Francisco tenants facing an eviction are entitled to free legal representation.
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 (976 Mission St, 1st Floor San Francisco, CA 94103) Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday from 10am-11:30am and 1pm-2:30pm. 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.

(Information provided by the San Francisco Tenants Union and Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and can be downloaded as a flyer here.)
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.

(Information provided by the San Francisco Tenants Union and Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and can be downloaded as a flyer here.)
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.

(The information above can be downloaded as a flyer here.)

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 refuse to accept/acknowledge receipt of your lawful rent payment or refuse to cash a rent check for over 30 days. 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.

(The above information can be downloaded as a flyer here.)

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

As of April 11, 2022, tenant associations in San Francisco in buildings with five or more units have new rights and protections under the Union at Home Ordinance.

We will update this page with more information soon, but a summary of protections below is courtesy of Housing Rights Committee of SF:

With this new law:

  1. You will have the protected right to form an association with the neighbors in your building. For the first time ever, SF tenants have the legal right to “certify” an association in their building. If your building is five units or more and owned by a private landlord, then you and your neighbors are eligible to form an association using this new law. The process is simple: Submit a letter to your landlord with a majority (50%+1) of existing units signed on (just one leaseholder per unit is sufficient).
  2. New protections for flyering, door-knocking, and holding tenant meetings on-site. While SF tenants have had the right to flyer their buildings, tenants now have expanded rights to door-knock in their buildings, hold tenant meetings on-site in common areas and their units, and allow non-resident advocates to enter their buildings and speak with tenants about their rights.
  3. New legal requirement for the landlord to meet and negotiate with the association. For the first time ever in the country, a landlord whose tenants form an association has the legal obligation to “meet and confer” with the association. An association can request a meeting, decide on their own who attends (including non-resident advocates), raise issues to the landlord, present proposals to resolve those issues, and request agreements in writing.
  4. These new rights and protections become classified as official housing services. Just like plumbing and heat, all these new rights—called “organizing activities” in the law—will be classified as an official housing services. This means that tenants’ right to flyer, door-knock, form an association, and negotiate with their landlords are all on par with tenants’ rights to working appliances and quiet enjoyment.

    What topics might an association negotiate? Possibilities include:

    • Building maintenance and improvements, safety, and security
    • Construction projects and noise levels
    • Rent levels and passthroughs
    • Parking, storage, and other housing services
  5. If the landlord violates any of these rights or protections, then you and your neighbors are entitled to rent reductions. Instead of relying on civil court and lawsuits for enforcement, this law empowers tenants to seek rent reductions if landlords disrupt any organizing activity. Because all these rights are now housing services, a tenant association can submit a multi-unit petition at the Rent Board for rent reductions for all members—a more immediate and impactful remedy than a lengthy lawsuit.