A QUICK AND EASY GUIDE TO THE RIGHTS OF SAN FRANCISCO TENANTS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS

A QUICK AND EASY GUIDE TO THE RIGHTS OF SAN FRANCISCO TENANTS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS

Tenant protections for those affected by COVID-19 now exist on three levels — the local, state and federal. Here’s a quick guide to what your rights are as a tenant affected by COVID-19. NOTE: this guide only applies to San Francisco tenants. If you live outside SF, contact Tenants Together. PLEASE NOTE that there is still more legislation pending right now. Watch this site for updates on those bills. Or call our counseling line (415-703-8644). QUICK SUMMARY (more info below): the CDC eviction moratorium was recently extended by President Biden. And the governor just signed SB. 91, which extends the deadline for 25% of the rent due September 2020 – January 2021 to June 30. We will do our best to keep this website updated. 

WHAT IF I CAN’T PAY RENT SEPTEMBER  2020- JUNE  2021?

Starting in September, a state law (AB 3088), that was extended on January 28, mandates that if you can’t pay rent for the months from September 2020 to June 2021 due to a COVID-19 hardship, you must sign a declaration of COVID-19 -related financial distress and pay 25% of the rent when rent is due each month or before June 30, 2021 (that date was originally January 31, 2021, but it was recently extended). The declaration is signed each month under penalty of perjury. The remaining 75% rent is due by July 31, 2021. If you don’t pay it, your landlord has to go to court to collect it. You cannot be evicted for not paying it. If your landlord gives you a 15-day notice to pay rent or quit during this time, you should respond with the signed declaration. If you make more than 130% of Area Median Income, your landlord can ask you for proof of your hardship, but cannot require it and deny your rights under SB 3088. If you don’t respond by returning the signed declaration or paying the rent, your landlord may be able to evict. For help with writing and sending a letter to your landlord, go to https://www.norent.org/en/ for English and https://www.norent.org/es/ for Spanish. 

WHAT IF I COULDN’T PAY SEPTEMBER 2020 RENT?

For rent due in September 2020: you’re still technically covered under the mayor’s emergency order (as you have been since April) which allows you to postpone your September rent payment by writing a letter to your landlord and informing him/her that due to COVID-19, you cannot pay. You cannot be evicted for not paying the rent. However, if your landlord sends you a 15-day notice for payment of that rent, you must return a declaration of financial hardship within those 15 days. Click here for a link to that form. 25% of your rent would then be due by June 30, 2021. 

WHAT IF I COULDN’T PAY APRIL-AUGUST 2020 RENT?

You have until June 30, 2021 to pay that rent, provided you sent letters informing your landlord of your COVID-19-related hardship. Landlord cannot evict you, if you don’t pay by that date. They will have to take you to court for the money. Again, as with other months, if you receive a 15-day notice from the landlord, send back the declaration of hardship.

FEDERAL COVID-19 PROTECTIONS

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a national eviction moratorium for all tenants (in all types of housing) impacted by COVID-19. By executive order, President Joe Biden has extended it until March 31, 2021. The CDC moratorium outlaws all evictions as long as a tenant fills out a COVID declaration to your landlord. See a copy here. This order does not supersede any stronger state or local protections that are in place. For a good summary of the CDC moratorium, check here

STATE/CITY EVICTION MORATORIA

Under a law passed by the SF Board of Supervisors, all no-fault evictions (including Owner Move-in, capital improvements and demolition evictions) are not permitted until after March 31, 2021. Since a landlord can’t evict for nonpayment of rent (if it’s due to COVID-19 and the tenant has sent the declaration (see above under October-January rent), the only evictions allowed are nuisance and Ellis.

Under state law AB 3088, a landlord can be fined $2,500 for illegally trying to evict a tenant during COVID-19. Under the CDC rules, the penalty is up to $250,000.

IF YOU RECEIVE AN EVICTION NOTICE OR COURT PAPERS (UNLAWFUL DETAINER), contact the Eviction Defense Collaborative at 415-659-9184.

RENTAL ASSISTANCE

Supervisor Dean Preston is proposing that the city allocate $5.7 million for a rent relief fund. The money will be under the supervision of the Mayor’s Office on Housing. 

Meanwhile, the just-passed Congressional COVID relief package includes $25 billion for rent relief. The money will go to the states. California is receiving $2.6 billion of that money for the whole state. How and when that will be distributed is unknown at this time, but the legislation calls for it to happen by mid-March. Keep checking this website or call our counseling line (415-703-8644) for updates.

Here’s a brief breakdown of what SB 91 says about that rental assistance money. It is to be for low-income households — those marking 80% of Area Median Income (AMI), but will be prioritized for households at 50% of AMI or in homes where people have been unemployed for 3 months or more.

Everything depends on your landlord. If they participate in the program, the state pays 80% of your rent from April 2020 to March 2021. Landlord has to forgive the rest of your debt. If the landlord doesn’t choose to participate in the program, tenants can still apply but only receive 25% of the rent owed from September 2020 to March 2021. After March 2021, the program pays 25% of up to three months of future rent. Landlord cannot evict tenant without having first notified them about the rental assistance program. 

Meanwhile, if you need rental assistance right now, contact RADCO, (415) 470-5211 or email ​EDCRADCo@evictiondefense.org Leave your name, phone number, address and reason for your call.

RENT FREEZE FOR RENT-CONTROLLED APTS.

A freeze on rent increases on rent-controlled units during the COVID-19 crisis was in effect in SF between April 7, 2020 and October 21, 2020 and included all annual, banked, operating and maintenance, and passthroughs allowed under section 37.3(a) of the rent ordinance (for example, capital improvement, general obligation bond, water revenue bond, seismic retrofit and soft story retrofit, and utility passthroughs). THIS RENT FREEZE HAS EXPIRED. IT IS NOT KNOWN IF IT WILL BE REINSTATED.

If a tenant paid a rent increase during the freeze period, he or she should write their landlord requesting a refund. If there’s any question about the correct amount of the tenant’s rent, he or she can always file an unlawful rent increase petition with the Rent Board. The Rent Board can be reached at 415-252-4600, listen to the option to speak to a counselor.

Unfortunately, for units regulated by the Mayor’s Office of Housing or the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, the moratorium on rent increases expired on November 1 and has not been renewed.

RENT GOUGING

Large rent increases are not allowed during a state of emergency. A landlord cannot charge or even advertise rents that are 10% above what they were charging before February 10. Also, a landlord cannot evict tenants and then charge more for rent. If you receive more than a 10% increase after February 10, you can check out the sample letter at the Tenants Together website.

SHOWING AN APT. OR HOUSE

Here’s what the Department of Public Health’s website has to say about a landlord or realtor showing an apartment or house during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Can real estate agents show residences or commercial properties in person?

“Service providers that enable real estate transactions (including rentals, leases, and home sales), including, but not limited to, real estate agents, escrow agents, notaries, and title companies, provided that appointments and other residential real estate viewings must only occur virtually or, if a virtual viewing is not feasible, by appointment with no more than two visitors at a time residing within the same Household and one individual showing the unit (except that in person visits are not allowed when the occupant is present in the Residence).” (Amended January 27, 2021.)

THE COURTS

Note: we do not give legal advise. If you receive a UD or eviction notice for nuisance involving violence, threats of violence, or health and safety issues, you should contact the Eviction Defense Collaborative (415-659-9184 or email legal@evictiondefense.org) or talk to a lawyer. 

The California Judicial Council has decided to let the courts throughout the state go forward with evictions, starting September 21. But San Francisco has a moratorium on evictions, see information under “SF Eviction Moratorium.”

THE SHERIFF

The sheriff is not doing evictions right now, except for nuisance and Ellis. If you have a 5-day notice to vacate from the sheriff, you should get in touch with the Eviction Defense Collaborative, (415)-659-9184 or email legal@evictiondefense.org.

DEPARTMENT OF BUILDING INSPECTION

As of May 4, 2020, all construction work is allowed to resume, provided contractors are complying with the safety protocols (see Appendix B-1 and B-2 of the linked health order) the department has established. 

Inspections are continuing (including building, plumbing, electrical and housing). Inspections can be requested through the department’s online scheduling portal. Link is here. DBI inspectors are practicing social distancing measures when doing inspections.

DBI’s office is partially closed due to COVID. To schedule an inspection, you can call (628) 652-3401 or go online. If you need to contact a specific DBI division or Program contact, review the Department’s Program Directory here.

UTILITIES: WATER DEPT.

(This is from the SF Water Department website): During these difficult times, SFPUC (SF Public Utilities Commission) will not shut off water or power services due to late payments. SFPUC is also postponing liens and collections during this time. If you are having financial difficulties and need to enter into a payment plan, please email them at customerservice@sfwater.org or call them at (415) 551-3000.

PG&E

Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has voluntarily implemented a moratorium on service disconnections for non-payment, effective immediately. This suspension will apply to both residential and commercial customers and will remain in effect until further notice. To further support customers who may be impacted by the pandemic, PG&E will offer a payment plan to customers who indicate either an impact or hardship as a result of COVID-19. For customer service, call 1-800-743-5000.

To contact our Mission counseling line, call 415-703-8644, Monday through Thursday, 1-5pm. The office is closed, but counselors are working from home, and your call will be returned during counseling hours from a block number.  If you live in the Richmond area, you can call Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9am-12noon, 415-947-9085 for counseling. 

This page was last updated on February 22, 2021.