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.

RENT OCTOBER – JANUARY

Starting in October, a new state law (SB 3088) mandates that if you can’t pay rent for the months from October 2020 to January 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 January 31, 2021. The declaration is signed each month under penalty of perjury. The remaining 75% rent is due by March 1, 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 can file eviction proceedings starting October 5, 2020. 

SEPTEMBER RENT

For rent due in September 2020: you’re still covered under local law and the mayor’s order (as you have been since April) which allow 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 distress within those 15 days. Click here for a link to that form. 25% of your rent would then be due by January 31, 2021. 

APRIL-AUGUST RENT

You have until February 28, 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.

FEDERAL PROTECTIONS

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a national eviction moratorium for all tenants (in all types of housing) impacted by COVID-19. It’s in effect from September 4, 2020 until December 31. 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

SF EVICTION MORATORIUM

Nuisance evictions involving violence or threats of violence and Ellis Act evictions are the only evictions allowed under SF’s moratorium. This moratorium extends for 60 days after the mayor’s eviction moratorium order expires on September 20. That moratorium expires November 30, 2020. If you receive an eviction notice for nuisance or Ellis or an unlawful detainer (court papers), contact the Eviction Defense Collaborative, 415-659-9184.

The order applies to all rent-controlled and other private market rental units (those built before and after 79, and single family homes, too), as well as units where the rent is controlled or regulated by the City, including privately held units regulated by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development or the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. It does NOT apply to tourist hotels or a tourist unit of a residential hotel. However, a person cannot be removed from these tourist room if they are self isolating or quarantining during the crisis.

A landlord must attach form 1010 (click here to see it) to any eviction notice sent before the mayor’s order is terminated. It advises a tenant of his/her rights under the moratorium.

Under 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. 

The CDC moratorium outlaws all evictions until December 31, 2020, as long as you fill out a COVID declaration to your landlord. See a copy here

RENT FREEZE FOR RENT-CONTROLLED APTS.

A freeze on rent increases on rent-controlled units during the COVID-19 crisis is now in effect in SF.  Rent increases that are not permitted between April 7, 2020 and October 21, 2020 include 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).

Rent increases that are still allowed include: rent increases on apartments NOT under rent control, apartments under state price control (AB1482), Costa Hawkins increases, and rent increases under section 1.21 of the ordinance where the Rent Board has ruled that the master tenant is no longer in primary residence in the apartment.

During this rent freeze period, a landlord can issue a rent increase notice that affirms the tenant’s anniversary date. The tenant does not need to pay it. The landlord would then have to issue a proper rent increase notice after the crisis that reinstates the prior notice, but doesn’t change the anniversary date. The tenant would NOT be responsible for the rent during the months of the freeze.

A landlord could, however, decide not to reinstate the increase and take it the following year, along with the next year’s increase. For instance, if the rent increase is frozen in May of this year, the landlord sends a letter, but doesn’t reinstate it at the end of the crisis. Next May, he gives next year’s increase plus this year’s 1.8%.

If a tenant pays a rent increase that comes during the crisis, he or she should write the 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.

For units regulated by the Mayor’s Office of Housing or the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, rents cannot be increased until one month after the September 30 order expires, meaning November 1.

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.

SRO TENANTS

The eviction moratorium applies to all people in SROs. An SRO tenant who has not gained tenancy yet (i.e., been in their room for 32 consecutive days to be under the protection of the rent ordinance) cannot be evicted or forced out for nonpayment because of the coronavirus or any other reason, except for nuisance involving violence or threats of violence. However, if they’re in their room for 22 days and they’re protected during the crisis, when it’s over, they are still at day 22 and must physically be in their room until the 32nd day to gain their rights.

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, which is in effect until December 1. The only evictions permitted are nuisance evictions involving violence or threats of violence or health or safety concerns, or Ellis Acts evictions.

THE SHERIFF

The sheriff is not doing evictions right now. If you have a 5-day notice to vacate from the sheriff, it is stayed for the time being. The department website only says “until further notice.” More info will be posted, as it becomes available.

DEPARTMENT OF BUILDING INSPECTION

As of May 4, 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.

For general questions, you can call DBI’s main line at (415) 558-6088 or email dbicustomerservice@sfgov.org.

For technical code questions, please email TechQ@sfgov.org.

If you need to contact a specific DBI division or Program contact, review the Department’s Program Directory here.

RENTAL ASSISTANCE

To reach RADCO for possible rental assistance, (415) 470-5211 or email ​EDCRADCo@evictiondefense.org Leave your name, phone number, address and reason for your call.

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 September 29, 2020.