A QUICK AND EASY GUIDE TO THE RIGHTS OF SAN FRANCISCO TENANTS DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS
SCROLL DOWN TO “CITY AND STATE RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS” FOR INFO ON THE CITY AND STATE RENTAL RELIEF PROGRAMS, WHICH ARE NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS.
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 : For the latest updates, watch this site or call one of our counseling lines (415-703-8644 or 415-947-9085).
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 and may be extended again, see below under “city/state moratoria”). 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. To apply for rental assistance under the SF and the California rent relief program, see below under “Rental Assistance.”
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. It is in effect until June 30, 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 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 June 30, 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. NOTE that legislation to extend the moratorium until September 30 passed the SF Board of Supervisors on a first and second reading and are awaiting the mayor’s signature or veto.
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.
CITY & STATE RENTAL ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
CITY RENT RELIEF
Pays rent for the month of April 2021 and onward. There is no maximum amount that can be given, only a maximum time of six months. If you qualify, the city program will pay up to three months back-owed and three months forward rent.
For more info on the program: https://sf.gov/renthelp
STATE RENT RELIEF
Runs from April 2020 through March 2021. It pays no rent after March 2021. The amount of assistance under the state program depends on how your landlord responds. After you submit an application, the state will contact your landlord and ask them to agree to waive 20% of the unpaid rent from April 2020 through March 2021. If they agree, the state program will pay your landlord the remaining 80% of unpaid rent and you will owe nothing after that. If the landlord doesn’t agree, the state program will pay you 25% of the prepaid rent from that period, and you will owe the remainder. To collect, the landlord must sue you in Small Claims Court. You cannot be evicted for failing to pay this debt.
For more info on the state rent relief program: https://housing.ca.gov/covid_rr/. There are designated groups in SF who can help with the state application process. The list can be accessed by clicking here. Scroll down to find the contact numbers for those groups in San Francisco.
City program and state programs are the same. You must meet all these qualifications: be a tenant residing in San Francisco with unpaid rent or utilities. Have experienced financial hardship related to COVID. And have a household income that is at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI). Here’s a list of that AMI:
For 1 person, $102,450/ For 2 people, $117,100/ For 3 people, $131,750/For 4 people, $146,350/ For 5 people, $158,100/ For 6 people, $169,800/For 7 people, $181,500/ For 8 people, $193,200
How will these programs be prioritized?
City: Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and are not first-come, first-served. Only priority applicants are scheduled for financial assistance. An application will be screened to determine the resident’s economic and social vulnerability. Priority applicants must meet the program’s vulnerability threshold. A range of vulnerability factors are considered when determining priority applications, including past homelessness, extremely low income, family composition, and other factors.
State: Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis and are not first-come, first-serve. The program first prioritizes applicants whose household income is at or below 50% Area Median Income (AMI) or between 50-80% AMI with nine or more months of unpaid rent. The Program then prioritizes applicants in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, before finally processing all major other eligible applications based on available funding.
Does immigration status matter?
Both state and city programs: No. You will not be asked about immigration status. Help from the program also does not qualify as a “public charge” that can affect those applying for a green card.
The unit I rent might not have been built with permits. Will the City send inspectors if I apply for assistance?
Both state and City programs: You can apply and be eligible for rental assistance regardless of whether your housing was built with permits. The information you provide will not be used for other purposes.
Can I apply for both programs?
Both city and state programs: Yes. Since the programs focus on different time periods and have different priorities, it may be wise to do so. If you do apply for both programs, you cannot receive assistance from both for the same months. You must authorize the programs to share data to verify your application information and to ensure that rate was not paid for the same months. You must also disclose any rental assistance that you have received either by these programs or other programs. (This should not be a problem with the San Francisco and State programs since they do not cover overlapping months.)
What if I don’t have pay stubs or other documents showing decreased income or increased expenses?
Both City and State programs: Other methods can be used to document income and expenses, including self-attestation. However, do your best to gather these documents ahead of time to move through the program more quickly.
If my application is approved, what happens next?
City: City program will pay up to three months back rent owed and three months forward rent. For example, if your application is approved in June 2021, then the City program will provide rental assistance for April through June (back rent) and July through September (forward rent).
State: State program will contact the landlord and ask that they agree to waive 20% of the unpaid rent. If they agree, State program will pay the landlord the remaining 80% of unpaid rent. If the landlord doesn’t agree, State program will pay tenant 25% of the unpaid rent.
What if my landlord will not cooperate with the program?
City: In terms of the city program, if a landlord does not respond or cooperate, the city can write the check directly to the tenant, subject to federal regulations. The financial assistance may be less than if the landlord were to cooperate with the program.
State: If the landlord does not accept the 80% that the state is willing to offer, it will give the tenant 25% of the rent owed. If the landlord wants to collect the rest, she must sue the tenant in Small Claims Court. The landlord cannot evict for failure to pay rent during the Covid moratorium period.
I still don’t have a job and I am unable to pay rent. Am I eligible to apply?
City: Yes. You do not need to be able to pay the rent moving forward to be eligible for rental assistance from the City since it will pay forward rent.
State: The state only pays rent for the period up to April 1, 2021, so it can’t help with future rent. However, it can help for past rent that you incurred before March 30, 2021 whether you have a job now or not.
Are subtenants who owe rent to a master tenant eligible to apply?
City: Subtenants are eligible for assistance with or without the involvement of the master tenant.
State: Subtenants are eligible for assistance if the master tenant also applies for assistance in the same application.
What if several different families rent a house or apartment together, can they apply separately?
City: City program considers them to be several households. Each household must apply separately.
State: State program considers them to be a single household. All persons living in the house or apartment must apply together in a single application.
What if I borrowed money and don’t owe any rent?
City: You are still eligible to apply because the City program doesn’t only provide back rent owed but also future rent. However, your application may not be prioritized.
State: You are only eligible if you owe rent for the period from April 1, 2020 through March 30, 2021.
What if I had to move because I couldn’t pay rent but still owe past rent?
City and State programs: Both local and state programs are considering serving these households. However, at this time, these households are not eligible to apply.
Can I apply for help if I live in City or federally subsidized housing?
Yes. This is allowed under both the City and State programs.
My landlord says that they will apply for me. Is that allowed? What if I want to apply on my own?
City: Only tenants may apply. Landlords must provide certain information, such as the amount of unpaid rent and fill out a W9 form.
State: Either the landlord or the tenant may apply. Landlords may submit applications on behalf of tenants, but tenants must agree to participate in the program before rental assistance is provided. Tenants do not have to provide their personal information/documents to the landlord because they can give it directly to the program if they prefer.
How will I know if I am awarded assistance?
City: One of the City’s community partners will contact you via email or telephone with next steps in the application process.
State: Program will contact you and your landlord via email with next steps in the application process.
Can I appeal if I am not awarded assistance?
City: No. However, if you discover that information in your application is inaccurate, you may reach out to a community partner to correct your application and have it re-screened.
State: No information provided.
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.
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.)
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 email@example.com) 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com or call them at (415) 551-3000.
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 June 9, 2021