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

SCROLL DOWN TO THE “RENTAL ASSISTANCE” SECTION FOR INFO ON THE STATE RENTAL RELIEF PROGRAM, WHICH IS 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). 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 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.

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

A Q&A on the STATE COVID-19 RENT RELIEF PROGRAM

What is the rent relief program?

A California program utilizing $2.6 billion received from the federal government to help low-income Californians pay rent they can’t pay because of COVID-19.

Who can apply?

Both landlords and tenants.

What do tenants get?

The program can pay 80% of the rent tenants owe from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021 IF AND ONLY IF their landlord agrees to waive the other 20%. 

What if a landlord won’t agree to waive the 20%?

A tenant can still apply for money, if the landlord won’t waive the 20%, but they will only receive 25% of the rent owed between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

What does a tenant do if they can’t pay rent past March 31, 2021?

They can apply for the city’s rental relief fund, which has not been set up yet, but should be operating soon. Meanwhile, they should continue to notify the landlord each month that they can’t pay and sign the declaration they’re required to sign (see section above, “What if I can’t pay my rent September, 2020 to June, 2021”). Tenants can keep in touch with us or check our website for a notice about when they can apply to the city program. Our Mission office counseling line is 415-703-8644; our Richmond office is 415-947-9085. Leave your name and number and your call will be returned from a blocked number.

What if a tenant is not a citizen?

No one will be asked if they’re a citizen, or if they have proof of citizenship.

How does a tenant qualify for this program?

—They must have qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due to COVID–19; and

—Demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, which may include:

  • a past-due utility or rent notice or eviction notice;
  • unsafe or unhealthy living conditions; or
  • any other evidence of such risk, as determined by the program

—they can’t make more than 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). Here’s a link to the latest AMI chart:

https://sfmohcd.org/sites/default/files/Documents/MOH/Asset%20Management/2020%20AMI-IncomeLimits-HMFA_05-01-20.pdf

What documents does a tenant need when they apply?

  • Declaration of COVID-Related Financial Hardship
  • A letter of termination from your job
  • Most recent pay stub with employer’s information
  • Proof that you have applied for unemployment benefits
  • Proof that your unemployment benefits have expired, including unemployment benefits provided through the CARES Act
  • For those self-employed: tax records, income statements, or other evidence showing loss of income
  • Other items will be considered

What if not everyone in the tenant’s apartment qualifies?

Only one or more tenants needs to qualify in order to apply.

What if a tenant receives public assistance, such as Medicaid or SNAP?

That person or household can then do a streamlined application process.

Can a tenant get help in filling out the application?

Yes. There are designated groups in SF who can help. The list can be accessed by clicking here. Scroll down to find the contact numbers for those groups in San Francisco.

Can I receive help with utility bills I couldn’t pay because of COVID?

Yes, you can receive help with 100% of the cost of utilities from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

Will a landlord be notified that a tenant has applied?

Yes. If the tenant is applying without the landlord, the program will try to contact the owner by phone and email over a ten-day period. If the landlord does not respond, or refuses to participate, then the tenant can only receive 25% of the rent due between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. This money will come in a check to the tenant. If the landlord does respond and participate, then 80% of the rent due will be paid directly to the owner.

Where can a tenant find more information and the application?

For more info on the program: https://housing.ca.gov/covid_rr/program_overview.html#renter

For a sample application: https://housing.ca.gov/covid_rr/sample_renter_application.pdf

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.

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 April 13, 2021.