By paying rent and living in an SRO room for 30 continuous days, you become a tenant and gain all rights under California law. It takes 32 days for you to gain rights under the local rent ordinance. You should ask for and keep receipts when you pay your rent. These receipts (as well as copies of bills) will help you prove your tenancy.
Make sure that your room is certified as a residential room and NOT a tourist one (certification should be posted at the front desk). If you’re moving in, make sure you’re assigned to a residential room. Because you must pay your rent for the entire 30-day period, if you receive income twice a month you may want to negotiate a payment plan with the hotel manager so that you pay rent monthly or bi-monthly.
it’s important to be a tenant
By becoming a tenant you gain many rights you don’t have as a non-tenant resident. For instance, under the city’s rent control ordinance (if you’re covered by it, that is, if your building was built before 79), you are protected against unlimited rent increases. You also have just-cause eviction protection (landlord can only evict you for one of 14 just causes). Also your rent can only be raised a small percent each year (see “Rent Increases” brochure for more info).
A landlord/manager may try to prevent you from becoming a tenant in your hotel room by making you move every 28 days or by making you “move out” for a night and then re-registering you. This game of “musical rooms” is ILLEGAL under California law (Civil Code Section 1940.1). If your landlord/manager is playing musical rooms, you should act quickly:
—Cite the law. Let her know that you will seek legal help and that she could be subject to a penalty of $500 or more.
aContact us or one of the organizations listed under “Resources” for advice.
—Sue the landlord/manager in Small Claims Court for damages. It costs $30-75 to file a case. You do not need a lawyer. You present your case and your landlord presents his. Your rent receipts, showing the dates you paid rent, and other documents addressed to you at the unit, will be helpful in proving a violation of CCC 1940.1 in court. For more info, contact: Access Center, 575 Polk, room 001, 415-551-5880.
—The City Attorney’s Office is currently documenting cases of “musical rooms.” Contact the Code Enforcement Task Force at its hotline number: (415) 554-3977.
Once you’re a tenant in a residential hotel room, the landlord CANNOT:
—Lock you out (California Civil Code 789.3). She cannot change the lock on your room or forcibly prevent you from re-entering your room without taking all the legal steps to evict you (see “Eviction” brochure). If you think your landlord might lock you out, it’s best to keep documents, or copies of your documents, on your person or at another location to prove your tenancy. If you are locked out, call the police at 553-0123. Tell them that the landlord has locked you out of your room illegally. Ask them to arrest him for a violation of Penal Code Section 418 and to open your room. Show the police your rent receipts and other documents to prove you’re a tenant. You can also sue the landlord/manager in Small Claims Court for damages. Under California Civil Code Section 789.3, the landlord/manager must pay $250 per incident of illegal lockout, $100 a day for each day she is in violation of the law, plus your actual damages.
—Remove your property (CA Civil Code 789.3). The landlord/ manager cannot remove your property, unless she has gone through legal eviction proceedings. As in the above situation, you can call the police and file a suit in Small Claims Court.
—Shut off your electricity, water, heat, phone, etc. (CA Civil Code 789.3, link above).
—Evict you without serving you with a legal notice (3, 30 or 60 days) and then an unlawful detainer court summons (Code of Civil Procedure 1161). You must respond to an unlawful detainer within five days. The Eviction Defense Collaborative will help you (see their number under “Resources”). If the landlord wants you to move out for failure to pay rent, she must send you a three-day notice, which has to give you the option to pay the rent owed so that you can stay in your room. (For more info, see our “Evictions” brochure).
—Enter your room without proper notice. Under CA Civil Code 1954, a landlord may enter your room only with a 24-hour notice. Even then he has to have one of four reasons: To do requested repairs; in case of an emergency; in case of a court order; or if you’ve vacated or abandoned your room.
—Harass you. As with many of these other violations of your rights, contact us for help with this.
SRO residents often ask what their rights are regarding visitors or overnight guests. Under SF law, residential hotels cannot charge visitor’s fees to guests. They also cannot stop you from having eight overnight guests per month. If you have adult roommates, each of them can also have eight overnight guests (but only one overnight per household per night). As for daytime visitors (9am-9pm), you can have as many as you want, but not more than two at a time. For more info, give us a call or stop in during our counseling hours.
Sometimes you can’t get along with your neighbor or a roommate. If this is the case, we recommend calling Community Boards, a free meditation service that helps people get along, 920-3820 or the Rent Board’s mediation service at 252-4602. As a policy, we do not counsel people on how to evict other people, even if you are a tenant want-ing to get rid of a roommate.
other rights you have
HEAT: Section 701(c) of SF Housing Code requires that landlords provide heat between 5-11am and 3-10pm when the temperature is below 68. (See brochure on heat issues.)
REPAIRS: You do not have to live with rats, bug infestations, broken heater, sink, leaks, mold, etc. Your landlord is obligated to take care of these things. Contact us for more help.
NOTICES OF RENT INCREASES: If your landlord wants to raise the rent, she must give you a written 30-day notice (60 days if the increase is 10% of more). A conversation in the hall or over the phone does not suffice. (See brochure on “rent increases.”)
FREEDOM OF EXPOSURE TO LEAD: Paint with lead was used in all buildings built before 1978. Peeling paint in these buildings could be dangerous, especially for children. You should notify the landlord and if s/he doesn’t do anything about it, then contact us.
SRO Collaborative, 415-775-7110
Chinese Progressive Association, 660 Sacramento, Suite 202, 391-6986, (Mandarin, Cantonese)
Causa Justa/ Just Cause, corner 19th & Mission, 2nd floor, SF 94103, 415-487-9203. (Se habla español)
Eviction Defense Collaborative, 995 Market/6th, 12th floor, 94103, 415-947-0797
Tenderloin Housing Clinic, 126 Hyde, 415-771-9850
SF Tenant’s Union, 558 Capp, 415-282-5525
JFK Housing Advocacy Clinic, 925-969-3493 (between 9:30am-12:30pm). It’s located outside the city, but its counselors advise SF tenants.
Bay Area Legal Aid, 50 Fell, 415-982-1300
Dept. of Building Inspections, 5415-58-6220
Dept. of Public Health, 415-252-3800