Sometimes, S.F. renters really do get a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings.
By Joe Eskenazi
As Christmas grows ever nearer, San Franciscans can count on seeing more of three things: Eggnog, horrible Pillsbury tree-embossed cookies and, of course, five-day eviction notices.
“It’s really common to serve someone with court papers regarding eviction right before Christmas and New Year’s. A lot of people get those five-day notices this time of year — and weekends count toward those five days,” said Ted Gullicksen, the manager of the San Francisco Tenants Union.
With government offices likely closed on weekends and holidays and law offices working skeleton crews at best “it could take four days before you even find someone to talk to about papers that have to be answered the next day. What the landlords are seeking...
are defaults so they’ll win the evictions uncontested.”
Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas indeed!
If you’re a San Francisco renter, you’ve probably experienced the joy of having a note slipped under your door on the one-year anniversary of your lease noting that your rent is going up a couple hundred bucks per year.
Thanks to the city’s Prop. H, which took effect in 1992, your rent can be augmented yearly by 60 percent of the Consumer Price Index — in plain English that translates into a 1.5 percent bump this year.
Still, some landlords try to pull a fast one.
“Oh yes. I speak Spanish and that does happen. [Landlords] will charge any amount they want and the tenant doesn’t know any better until he stumbles into a tenant organization,” said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, the director of counseling programs for the Housing Rights Committee.
While non-English speaking immigrants with questionable green card status face renting situations most of us are lucky to avoid, Gullicksen and Avicolli Mecca are adamant that even the Google-types throwing down $1,800 for a studio (a Goddamn studio!) are often woefully ignorant of their rights.
The No. 1 misconception: A new landlord means new terms.
“People have come to me saying ‘The landlord tells me I can’t have a cat even though I always had a cat with the previous landlord.’ Well, that’s not legal under rent control. You can’t change the terms of the lease and I’ll bet 99 percent of tenants do not know that a new landlord can’t change anything,” said Avicolli Mecca.
“Once you sign the original contract, it is binding for the rest of the time you are living in that apartment. There can be 17 landlords. They ain’t going to be able to materially change the contract.”
One should also put his hand on his wallet whenever a landlord suddenly makes a “generous” relocation offer.
Gullicksen has heard from quite a few renters who have been asked to leave their apartments so the landlord can convert the building into condominiums. To sweeten the pot, some landlords are offering to pay up to $3,000.
Of course, he notes, landlords would love long-term renters to voluntarily exit: A law created by Supervisor Aaron Peskin two years ago prevents landlords who have employed Ellis Act evictions to boot tenants from converting the buildings into condos for 10 full years. And if elderly or disabled tenants are evicted, the buildings can never be converted to condos.
What’s more, for any no-fault eviction, renters are entitled to $4,500 per tenant up to $13,500 per unit — and seniors, the disabled or those with children can receive an additional $3,000.
But, as long as San Franciscans are ignorant of their rights, tenant advocates expect to be busier and busier in the year to come.
“Maybe six months ago I’d say that rents were as high as the dot.com years, but they’re definitely higher now,” said Gullicksen.
“The vacancy rate is pretty low and if you find a place, it’s expensive to rent it. At least you’ll be protected by rent control — but at some point, most tenants will run into a landlord trying to force them out so they can raise the rent.”