Trying to find decent digs in San Francisco is seemingly harder than trying to land a decent-paying job. And since an estimated 32,307 new residents moved to San Francisco between 2010 and 2013 alone, it's safe to say: you have a better chance at finding a long-term relationship via Craigslist than a low-drama living situation.
That's because boomtowns like San Francisco tend to attract the entire spectrum of weird. And those fresh-faced twentysomethings looking for a place near a corporate shuttle stop might be educated, but Stanford University isn't going to teach them a damn thing about how not to get suckered by the next slum lord.
You're especially vulnerable in San Francisco where if you don't take care to learn local laws meant to protect tenants it can exacerbate all the confusion that goes along with the search for a new dwelling and the insecurity if anything goes wrong.
But because we're nice, we're going to help you navigate the rental market right now.
If you're looking for an apartment in San Francisco, the first place you'll probably start is Craigslist. And if you're looking for desperate roommates, your first stop is Craigslist.
But just know Craigslist is also a breeding ground for full-time scammers. Even Craigslist's scam support page points out, that you don't have to live in San Francisco to scam or be scammed.
If you see a listing that's significantly less expensive than comparable places in the neighborhood, it's
probably almost certainly too good to be true.
Do not give anybody information to run a credit check, and definitely don't wire or mail any money in advance. If any application requires a credit report, provide your own copy which you can download for free once a year.
Yes, you should arrange to view the unit and meet the purported lessor in person; but keep in mind that even that's not a foolproof process. "Landlords" have been known to collect "application fees" while showing a room that isn't even for rent. They might even push you to put a deposit down on the spot to make sure you claim your place.
It's simple: do not give anyone money until you have a legitimate lease to sign and working keys in your pocket.
You found your dream place, and you're ready to sign the lease:
Don't be shocked if you discover that your rent checks aren't really going to your landlord. While this isn't entirely unusual -- landlords can designate agents such as building managers to accept rent on their behalf, or elect a Master Tenant to collect rent from subtenant roommates -- it can be abused and put you in a very delicate situation.
If the Master Tenant doesn't live in the unit with you, then you might face a steep rent increase should the landlord find out. Even if the Master Tenant does live with you, they might also be charging you significantly more than your proportional share of the rent, which isn't legal.
Subtenants are entitled to a copy of the original lease governing the unit, and you should ask for it up front. If you want to make absolutely certain you know who you're dealing with, you can check the master lease provided against the latest deed to the building at the Assessor Recorder's office to confirm the owner's identity and other details.
Also, note if the Master Tenant asks you to waive your right to just-cause eviction protections, either verbally or in a sublease or roommate agreement. While this is not necessarily a red flag that you're being scammed, it's an important consideration because it means that you can be told to leave on a minimum of 30 days notice for any reason, including no reason at all.
The Property Information Map online can also reveal a number of important clues about a building
For starters, it can tell you whether it's actually a single-family home with an illegal in-law or even a commercial or industrial building -- both of which could increase your chances of eviction later due to a demolition or Department of Building Inspection complaint, respectively.
Once you know the name of the landlord or company that owns the building, you can search for them on the Superior Court website to see if they've been sued or have a long history or recent rush of eviction efforts.
The Rent Board offers free counseling, and can help you find the information you need to make an informed decision. The volunteer counselors at the Housing Rights Committee and the Tenants Union (your author included) also see a lot of leases, and can help you read yours over.
And before you start complaining about our fair city's byzantine regulations, remember that some shady operator with a rent-gouging racket inspired each and every one.