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Monday, November 19, 2012

How to Survive Renting in San Francisco: Five Rights to Know

Posted By on Mon, Nov 19, 2012 at 6:30 AM

  • chantel beam photography/Flickr

San Francisco is a crazy sweet place to live, but in a world where you get what you pay for, S.F. renters freaking pay. Out of all of the cities in the entire country (yes, including New York City) San Francisco renters pay the most. We read over at the US Census Bureau that if your rent is half of your income, you're officially poor, or as they put it, "severely burdened." Our self-made certificate of poverty now hangs proudly on our wall.

See also:

How to Not Die in an Earthquake: Six Essential Tips

This New App Should Ease the Pain of Finding an Apartment in San Francisco

As far as the law is concerned, San Francisco is a pretty pro-renter city, but that doesn't mean we've got it easy. Knowing your rights as a tenant can protect you in cases of negligence, eviction, rent increases, and a host of other issues that arise from skeezy landlords, decrepit buildings, and just plain bad luck. Here at SF Weekly, we've got your back. Welcome to another post in our survival series, renting edition.

  • SF Tenants Union

5. Rent Control

Aw, that lovely little phrase murmured by the long-standing citizens who proudly show off their third floor flats that reach to infinity with their full kitchens and more than one bathroom riches. Rent control is not just for the old and stubborn, however -- it applies to pretty much every housing situation in the city, with a few exceptions. If your landlord/lady/monster is raising your rent more than the yearly approved amount, you have the power to protest. Just FYI, the typical approved increase for each year hovers around 1-2 percent. Make sure you're informed and have your very own copy of the Tenant's Rights Handbook, available on the San Francisco Tenants Union's website. Extra kudos for their amazing animated logo.

4. Repairs and Vermin

Our first home in this adorable city was a "converted carriage house" which sounds lovely and romantic but in truth was a four room plaster shed with no insulation, very little heat, and a serious mice infestation. When a family of racoons moved into the attic, our landlord dismissed our concerns with a cheerful, "Welcome to city life!" Rabies, paranoia, and raccoon babies = city life ... right.


You don't have to live like we did, dear renters! Landlords are required to provide a variety of living-standard minimums like a home free of garbage, cockroaches, rats, and vermin. It's not "city living" folks, it's against the law. There are many ways to get your landlord to be less of a slum lord, the first of which is to get everything in writing. Make sure you document your needs and concerns and send them to your landlord. If you're ignored then you can look at taking any of these next steps to turn your home into a safe and healthy living environment:

  • Call the Department of Living Inspection
  • Petition the Rent Board
  • D.I.Y. and Deduct -- Make the repairs, hire an exterminator, and deduct the fees from your next rent check.
  • Rent Strike -- the most powerful action but also very serious. Make sure and get legal counsel before you withhold your rent.
  • Organize the tenants in your building
  • Sue your landlord

These are some steps that are available to tenants, but be warned -- these are serious legal steps in some cases. Make sure you have all the information you need and have as much as you can in writing in case of legal action. Take advantage of the SF Tenant's Union's drop-in clinic to get the help and advice you need before you take action.

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Jamie McKenzie


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