Landlords and Renters

Reader Cleezy Clapback needs some advice:

We moved into a duplex on 20th and Treat (yikes!) in June, and the occupants upstairs are all close friends of mine. The landlord agreed to repair some presumably negligible problems with the house, and we were fine with the verbal agreement. 3 months later nothing had happened, and things started to fall apart. After contacting the Rent Board, our landlord was notified and, shortly after, contacted someone to fix the house. One thing led to the other, yada yada yada, they ripped up the entire floor of the living room and kitchen, replaced the shower, and knocked out an entire living room wall.

After living without a wall for a week, the Building Inspector visited me, stating that their has been NO permits filed with the City for the construction. The construction workers left. Now their is a gaping hole in our wall, no floor, and no electricity in the living room. What’s next? Are we going to be evicted? Relocated? Am I responsible for the cost of relocation? Dear God, help us.

God, readers, what’s the deal?

18 thoughts on “Landlords and Renters”

  1. Unfortunately, it looks like back to the Rent Board you go. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to make sure all appropriate permits were gotten before construction started and it’s also the landlord’s responsibility to provide you with your housing in a shape that is reasonably the same as the housing you agreed to rent from him.

    I would go to the landlord first and tell him what the deal is. Tell him if it isn’t fixed in two weeks you’ll need a rent reduction until it is fixed and that you have no problem going back to the rent board to get it. Most landlords DO NOT KNOW the law (as evidenced by the failure to get the proper permits) and you should not believe anything they tell you about the law. There’s no cause for eviction here and the landlord has the responsibility to keep your house in the same condition that you initially agreed to live in (with a wall, a floor and electricity in all rooms). This will probably take some work on your part to get straightened out, but you definitely deserve to live in the house you’re paying for (or pay less). But, DO NOT withhold rent without dealing with it through the rent board and getting a WRITTEN statement from your landlord about the rent reduction.

  2. is it possible for you to pack up & move out?

    i’m no expert, but a colleague just had an issue wherein his apt had “the mold”…and they had to come do a huge fumigation of the place and all their stuff. the LL popped for a small tiny piece of relief – i think a couple weeks of hotel – and then the gravy train stopped. a year later they’re still litigating for damages.

    point is, LL are traditionally tight as drums, and will do nothing for as long as possible. unfortunately, this is particularly true in the Mission.

    might be easier to get written release from your lease, and get out of dodge. takes you out of “making things right”…which sounds like a huge pain in the ass to me.

    not to say that moving is cheap or easy…but potentially cheaper & easier than Rent Board and forcing this LL to do anything.

    my $.02.

  3. Why shouldn’t I withhold rent? Will that make matters worse? I’m pulling my f*cking hair out over here. Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Keep it coming!

  4. I once told a landlord that I was going to withhold rent until he got rid of some gross mold. He refused to fix the problem and I didn’t pay. Eventually he tried to evict me and I went to the rent board and they told me I had to pay but I would probably get my money back later. I paid up and acted sweetly and cooperated and in the end I got ALL of my rent back (though it did take AGES). I was very careful to take pictures and keep the rest of the house in super excellent condition.
    Mission landlords are the WORST. They will try to take you for all your worth, while letting their properties fall to pieces. Then they sell them to another shitty ass landlord.

  5. Cleezy: I think Jim Beam was saying not to withold rent without going through the rent board — the landlord isn’t the only person here who needs to abide by the laws, and if you withold rent without going through whatever the proper legal contortions are (probably at least setting up an escrow account), you might accidentally give your landlord a good eviction case against you.

  6. hi, attorney here. although i’m not a landlord-tenant law specialist, my take is that the landlord has violated, at a minimum, the sf municipal ordinance by having the work done absent permits and will be responsible for all citations and fees. you will want to call the city’s code enforcement dept to let them know that you are tenants and did not know permits were not acquired, and that you believe the building may now be in violation of building code. if it doesn’t meeting building code standards, the landlord is violating state housing law, and may be responsible for paying for your relocation and 2 months fair market rent (if it is determined to be substandard housing given the state it was left in during construction). i would contact local housing law counsel (if you can’t afford it, contact legal aid) for assistance with with obtaining relocation funds or repairs from the landlord. in either event, there is no way you will be held liable for the citations or failure to get the requisite permits.

  7. sorry to be a broken record but… is your apartment or building SO great (or cheap) that you want to go through all this crap to get it in line and keep it?

    i mean this all sounds like solid advice from smart people…but all this Rent Board / Tenants Union / legal wrangling will make your current hair-pulling seem like a shiatsu massage. and you’ll be a senior citizen by the time it’s done. and all the while you’ll be in a bitter relationship with a person who has the power to stall as long as possible NOT to fix your fucked up place. and you have to PAY RENT to live there.

    barring an inability to foot the bill for finding a new place / moving… finding a new place, getting released from your lease and moving the fuck out seems like the path of least resistance to me.

    then stick the shithead LL with an un-rentable apt and no income. that’s what i would do anyways.

  8. Steve Lynch is right. (they offer free legal counseling as well, super close by on Capp btw 20th and 21st

    Also, remember to vote yes on M!!! This nonsense is exactly what that ordinance was written to combat. This shit gives good, decent landlords like mine a bad rep

  9. zinzin: I gotta ask, when was the last time you looked for a new apartment in the mission (or really anywhere in SF)? It’s not that your advice isn’t correct — if the hassle factor of getting a new place is less than the hassle factor of engaging in full-on warfare with your landlord, by all means find a new place — but it’s nowhere near an obvious choice a lot of the time. My own experience suggests that it’s worth going to just about any extreme to avoid having to look for a reasonably priced apartment here.

  10. Even if they do want to move out, they need to follow Cyn’s advice to recoup moving expensive, etc. from the landlord. They shouldn’t just “cut and run” without making sure the landlord assumes all liability for moving costs, etc.

  11. Fair enough y’all. you’re right i have been out of the SF rental mkt a while….about 5 years.

    i just know 3 different parties that have gone down this road of forcing LL’s to do the right thing, all the ay through SFTU, Rent Board, lawyering up, etc. some are years in litigation to get the $$ they deserve…some still living in apartments – AND PAYING RENT THERE – you wouldn’t fucking believe. like you can see through the floor to the apt below. or one exterior wall of the place – if you lean on it – will tumble off the building. or one of those round turret bay windows is literally falling off the building – you cant stand there.

    from my outsiders viewpoint, unless the apt is super affordable or super fabulous (only one was)… all of them – at the end of the process – said they should have “cut and run” at the beginning.

    all I’m saying is OP should look at the cost of securing a new place and moving vs. fighting this fight. both situations suck.

    mea culpa if i was speaking out of school. i don’t mean to be presumptuous. i totally get this is a super stressful situation and a super expensive market…

  12. i had NO help from the tenant’s union. it’s a total crap shoot when you go there, you may talk to someone who knows a thing or two, or you might talk to someone who is completely useless.

    call the tenderloin housing clinic, ask for steven collier. when my roommate and i were ellis act evicted, we got tons of free advice for a year as we fought/stalled it. i would write my letters to the real estate speculator landlords and he would read them first and tell me if there was anything i needed to add or delete to cover my ass. he kept us from having our garage (illegally) taken away by the landlords (they wanted to do construction under the house that would’ve made it miserable/impossible to live there, they’d already started renovations without permits on one of the apartments, etc.)

    when it was time to negotiate a settlement, we finally had to pay lawyers’ fees for him to file papers, write letters, and so on. the rates were very reasonable and he was able to negotiate the move-out date and some cash for us.

    i’m sure THC can help with the kind of problem described above, they are definitely about making LLs follow the rules for maintaining decent habitation and valid, legal eviction notices.

  13. And if your sleaze-bag landlord does file eviction (“unlawful detainer”) papers against you, the eviction defense collaborative ( is the place to go.

    Because you’ve notified him and the rent board about the significant “habitability defects” there are ways to get a lot of your rent back retroactively through those proceedings. (IANAL)

  14. Thanks for the advice, everyone. I’m headed to the Tenants Union today. You’ve all been very helpful, it’s nice to have some perspective. I’ll address some things:

    The apartment is kinda janky and expensive, but I don’t want to move because I live with 7 of my close friends, and have a huge yard with no noise issues. Also, it’s blocks from the new skate park!

    I would move, but I really can’t afford it. Really. Really.

    I’m talking to her about the rent thing, she might roll over. She is completely devoid of any knowledge of the subject, unlike me. I’m blog savvy and it helps.

    Thanks again, Missionistas.

  15. DO NOT withhold rent unless you’re willing to move out in the next four months.

    Otherwise, pay your full rent. Period. If you don’t the rent board has no jurisdiction and cannot help you. It then becomes a civil superior court issue and you only have at your disposal legal fees, settlement and relocation…most possibly not to your advantage.

    Pay rent. Write lots of letters to document/confirm everything. Work with the rent board to get you back rent, a rent reduction and fines against the landlord. Give them a decent case to work with and the rent board will kick his ass for you and you don’t have to hire a lawyer. It’s really your best shot. Let the landlord dig his own grave and collect for the imposition.

    If you can’t deal, then cut your losses. Withhold rent, let the landlord go through the eviction process and then move out before it gets truly expensive. As before, document everything in writing, take lots of pictures. Even were this to go to superior court, based on what you’ve said it would never see trial, provide you some saved money, buy you some time and likely provide you a settlement and move out costs–probably a 4-6 month process overall. It all depends upon how thick your skin is.

  16. Life is too short, get out and get a good attorney. We are representing a law firm in the financial district right now and one of the top guys lives in the Mission and is involved locally. He is also a real estate transactions attorney. Very regular guy, down to earth, and he cares about his neighbors.

    Feel free to email or call me and I will share his info with you. I am certain he can help.

    Tom Poser

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