Real Estate Resources

The following discussion pertains to those structures subject to the San Francisco Rent Ordinance (PDF).

State law provisions govern entirely for those units exempt from the Ordinance. Exempt units include buildings constructed since June 1979 and a very limited number of structures exempted through a Rent Board petition process.

PLEASE NOTE: Because of frequent changes in the eviction section of the Ordinance, as well as pending legislation at the board of supervisors, the passage of proposition G on the November 1998 ballot, and possible litigation over Proposition G, interested parties are urged to contact the rent Board or an attorney for the most current information.

In order to evict a tenant from a unit covered by the Rent Ordinance, a landlord must have a "just cause" reason which is the dominant motive for pursuing the eviction.

There are 14 just cause reasons. The most common are:


  • Non-payment of rent;
  • Habitual late payment of rent - this means more than once or twice, and the tenant has been warned that this is not acceptable to the landlord;
  • Creating a nuisance and disturbing other tenants - the nature of the nuisance must be specifically stated on the notice;
  • Owner-occupancy, or the occupancy of a member of the landlord's immediate family (See "Limitations On Owner Occupancy" below);
  • To perform capital improvements which will make the unit uninhabitable while the work is being done - in which case the tenant must be allowed to reoccupy the unit once the work is completed. Verifiable moving expenses of up to $l,000 must be paid in the case of an eviction for capital improvements; moving expenses are not required for any of the other just cause evictions. Owners should be very cautious and sure of their plans before asking a tenant to vacate a unit; we highly recommend that you seek the advice of an attorney experienced in this area of the law before attempting any evictions. These requirements only apply to buildings that are under the jurisdiction of the Rent Ordinance (most buildings built prior to June 1979).


Note that there is now a permanent moratorium (per Proposition G) in effect as of December 18, 1998 which prohibits certain evictions of persons who are 60 years or older or are disabled and have lived in the unit for at least 10 years or persons who have catastrophic illnesses and have lived in the unit for at least 5 years. Single family homes are exempt from this provision, as are condo units if the owner only owns one unit in the building. Please refer to Section 37.9(i) of the Ordinance for more information on this matter. Proposition G now require 25% interest in the building in order to owner occupy for ownership's recorded since Feb. 1991. Domestic partners only can combine their interests to achieve a 25% interest in order to occupy a unit. Owners must now provide additional information with the notice to vacate. Please refer to Section 37.9B or see Notice Requirements listed below. Each tenant subject to an owner-occupancy eviction is entitled to $1,000. Proposition G only permits one owner occupancy eviction per transfer. It also designates a unit subject to an owner occupancy eviction on or after Dec. 18, 1998 to be the owner's unit for any future owner occupancy evictions.

In order for an owner to evict a tenant to reside in a unit, the owner must have at least a 10%, 25% or 50% interest in the property, depending upon when the owner took title. If title was held prior to February 21, 1991, then the owner is only required to have a minimum 10% interest. Owners who want to evict for a family member such as a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling or the owner's spouse or spouses of such relations must already live in the building or be moving into the building at the same time as the relative. Any owner who recovers possession of a unit under these circumstances must have done so in good faith, without ulterior motive and with honest intent and MUST live in that unit for at least 36 continuous months. If a comparable unit in any building the owner owns in the City is vacant or becomes vacant during the period of the notice terminating tenancy, then the notice must be rescinded. A vacant, non-comparable unit must be offered to the tenant(s) being evicted, with adjustments in rent up or down, depending upon amenities. Note that failure to move in or occupy for the full 36-month period shall create a rebuttable presumption that the landlord did not act in good faith. For more information, please refer to Rent Ordinance Section 37.9(a)(8).


A moratorium on the eviction of certain tenants became effective January 30, 1998, was later invalidated by the courts and then amended to address the court's concerns. This version took effect on August 16,1998, and became permanent with the passage of Proposition G, effective December 18, 1998. Tenants who are 60 years old or disabled and have lived in the unit at least 10 years, or tenants who are catastrophically ill and have lived in the unit for at least 5 years cannot be evicted for either the owner or owner's relative to move into a building of 2 units or more. Single family homes and condo units are exempt if the owner only owns one condo unit in the subject building. Also exempt are units in the same building where the owner lives IF the landlord's qualified relative who will move in is 60 years of age or older. The law now requires that any tenant who receives an owner move-in eviction notice and is protected under the moratorium must notify the owner of their protected status within 30 days of receiving the notice to vacate. The tenant must also include evidence supporting their claim. Owners may contest the tenant's claim through commencement of eviction proceedings or by requesting a hearing at the Rent Board. Disabled tenants are defined as those persons meeting the federal Supplemental Security Income/California State Supplemental Program (SSI/SSP) guidelines as determined by that program or as determined by any other method that may be approved by the Rent Board. See Section 37.9(i) in the Ordinance for more on this issue.


If a landlord is seeking to evict a tenant, the Rent Ordinance and/or Rules mandate that all notices must contain the following as applicable:


  1. A notice to vacate must be given to the tenant in writing and it must state the grounds under which possession is sought.
  2. The notice must state that advice is available from the Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board. See Section 37.9(c) for this requirement:
  3. A copy of all notices to vacate, and a copy of any additional written documents informing the tenant of the grounds under which possession is sought, shall be filed with the Rent Board within ten (10) days following service of the notice to vacate.
  4. For owner-occupancy or relative eviction only, the notice must also state:


    1. The identity and percentage of ownership of the owner to move in; or,
    2. The identity and relationship of the relative to move in;
    3. The date the current percentage of ownership was recorded (Section 12.14 of the Rules and Regulations);
    4. Owners or relatives in an OMI eviction must list and describe all residential properties in the City that are owned in whole or in part and submit that to the tenant being evicted;
    5. The current rent for the unit and a statement that the tenant has the first right to re-rent the unit at the same rent, with approved adjustments;
    6. A copy of Section 37.9B; and,
    7. What relocation costs the tenants are entitled to and the amount of those costs ($1,000 per tenant - $500 to be given at the time of the notice and $500 when the tenant has vacated).

    Note: items #4, #5, #6, and #7 will become effective around the first of November 1998. There may be other state law requirements governing eviction notices that are not covered here. Owners are advised to seek legal counsel in the preparation of a proper eviction notice. Only 3-day notices to pay rent or quit do NOT have to be filed with the Rent Board. The Rent Board will, each month, select a random sample of 10% of all notices which state owner-occupancy as the reason for eviction. This list will be transmitted to the District Attorney for possible investigation. Section 37.10A also makes it a misdemeanor to refuse to rent to a senior because that person would acquire rights under the Moratorium.





If a tenant believes an eviction to be unlawful, he or she may file with the Board a form referred to as a Report of Alleged Wrongful Eviction. The Board will then send a notice acknowledging receipt of the report, summarizing the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants in eviction proceedings and outlining court proceedings. Be advised that the filing of this report with the Rent Board does not prevent the landlord from pursuing an eviction through the Courts. TENANTS ARE STRONGLY ADVISED TO OBTAIN LEGAL COUNSEL. The Rent Board does not provide legal advice or representation.

Once a tenant has filed a Report of Alleged Wrongful Eviction, the Rent Board staff will conduct an investigation to determine if there is evidence of any of the following: (1) the landlord is evicting more than one tenant at approximately the same time; (2) the eviction may be in retaliation for a dispute arising from a tenant's exercise of his or her rights under the Ordinance; (3) a dispute over the proper interpretation of the Ordinance is involved; (4) after a tenant has been required to vacate a rental unit, it appears that the eviction was effected by fraud or in bad faith; or, (5) a policy issue of city-wide importance is raised. Once the investigation is concluded, the Rent Board may do the following:

1) If the department finds that there is no evidence of an unlawful eviction attempt, the tenant and other parties shall be so informed. [See Rules and Regulations Section 12.11 (b)]; or, 2) Set the matter for an investigatory hearing before a hearing officer of the Board. A notice of the hearing will be sent to the complainant, the landlord and other interested parties. 3) Where the hearing officer finds an eviction or attempted eviction to be in violation of the Ordinance, the Commission may decide whether or not to commence legal action against the landlord including referral to the District Attorney [Rules and Regulations Section 12.13]. 4) If the parties have reached an agreement, the Board may continue to monitor the case or close it.


If a landlord is seeking to evict a tenant, he or she must give a written notice. If the tenant does not voluntarily move out at the end of the notice period, the landlord must file a lawsuit known as an unlawful detainer action in order to remove the tenant from the rental unit. A copy of the Unlawful Detainer Summons and Complaint must be served on the tenant, after which the tenant has five days to file a response. The Court will set the case for a trial at which time the tenant can present his or her defense. If a response is not filed on time, the landlord may obtain a default judgment, which moves the process along much quicker. Only after this hearing, if the tenant loses, can the Court order that the tenant vacate the rental unit. If the Court orders the tenant to vacate, the Sheriff may then evict the tenant. IT IS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED THAT THE TENANT OR LANDLORD SEEK LEGAL ASSISTANCE IN ANY EVICTION PROCEEDING. The Rent Board is prohibited from giving legal advice about any eviction. We will advise the public only to the extent that the Rent Ordinance allows. Note that any action that may be taken by the Rent Board DOES NOT stall or prevent any court action that may be taken at the same time by either the tenant or the landlord. The eviction process is a judicial, court-administered procedure that does not permit landlords to physically remove or lock out a tenant, cut off utilities such as water or power, or take the tenant's belongings in order to carry out the eviction. The landlord must use the courts. The eviction process can take from 3 weeks to over 6 months, depending on whether the landlord proceeds correctly; the tenant has a valid defense and exercises their rights in a timely fashion; and how backed up the court calendar is. The tenant is legally obligated to pay rent for the time they remain on the premises, although the landlord cannot collect rent after the date their notice says the tenant must vacate.


If a landlord uses unlawful methods to evict a tenant, the landlord may be subject to liability for any actual damages caused to the tenant, including mental or emotional distress. If a landlord seeks to recover, or actually recovers, possession of a rental unit and is found in violation of the Rent Ordinance, the landlord could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, and the tenant, or the Rent Board, may bring a civil action for an injunction or treble damages, and attorney fees. If the landlord is found guilty of a misdemeanor, he/she may be punished by a fine of not more than $2,000 or by imprisonment in the County jail for a period of not more than six months, or both. In the case of an actual or attempted wrongful eviction, the tenant may also file a civil suit for money damages.


(Absolute Prohibition Against Subletting vs. Reasonable Consent) [Editor's Note: There is proposed legislation (as of October 1, 1998) that would prohibit evictions of tenants who sublet to a replacement tenant in contravention of a clause in the lease agreement. The proposed legislation would also allow tenants to petition for a rent reduction if the owner does not allow a new replacement tenant to move in, even in the event that there is an absolute prohibition against subletting in the lease.]

Rules and Regulations 6.15 states that unless the landlord has an absolute prohibition against subletting stated in the lease, which has not been waived, tenants must be permitted to replace one-for-one roommates who move out. Tenants must obtain the landlord's consent to sublet if the lease or rental agreement requires such consent. Failure to obtain such consent could result in eviction of the tenant. However, the landlord may not unreasonably withhold consent if the tenant has met the requirements of Section 6.15(c), which are:


  1. A written request from the tenant to sublet or assign;
  2. Submission by the proposed tenant of a completed standard application form or the form provided by the landlord;
  3. The tenant must provide the landlord 5 business days to process the proposed new tenant's application;
  4. The proposed new tenant or new subtenant meets the regular reasonable application standards of the landlord;
  5. The proposed tenant agrees to sign and be bound by the current rental agreement;
  6. The tenant has not, without good cause, requested landlord consent to a new tenant more than one time per existing tenant in the unit during the past 12 months;
  7. The tenant is requesting replacement of a departing tenant or tenants with an equal number of new tenants.

The above requirements DO NOT apply to assignment of the entire tenancy or subletting of the entire unit. Tenants should review their rental agreement or lease to determine if there is an absolute prohibition against subletting or assignment. In the absence of such [see Editor's Note, above], tenants who have met the above requirements may be entitled to a rent reduction equal to the amount the departing tenant was paying if it is found by the Rent Board that the landlord has unreasonably withheld consent. Nothing in Section 6.15 changes the landlord's right to give a notice pursuant to Rules and Regulations Section 6.14 to new tenants.


Section 12.20 of the Rules and Regulations prohibits landlords from evicting a tenant under Ordinance Section 37.9(a)(2) due to an alleged violation of the lease, rental agreement or obligation of the tenancy if the obligation or covenant (i.e., change in terms of the tenancy) was not agreed to by the tenant or if the change is not materially the same as what was originally agreed to by the parties.

The foregoing shall not apply to: 1) changes that are not material; 2) changes in material obligations or covenants required by law to protect the health, safety or quiet enjoyment of the occupants of the building or adjoining properties; or 3) material changes that have resulted in a substantial decrease in housing services with respect to garage, storage space or access to common areas for which a commensurate rent reduction has been provided by the landlord; and 4) rent increases or other changes in the terms of a tenancy as permitted by Ordinance or Rules and Regulations.


Certain previously exempt units are now under the Rent Ordinance for a limited number of issues. For purposes of regulating rent increases, the following units are now covered: Section 8 vouchers (but not certificate holders), HOPWA units (Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS), units in buildings where HUD previously insured the mortgage, or units formerly receiving project-based assistance. The law also sets the base rent for any unit coming under the Rent Ordinance at the contract rent the landlord was receiving and prohibits the setting of a market rate rent for a continuing tenancy. Finally, all of these categories of tenants can only be evicted for one of the 14 "just cause" reasons as enumerated in Section 37.9 of the Ordinance, and eviction notices must comport with the notice requirements therein.


A tenant acting in the capacity of a landlord who resides in the same rental unit with his or her tenant may be able to evict said tenant without just cause as required under subsection 37.9(a). This means that if a roommate pays rent to another roommate, and has no relationship with the actual owner of the property, then the roommate who collects the rent doesn't need a reason to evict their roommate. This also applies to owners who take roommates into their own unit. Some living situations are more like a boarding house arrangement, wherein rooms constitute separate rental units, in which case the tenant could not be evicted without just cause. Please note that, for any tenancy commencing on or after May 25, 1998, in order for a "Master Tenant" to evict without just cause, they have to have disclosed to the tenant they wish to evict that the tenancy is not subject to the just cause provisions of the Ordinance prior to the commencement of that tenancy. In any event, all evictions at a minimum require a written eviction notice stating that advice regarding the notice to vacate is available from the Rent Board and the notice must be filed with the Rent Board within 10 days of service upon the tenant. (See Section 37.9(c) of the Rent Ordinance) Please be advised that tenants acting in the capacity of a landlord must still adhere to the judicial, court-administered procedures of the State of California in order to evict a tenant. Caution: A tenant who subleases his or her rental unit may charge no more rent upon initial occupancy of the subtenants than that rent which the tenant is currently paying to the landlord.

©1998 City & County of San Francisco 12/7/98





































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