In many cities in the Bay Area a landlord cannot evict a tenant or try to evict a tenant without having a just cause as his or her dominant reason for pursuing the eviction. If a landlord does not have a just cause but still attempts to make a tenant vacate or does in fact cause a tenant to involuntarily vacate their home, the landlord can be liable to the tenant and the tenant can receive monetary compensation.
Humphreys Joiner Law Group, LLP represents tenants who have been wrongfully evicted by their landlords, as well as tenants whose landlords have attempted to wrongfully evict them. In most situations, we take these kinds of cases on a contingency basis, meaning you pay costs but you do not pay attorneys’ fees unless the case settles or you prevail at trial.
Owner Move In Eviction
Humphreys Joiner Law Group assists tenants in protecting their rights and ensuring they receive compensation for fraudulent owner move in evictions.
An owner move in eviction, also called an OMI eviction, is when a landlord seeks possession of a rental unit from a tenant because he or she intends to move into the unit and reside there as his or her principal place of residence for 36 continuous months. This is one of the many just causes for eviction under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. While this is a legal way for a landlord to evict a tenant, not every one of these evictions is legal. The Rent Ordinance sets forth important restrictions and requirements that landlords must follow. When a landlord fails to follow these requirements, or where a landlord does not truly intend to reside in the unit, the tenant can sue for wrongful eviction and may recover money damages from the landlord.
In order to even attempt an owner move in eviction, the landlord must be a record owner of at least 25% of the property. Additionally, in the case of a relative move in, where the landlord is seeking possession of a rental unit so the landlord’s direct relative can move in, the landlord must either currently reside in the same building as the tenant or must concurrently be seeking possession of another rental unit in the same building to move into.
To start the process, the landlord must give the tenant proper notice of his or her intent to move in. The notice must be in writing and must contain certain specific information, including the percentage ownership, the identity of the owner (or relative) who intends to move in, and the addresses of any other property the landlord owns, among other things.
The landlord must also give relocation payments to the tenant. The amount of the payments is determined by the S.F. Rent Board and is published on the Rent Board’s website. The landlord must give the tenant one-half of the total relocation amount at the time the notice is served and one-half after the tenant vacates.
After receiving the OMI eviction notice, a tenant will need to decide whether to move out or stay and fight the eviction. There are many technical requirements that a landlord must follow and these can be used as a way to defend against the eviction. Sometimes a tenant can successfully defend against an owner move in eviction based on technical deficiencies in the owner’s notice. However, if the notice is written properly and the landlord has the required 25% ownership, these cases can be very difficult for a tenant to successfully defend.
Alternatively, if the tenant moves from the unit and the landlord does not move into the unit or moves in but moves out before the 36 month period, the tenant can sue their landlord for wrongful eviction. In that situation, the tenant could receive significant monetary compensation for loss of housing, emotional distress, and other harm.
It is a violation of the law for a landlord to harass his or her tenants. Verbal and physical harassment are what most quickly come to mind when thinking of harassment. But in San Francisco -- thanks to a specific ordinance that prohibits tenant harassment -- other landlord actions are also considered harassment. For example, it is harassment for a landlord to fail to repair defective conditions at the rental property that are required to be repaired, fail to cash a rent check for over 30 days, abuse the landlord’s right to access a tenant’s rental unit, and other actions that cause substantial interference to a tenant’s quiet enjoyment of their rental unit.
Humphreys Joiner Law Group, LLP represents tenants who have suffered harassment from their landlords. Often, these types of cases also involve wrongful eviction or attempted wrongful eviction.
Habitability & Apartment Maintenance
If a landlord is aware of a defective condition in a rental unit and he or she does not adequately repair the problem within a reasonable amount of time, the landlord can be liable to the tenant in a lawsuit and the tenant can recover monetary compensation.
Sometimes the landlord’s failure to repair a defective condition in a tenant-occupied unit is an attempt to force a tenant to move out of their home. This can be considered an attempted wrongful eviction and can also make the landlord liable to his or her tenant for monetary compensation.
Humphreys Joiner Law Group, LLP represents tenants who have suffered through defective conditions, particularly where their landlords have ignored their requests for repairs. By taking actions like writing letters to landlords and filing lawsuits on behalf of tenants, the Humphreys Joiner Law Group, LLP helps tenants fight for their rights to habitable living conditions and to financial compensation for violations.
Tenant Lockout & Utility Shut-Off
It is a violation of state and local law for a landlord to lock a tenant out of their home for any reason. Likewise, a landlord may not shut off a tenant’s utilities for any reason, even if the tenant has not paid or is late in paying their rent. Unfortunately, these things do happen and can leave a tenant feeling distraught and emotionally devastated. But, taking these actions can leave the landlord financially liable to the tenant for things like emotional distress, lost property, and loss of the tenancy.
Humphreys Joiner Law Group, LLP represents tenants who have been locked from their homes by their landlords or who have had their utilities shut off by their landlords. We also represent tenants whose landlords have threatened to lock them out or to shut off their utilities. In these situations, the landlords can be financially liable to their tenants for such actions.
Sublease & Roommate Issues
It is quite common for people in San Francisco and the Bay Area to live with roommates who are neither family members nor significant others. These situations can often be fraught with potential problems for tenants. Sometimes the roommates do not have a rental agreement directly with the landlord, or one roommate does but the others do not. Sometimes the written lease agreement prohibits subleasing. Sometimes one roommate moves out and the remaining roommates want to bring another tenant into the unit.
Navigating these issues depends on many factors. Did the roommates ask permission to add another tenant to the unit? Do any of the roommates have a rental agreement directly with the landlord? Is the landlord aware of all the roommates who live in the unit? Has the landlord accepted rent from a roommate without a rental agreement? Are any of the roommates original occupants of the unit?
In late 2015, the San Francisco Rent Board updated the rules regulating subleasing and roommate issues. The rules are complicated and dependent on a number of factors. However, Humphreys Joiner Law Group, LLP can assist you in navigating these areas and help you to protect your rights and your tenancy.
Security Deposit Issues
In California, a landlord may only withhold a tenant’s security deposit for specific reasons, and must provide a refund or a reason for withholding the deposit within 21 days of the time when the tenant vacates the rental unit. Additionally, in San Francisco, a landlord is required to provide the tenant with interest on their security deposit.
When a landlord wrongfully withholds a tenant’s security deposit, a letter from an attorney sent on the tenant’s behalf can often help to resolve the problem. In other instances, filing a lawsuit against the landlord is necessary. In either situation, Humphreys Joiner Law Group, LLP can help advise you on the law and the best way to proceed to get your security deposit back.
San Francisco Rent Board Petitions
Tenants in San Francisco can file a variety of petitions with the Rent Board to address issues such as an illegal rent increase, a landlord’s failure to repair defective conditions, and a substantial decrease in housing services, among others.
Humphreys Joiner Law Group, LLP can counsel tenants before or during their interactions with the Rent Board and can represent them at the Rent Board.
Unlawful Detainer & Eviction Defense
In San Francisco and many Bay Area cities tenants' rights are protected through local rent ordinances that control the amount of rent a landlord can charge and restrict the ways grounds for which landlords can evict tenants. In these jurisdictions, most landlords must have a “just cause” to evict a tenant. If a landlord attempts to evict a tenant without an authorized “just cause”, the tenant can fight the eviction and win. Eviction cases can be challenging because they are on a fast-track process, with short time frames within which to meet crucially important deadlines.