San Francisco residential tenancy laws are very complicated. The laws are intended to protect the tenant and help prevent unfair evictions. However, it is still possible for a landlord to evict a tenant. In order to evict a tenant, a landlord must obtain a court order giving them the right to have the apartment or house back from the tenant. Evictions follow specific legal procedures and follow a court process before you can be forced to move

The only exception is if you are a tenant living with the owner. A sole lodger (tenant) living with the owner may be evicted without going to court. A tenant under these circumstances does have the right to bring their case to a jury if they chose. If they win, then they get to stay. If they lose, then they may be removed by the sheriff.

A landlord must follow the proper procedures and fully abide by the law. If any laws are violated, a tenant may be eligible for damages, and the landlord may be subject to fines.

What is the Eviction Process for a Standard Eviction?

A standard eviction in San Francisco is one that does have additional protections under the rent control laws or the Ellis Act. Regardless, landlords cannot simply evict their tenants by locking them out or cutting off their utilities (i.e. self help evictions). Instead, landlords must go through the proper court process. Generally, the eviction process consists of the following steps:

  1. The landlord give a first notice - a notice to quit;
  2. A tenant then has the option to pay or move out within 3 days; 
    1. If the tenant does not pay or move out, then the landlord gives a second eviction notice that is obtained through the courts – an unlawful detainer.
  3. A tenant then has 5 calendar days to respond to the unlawful detainer;
  4. If a tenant does not respond, the court will rule in favor of the landlord and the tenant will be given a Sheriff’s notice; 
    1. They will then have 5 days to move before being removed by the Sheriff.
  5. If a tenant does respond, then a court hearing will be scheduled so the tenant may challenge the eviction; 
    1. This hearing generally happens within two weeks.
  6. There may be additional hearings, such as, a settlement conference, but typically a court decides who wins after the hearing; and
  7. If a tenant wins, then they get to stay in their residence OR if landlord wins, then the Sheriff posts a third and final notice (Sheriff’s notice). Afterwards, the Sheriff will remove the tenant(s).

Are there Valid Reasons for Evicting a Tenant with Rent Control?

In San Francisco, if you are covered under rental control, you can only be evicted for one of 16 “just causes,” unless you share the rental unit with your landlord. Buildings built before March 1979 are subject to rent control and have eviction protections.

The just causes for eviction in San Francisco are:

  1. Unpaid rent, habitual late payment, or frequent bounced checks;
  2. Breach of a term of the rental agreement that has not been corrected after valid written notice from the landlord;
  3. Nuisance or substantial damage to the unit;
  4. Illegal use of the unit;
    1. This includes any use that is expressly prohibited in the lease, but not necessarily illegal in the eyes of the law.
  5. Termination of the rental agreement without renewal;
  6. The tenant has, after written notice to cease, refused the landlord access to the unit as required by law;
  7. Unapproved subtenant;
  8. Landlord (or a close relative) moves in to the unit;
  9. Sale of a unit for a condo conversion (tenants have a right to a 1-year lease or 120 days with relocation payments.);
  10. Demolition or removal of the unit from housing use;
  11. Capital improvements or rehabilitation;
  12. “Substantial rehabilitation” of a building that is uninhabitable;
  13. Ellis Act evictions;
  14. Lead abatement as required by the San Francisco Health Code;
  15. Demolition to permanently remove the rental unit from housing use; and
  16. Good Samaritan Occupancy Status for the tenant expires.

Additionally, landlords of rent controlled units  must have honest intent to evict the tenant along with “just cause.” Also, no-fault evictions (numbers 8-16) may not be used to evict a tenant until the lease is expired. This means once the lease turns into a month-to-month tenancy, then reasons #8 to 16 can be applied.

Do Tenants Get Relocation Payments?

Relocation payments for household evicted for less than 20 days is limited by California law. Tenants who are evicted for the “no-fault” causes (capital improvements, demolition, Ellis Act owner move-in, or substantial rehabilitation) have a right to a relocation payment as determined by the rent ordinances of San Francisco and California state law.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you live in San Francisco and are being evicted, then your first step should be to reach out to local resources. San Francisco has many free and pro bono groups that helps tenants, especially those without ability to afford legal help, navigate and fight the eviction process.

If you are a landlord who needs to evict a tenant or are a tenant who does not need free legal help, then a local real estate lawyer can help you through the complex court process. The eviction process itself is a difficult process, especially for buildings subject to rent control.