A residential eviction is the process of removing an individual from a rented property where they have been living. The individual who has been residing in the rental property is called a tenant. During the eviction process, the tenant’s possessions and all of their personal effects are removed from the premises.

How do I Evict a Residential Tenant in San Francisco?

Residential tenancy laws are very complicated in San Francisco. These laws are intended to protect the tenant and to prevent unfair evictions.

It is, however, still possible for a landlord to evict a tenant. A landlord must obtain a court order which gives them the right to repossess the apartment or house back from the tenant in order to evict them.

An eviction follows specific legal procedures as well as a court process before an individual can be forced to move. The only exception to this rule is if the individual is a tenant who is living with the owner.

A sole lodger, or tenant, who is living with the owner can be evicted without going to court. In these circumstances, the tenant does have the right to present their case to a jury if they choose to do so. If the tenant prevails, they get to remain in the residence. If the tenant loses, they may be removed by the local sheriff’s department.

A landlord is required to follow the proper procedures and abide by the laws during an eviction process. Should the landlord violate any laws, the tenant may be eligible to receive damages and the landlord may be subject to fines.

What is the Eviction Process for a Standard Eviction?

Evictions in San Francisco have additional protections pursuant to the rent control laws, called the Ellis Act. A landlord is not permitted to simply evict a tenant by locking them out of a residence or cutting off their utilities, known as self help evictions.

Instead, a landlord is required to follow the proper court process. As a general rule, the eviction process consist of the following steps:

  • The landlord must provide a first notice, called a notice to quit;
  • The tenant then has the option to pay or move out within 3 days;
    • If the tenant does not pay or move out, then the landlord provides a second eviction notice that is obtained through the courts, called an unlawful detainer;
  • The tenant has 5 calendar days to respond to the unlawful detainer;
  • If the tenant does not respond, the court will rule in favor of the landlord and the tenant will be given a Sheriff’s notice;
    • The tenant will then have 5 days to move before being removed by the Sheriff;
  • If the tenant does respond, a court hearing will be scheduled so the tenant may challenge the eviction, which generally occurs within 2 weeks;
  • There may be additional hearings, such as, a settlement conference, but typically a court decides who wins following the hearing; and
  • If the tenant wins, then they get to stay in their residence;
  • If the landlord wins, the Sheriff posts a third and final notice, called a Sheriff’s notice. Following this, the Sheriff will remove the tenant or tenants.

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

There are certain requirements for evicting tenants in San Francisco under rental control conditions. In this situation, a tenant can only be evicted for one of 16 just causes unless they share the rental unit with their landlord.

Buildings which were built prior to March 1979 are subject to rent control and have certain eviction protections. The just causes for eviction in San Francisco include:

  • Unpaid rent, habitual late payments, or frequent bounced checks;
  • Breach of a term of the rental agreement that has not been corrected after a valid written notice from the landlord;
  • Nuisance or substantial damage to the unit;
  • Illegal use of the unit;
    • This includes any use that is expressly prohibited in the lease, but not necessarily illegal under the law;
  • Termination of the rental agreement without renewal;
  • The tenant has, after written notice to cease, refused the landlord access to the unit as required by law;
  • Unapproved subtenant;
  • The landlord or a close relative moves in to the unit;
  • The sale of a unit for a condo conversion. In these situations, tenants have a right to a 1-year lease or 120 days with relocation payments;
  • Demolition or removal of the unit from housing use;
  • Capital improvements or rehabilitation;
  • Substantial rehabilitation of a building that is uninhabitable;
  • Ellis Act evictions;
  • Lead abatement as required by the San Francisco Health Code;
  • Demolition in order to permanently remove the rental property from housing use; and
  • Good Samaritan Occupancy Status for the tenant expires.

In addition, a landlord of a rent controlled unit is required to have honest intent to evict the tenant along with just cause. A no-fault eviction, or one falling under reasons 8 through 16 above, may not be used to evict a tenant until their lease is expired. This means that the lease becomes a month-to-month tenancy and one of the reasons listed from 8 to 16 above may be applied.

Do Tenants Get Relocation Payments?

A relocation payment for a household that is evicted for less than 20 days is limited by California law. A tenant who is evicted for a no-fault cause has a right to a relocation payment as determined by the rent ordinances of San Francisco and California state law. No-fault causes include:

  • Capital improvements;
  • Demolition;
  • Ellis Act owner move-in; and
  • Substantial rehabilitation.

How Can I Defend Against Wrongful Residential Eviction?

A tenant may defend against an eviction by asserting one of the following defenses:

In most states, an individual may defend against an eviction if they have been discriminated against. This discrimination may be due to characteristics including, but not limited to:

  • Race;
  • Ethnicity;
  • Disability; or
  • Gender.

If an individual is a disabled tenant, they may be able to request the eviction be set aside as a reasonable accommodation of their disability.

If a landlord has acted illegally or improperly during the eviction process, an equitable defense may prove successful. A landlord is not permitted to use harassment as an eviction tool. They are prohibited from turning off electricity, water, or heat in an attempt to make the tenant vacate the rental property. They are also prohibited from changing the locks.

In some states, a tenant may argue the warranty of habitability was violated. This means that the living conditions of the residence were not habitable and, therefore, the eviction should be stopped.

If the landlord fails to uphold their end of the rental contract by failing to provide a habitable living place, then the tenant is relieved from having to fulfill their portion of the contract, which includes the payment of rent. For example, if the residence is in disrepair, such as the ceiling is falling in, or there is a rodent infestation, the court will permit a tenant to remain rent-free until the landlord fixes the issues.

If an individual believes they were wrongfully convicted and were not able to defend against their eviction, they may be able to recover damages in a wrongful eviction lawsuit.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a San Francisco landlord-tenant lawyer if you live in San Francisco and are being evicted. San Francisco has many pro bono groups which assist tenants, especially those who cannot afford legal help, to navigate and fight the eviction process.

If you are a tenant, it is important to reach out to an attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer can review your situation, determine if there are any defenses to your eviction, and represent you throughout the process.

If you are a landlord who needs to evict a tenant, a lawyer can guide you through the process and ensure you comply with the law. Having a lawyer will help you avoid a wrongful eviction lawsuit.