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Six Things Your Landlord Does Not Want You to Know

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By J. Scott Weaver

Many landlords are cashing in on the hot rental market by getting their long-term tenants to move. Some use the threats of evictions, others use lies, intimidation, and harassment, while others agree to pay money to get the tenant to move (“buy-out”). These landlords and their lawyers don’t want you to know what your rights are. Here are a few of them:

1. You don’t have to move just because the landlord says you do.
There are laws that protect tenants from harassment, threats, and evictions. Under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, a landlord has to have a “just cause” to force you to move. There are community organizations that can help you protect your rights. These include: Causa Justa, (415) 487-9022,; Housing Rights Committee, (415) 703-8644,; and San Francisco Tenants’ Union, (415) 282-6622.

2. Your landlord cannot evict you without first getting a court order.
This means they cannot throw your belongings out on the street, lock you out, or harass you out. A landlord has to go through the legal process of eviction in order to get you out. In an eviction case, the tenants can raise defenses and assert legal rights under state and local laws. Again, the organizations listed above can help.

3. It is illegal for a landlord to call ICE or threaten to call ICE.
State and local laws forbid discrimination based on nationality or citizenship status. Several long-time housing activists have confirmed that ICE (and formerly INS) has not detained a tenant because of a call made by their landlord.

4. Landlords do not always tell the truth.
Another tactic landlords have been using is simply to lie. For instance, a landlord may threaten to evict under the “Ellis Act” or threaten to move in to the unit, or say he has the right to evict you. While on the one hand threatening you, they then offer you money to “voluntarily” move out. These deals are almost always bad for the tenant, and, again, it is always best to familiarize yourself with your rights.

5. A buy-out agreement will not put you in a better financial position.
Landlords often lure their tenants into thinking that money from a buy-out is a windfall for the tenant. This is seldom the case even when the landlord pays tens of thousands of dollars. When you consider the increased housing costs, expenses of a move, and increased transportation costs if you move out of the city, the buy-out money is often gone in just a few years.

6. You can get out of a buy-out agreement if you think it was a bad decision
A new San Francisco law allows a tenant to “rescind” (cancel) the buy-out agreement within 45 days of the agreement being signed. Tenants often feel pressure to accept a buy-out and then later realize that it was not a good decision. Under the new law, a tenant can rescind the agreement for any reason if they do so within 45 days of signing. Any “buy-out” money that has already been paid to the tenant has to be paid back to the landlord if the tenant decides to rescind.

A rent- controlled apartment is a valuable asset, and tenants can protect their rights by taking advantage of available community resources.

J. Scott Weaver is a long-time housing and tenant activist and attorney, and works with the Plaza 16 Coalition and the San Francisco Tenants Union. He sits on the Board of Directors of Acción Latina.

Story by: J. Scott Weaver