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Ask a Tenants Right’s Lawyer: What to do if you get Served with an Eviction Notice

Ask a Tenants Right’s Lawyer is your chance to learn how to survive as a renter in San Francisco. Every few weeks attorney Daniel Wayne will answer a different question making it so that you have all the info you need to keep you in your home. Got a question? Send an email to alex@brokeassstuart.com and we will forward it on. 

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So you live in San Francisco and have been served with an eviction notice. What does it mean? What do you do? Don’t panic: an eviction notice doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out on the street. You’ve got options, but you’ll need to act quickly, play it safe, and think about getting some outside help early on.

What a notice means:
Providing you with an eviction notice is your landlord’s first step in the eviction process. **Note that an eviction notice is different than a summons and complaint, which is an eviction lawsuit. If you get served with a summons and complaint/ eviction lawsuit you must file a response with the Court within 5 calendar days of receipt, with some exceptions.

If you live in an apartment covered by the San Francisco Rent Ordinance your landlord is required by law to serve you with a written notice before he/she can initiate an eviction lawsuit against you. In other words your landlord can’t just write you an email or tell you that he’s evicting you. The notice has to be in writing, posted on your door and mailed, and include certain language to be valid.

Common Eviction Notices:
The format of the eviction notice depends in large part on the alleged basis of the eviction and whether your unit is covered by eviction control. Newly constructed buildings have neither rent control nor eviction control. If your unit is not covered by the Rent Ordinance your landlord can evict you upon 30 or 60 days written notice without having to provide a reason (30 days for tenancies of less than one year, 60 for over one year).

Protected v. Non-Protected Tenancies

If you live in a building built after 1979, your landlord does not need to have a “just cause” reason to evict and can simply give you a notice to vacate as explained above. However, you may still be able to fight the eviction. For example, if you are served with an eviction notice within 180 days of complaining to your landlord or filing a complaint with a government agency, you may have a defense based on retaliatory eviction. [For more information on retaliatory evictions or defenses to non-eviction controlled tenancies contact one of the many California housing rights organizations or check out the many resources available online.]

If your unit is covered by the Rent Ordinance your landlord must have a reason, called a “just cause” to evict you. To be valid a notice must state one of the 16 “just causes” for the eviction as listed in the Rent Ordinance.  Among the reasons are non-payment of rent, breach of the lease, landlord/owner move-ins and Ellis Act evictions. The type of the notice you get will depend in part on the just cause asserted. “No fault” evictions, such as for a landlord move-in require a 60-day notice to vacate, while notices based on non-payment require a three-day notice to cure or quit.

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Three Day Notice to Cure or Quit
In certain circumstances, such as where you have fallen behind on rent, your landlord has to give you the opportunity to “cure” the problem by paying the balance owed, or move out – “quit” – before he/she can file an eviction lawsuit and try to get you out.

If you get a cure or quit notice, you should consider curing, provided it’s an option, even if you think the reason for the notice is totally bogus. Example: you stopped paying rent because your landlord refused to fix your broken stove. Rather than continuing to withhold rent consider curing the issue by paying in order to buy yourself time to then talk to an attorney or file a rent board petition. If you refuse to pay, you put your tenancy in jeopardy and possibly having to shell out a bunch of money to fight your landlord in court unnecessarily. In other words, sometimes it’s expensive to be right. Be aware that simply curing the issue – getting rid of the pet in response to a notice that you’ve violated your lease’s “no pets policy,” for example – is not always enough. To properly cure the problem be sure to notify your landlord or their attorney in writing (email is ok, but a certified letter is better) before the notice period has expired. If you can’t cure the defect or don’t feel comfortable compromising, you shouldn’t automatically “quit” the premises for the same reasons discussed below.

Three Day Notice to Quit
Not all notices provide an option to cure. Depending on the allegations in the notice, your landlord may not give you the opportunity to cure. This happens most often when the reason for the notice is the result of an alleged lease or legal violation. For example, it’s tough to “cure” swinging that frying pan at your neighbor’s head or cutting down trees in the backyard, no matter how annoying those falling leaves are. If you get a notice to quit your landlord is essentially telling you “move out in three days, or I’m filing an eviction lawsuit.”

You should note that even if you are guilty of committing the violation, you shouldn’t necessarily tuck your tail between your legs and move out. At minimum you should consult with an attorney or housing rights advocate prior to moving out to make sure that’s the right move. Just because you did something wrong doesn’t mean it’s sufficient cause for eviction (though the frying pan or tree examples are probably going to cause you some problems).

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The Take-Away
If you get served with an eviction notice you need to take the threat seriously and take action to protect yourself. Failure to act could cause the process to escalate and put your tenancy in jeopardy. With rents being what they are these days, that can be a dangerous proposition. If you find yourself faced with an eviction notice or eviction lawsuit, you should educate yourself on your rights and act to protect your tenancy. San Francisco has numerous resources for tenants, such as the San Francisco Tenants’ Union, San Francisco Rent Board, Causa Justia, and the Housing Rights Committee, among others. Whatever you do, don’t assume you don’t have choices before walking away from your home or cutting a deal with your landlord.

DISCLAIMER: The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied.

images from: SF Examiner, cesinaction.org

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Daniel Wayne - Tenant's Rights Attorney

Daniel Wayne - Tenant's Rights Attorney

Daniel Wayne is a San Francisco based tenants rights attorney and the managing partner of the Law Offices of Daniel W. Wayne, PC. His office focuses on protecting and asserting the rights of residential tenants throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He is an active member of the California State Bar, the San Francisco Bar Association, and the Tenants Together Network. He is a regular volunteer at the San Francisco Tenant's Union, and has appeared on 91.7 FM KALW's "Know Your Legal Rights" Program. He received the Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service award from the San Francisco Bar Association in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and in 2016 was named a Super Lawyer Rising Star, an honor bestowed on the top 2.5% of Attorneys in their first 10 years of practice. He is originally from Seattle, Washington and makes his home here in San Francisco. You can follow him on twitter at @sftenantlaw or visit his website: www.wayne-law.com for more information.

  • Danny K

    Thanks for starting this new column Stuart! As someone who is often broke myself (I work for a local nonprofit), I actually reached out to Daniel a few months back after finding out that I (and my 13 roommates) were being unlawfully evicted from our warehouse in SoMa. In addition to giving us a very reasonable rate, he went above and beyond to make sure that we knew our rights and helped us each step of the way. Great call on choosing Daniel — I couldn’t think of a better person to represent this column!

  • Katey Wade

    Anyone, regardless of their financial (in)stability, should take their notices to the Eviction Defense Collaborative ASAP. They will be able to help you write an answer and refer you to agencies where you’ll receive free or sliding scale services.

    995 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103
    (415) 947-0797

    http://evictiondefense.org/

  • Katey, thank you for this. However to be clear, an eviction notice is different from an eviction lawsuit. The notice precedes the lawsuit. The EDC will assist you in responding to the lawsuit, but there is nothing they can do in response to an eviction notice. For a notice your best bet is to go to the Tenant’s Union or another such organization for advice.

  • Katey Wade

    Thanks for the clarification, Daniel. I work for the Homeless Advocacy Project so we get a range of clients from notice to lawsuit. Sometimes, EDC and HAP can contact the landlord/lawyers during the notice stage to try to settle prior to the S+C. I just want to get across to people to respond immediately, with proper assistance from Tenant’s Union, EDC, etc.
    Thanks for your work!

  • Ghost Of TedGullicksonofabitch

    You sound like a PROFESSIONAL whiner.

  • Ghost Of TedGullicksonofabitch

    Eat The Homeless! (is what i say to my pet pig)

  • sugarntasty

    … contact MOCHDC and non-profit groups eligible for “retribution amounts to vacate not mistake. Don’t take it personal injustice aware really don’t care, yes many are scared if you dare. What is fair been advocate you must have knowledge of rights disable or senior given 1yr or extra 3 months. Tenants have 60 to 90 days to comply benefit landlord applied for “Ellis Act” proper rulings keep your tenants records! Once your moved out contact MOHDC listing of BMR also use “Affordable housing online,Go Section 8,Lowincomehousingus and Public housing great sites. Housing note: former owner or new developer builds “rental neighborhood Ellis Act” state law allows you right. Regain apt former price why, preference demolish build for sale to deter former residents chance. Fair housing Ed Lee and London suggestions? Increase of evictions where is lobby housing repeal renters rights change is among us!

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