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Top 3 Issues Tenants are Dealing with During Covid-19

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Ask a Tenants Right’s Lawyer is your chance to learn how to survive as a renter in San Francisco. Attorney Daniel Wayne has a lot of the information you need to keep you in your home. This week’s topic: you guessed it – Covid-19 for renters. Got a question? Send an email to alex@brokeassstuart.com and we will forward it on.


While rents have plummeted in San Francisco, evening the playing field for tenants for the first time in years, there are new challenges for tenants in the time of COVID. Since March 2020 when a state of emergency was declared at the federal, state, and local levels in response to the pandemic, many measures have been enacted to help tenants cope with the situation. Despite these intentions and the renter protections available, there are (obviously) still many things to be concerned about during these uncertain times. Here are the top 3 issues tenants in San Francisco are dealing with during Covid-19.

1. Paying the Rent

No surprise here. As a San Francisco renter, you are protected from being evicted by the city’s “No Fault” eviction ban through March 31, 2021. While it is a relief to not have to worry about being evicted at this time, the rent is still due. In this pandemic environment, it isn’t always an easy thing to do with many people experiencing an outright loss of income or a reduction in their paychecks. It is the most basic problem that you can have as a renter and the pandemic has only made it more difficult.

If you’re a Bay Area renter with a lease up for renewal, you may try to negotiate for a decrease in the amount that you have to pay during the pandemic. Like tenants, landlords are also in a difficult position, so they might be willing to work with you, especially since the law will allow the rent reduction to be temporary. Because rental demand has waned in San Francisco due to Covid, landlords have offered tenants incentives (cash, gift cards, and other perks) to sign lease extensions. Depending on your situation and your relationship with your landlord, you could also negotiate with them to try to break your lease.

For renters that are having troubling meeting their monthly payments, there are also housing retention grants and other resources available to help.

2. Dealing with Harassment from the Landlord

Being harassed by your landlord is always a potential problem for a tenant. However, during the pandemic, with an atmosphere filled with tension and uncertainty, it might be even more likely to occur. With landlords aggressively demanding payments, threatening evictions, and putting pressure on tenants who have either actually contracted Covid, lost their jobs due to the pandemic, or just can’t afford the monthly payments during the crisis, tenants are very vulnerable to a landlord’s mistreatment. There are many forms of harassment: the landlord can invade your privacy by entering your unit, they can sexually harass you, or they may try to get you move out by doing a lot of different things to bother you.

Although the moratoriums are clear that a landlord is prohibited from evicting tenants at this time, they might resort to engaging in “self-help” illegal evictions by cutting off utilities, changing locks, or refusing to make necessary repairs. Tenants, who are strapped for cash and may be waiting for unemployment or stimulus checks are caught between a rock and a hard place: either they put up with their landlord’s harassment or they risk leaving their homes in the middle of a public health crisis. However, these tactics are considered a breach of the tenant’s right to the “quiet enjoyment” of their property and they can sue the landlord for damages for this type of behavior.

3. Roommate Disputes

Ever since the coronavirus outbreak really began to take hold, everyone has been subjected to restrictions that result in more time spent at home. While experiencing surges in the number of Covid cases, the situation is even more intense. With the combination of general stress associated with living during a pandemic and your home being used as a workplace, gym, or classroom, it’s not surprising that many San Francisco tenants are having roommate disputes.

Some of the conflict is just about the usual disagreements that arise when you share a space with someone. When the disagreements are more serious, you may have to try getting a third party involved, like being involved in an alternative dispute resolution, in which a neutral party can assist you to trying to find a solution to your problems. It can help to have someone else listen to both sides and to try to come to a compromise. Perhaps one of you can try to move out if you’re not getting along.

However, other conflicts are specific to Covid-19. For instance, if you’re concerned about your roommates social distancing habits or think that they’re not being cautious enough about being exposed to the virus, you can try to incorporate good communication skills by trying to talk out your concerns and address the problems in this way. Because of the moratoriums, your roommate will not likely be evicted unless its’s a life-threatening situation where they are doing something to threaten your health and safety; a person’s Covid-19 status doesn’t qualify under this. If the disagreement does rise to the level of safety concerns and you feel threatened, then you might have to get a restraining order. Generally, a domestic violence restraining order won’t apply to a roommate situation because they are meant for people in intimate or family relationships. However, as a roommate you can get a civil harassment restraining order which can be applied to roommates.

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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 Wolford Wayne LLP. His firm 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 has been named a Super Lawyer Rising Star each of the past three years, 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.wolford-wayne.com for more information.

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