Your landlord has informed you that your building is for sale.  This can be a stressful period if you do not know what your rights are to remain in your home, but do not panic.  San Francisco rent-controlled tenants have a plethora of protections before, during, and after the sale.  Here is a step-by-step guide tenants should follow when their building is for sale.

Step 1:  Do Not Move Out Of Your Unit.

Your landlord may ask you to move out or even threaten to evict you because the building is for sale, but you have the right to continue to live in your unit during this time.  San Francisco has strict eviction protections that prohibit a landlord from forcing a tenant out of their home merely because they want to sell the building.  A tenant may only be evicted for a just-cause reason, and the sale of a building is not a just-cause reason to evict under the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance (“RSO”).  Additionally, landlords must disclose to tenants in writing when they plan to sell the building that the tenant cannot be evicted, their rent cannot be raised, and their lease cannot be changed solely because the property is being sold.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(k)(1). 

Step 2:  Stop Your Landlord From Abusive Entries Into Your Home.

Your landlord must provide you with an initial written Notice of Sale and Entry that states that they plan to sell the property and show it to prospective purchasers.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(k)(1).  Once that initial written notice is given to the tenant, for the next 120 days all subsequent notices to enter the unit may be done over the phone, by email, or in person.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1954(d)(2).  Any notifications must still provide at least a 24-hours advanced notice.  Id.  The landlord or their agent must also leave written evidence that they entered the unit.  Id.

Even if your landlord provides the proper advanced notice of every showing, this does not mean that you must subject yourself to an unreasonable and excessive number of showings.  A landlord that abuses their right to enter your unit may be liable for harassment.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.2(a), S.F., Cal., Admin. Code § 37.10(B)(a)(4).

Tenants are only obligated to accommodate reasonable requests to show the unit to prospective purchasers.  It is reasonable for the landlord to schedule one broker’s tour, one open house, and one set time and day for a weekly private showing.  If a tenant unreasonably refuses to give the landlord access to their unit, the landlord could use the continual refusal as a for-fault, just-cause reason to evict.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(a)(6).

Also, unless your written lease agreement has a provision requiring a lock box, you are not required to agree to put a lock box on your door.  Lock boxes potentially enable the landlord or their agent to enter at any time, which circumvents the law and is a violation of the tenant’s right to privacy.  

Step 3: Preserve All Your Tenant Rights With The New Owner. 

You may be asked to complete and sign a document called an estoppel certificate or tenant questionnaire.  An estoppel certificate is used to inform a potential purchaser of the rights and privileges of existing tenants. The estoppel certificate requests information about rental amount, lease terms, amendments to written lease agreements, and any promises by or agreements made with the landlord.

You do not have to sign an estoppel certificate unless your written lease agreement has a provision that requires you to do so.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(k)(1).  Many leases contain this clause, so it is important to review your lease before deciding whether to fill out the form.

Even if the lease does not require an estoppel certificate, there are a few situations where a tenant should still sign one in order to preserve certain rights they may have gained before the new owner arrived.  You should consider completing one if you have had any verbal agreements with your landlord that are not memorialized in writing.  For example, rights you may want to preserve are any verbal agreements with your landlord about pets, payment of utilities, garage and storage use, subletting, use of common areas, or rent reductions.

Step 4: Know Your Eviction Protections.

You may have protection from certain no-fault evictions, and you should notify your landlord about these protections. 

Your landlord may include a Request for Information Under 37.9(i) and (j) of the San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board form along with their initial Notice of Sale and Entry discussed above.  If you receive a Request for Information form, it must be completed and returned to your landlord within 30 days. 

Some tenants may have protections from an owner or relative move-in eviction, or from an Ellis Act eviction, which are common evictions when a building is for sale or was just sold.  If a tenant meets certain age or disability criteria, or works at a school in the district or has a minor child residing in the unit, they must timely preserve this right by filling out the form.

If you have resided in your home for 10 or more years and are at least 60 years old or are disabled, or have resided in your unit for 5 or more years and are terminally ill, you may have protections from an owner or relative move-in eviction.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(i).  Additionally, if you work for a school in San Francisco or have a minor child that has resided in the unit for at least 1 year, you may be protected if the move out date falls during the school year.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(j).

You may also be entitled to an extension of time if your landlord is planning to Ellis Act the building to evict all the tenants in order to “go out of business” as a landlord.  If you have resided in your unit for at least one year and are at least 62 years old or are disabled, you are entitled to a one-year vacate notice.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(f).

Step 5: Know The Timeline For A No-fault Eviction.

If you are served with an owner or relative move-in eviction and you have resided in your unit for at least one year, you are entitled to a 60-days’ written notice to vacate.  Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.1.​  If you have resided in your unit for less than a year, you are entitled to a 30-days’ written notice to vacate.  Id. 

For tenants that are served an Ellis Act eviction, you are entitled to a 120-days’ notice unless you meet the criteria for the one-year extension.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(f).

Step 6: Know Your Rights For Relocation Benefits.

Make sure your landlord pays you the correct relocation benefits, including any additional amount you may be entitled to beyond the household maximum.  If you are evicted for a no-fault reason, you are entitled to relocation assistance.  A tenant must live in their unit for at least one year to be eligible for relocation benefits.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(C)(a)(2).  Half of the relocation payment must be included with the eviction notice.  The other half will be paid when you vacate.

Ellis Act relocation amounts are:

  • $10,160 per tenant.
    • Maximum per unit is $30,480.
    • Plus, an additional $6,807.20 for each elderly (62+) or disabled tenant.

Other no-fault evictions, such as owner or relative move-in, relocation amounts are:

  • $7,540 per tenant.
    • Maximum per unit is $22,618.
    • Plus, an additional $5,027 for each elderly (60+), disabled, or household with minor children.

Relocation amounts are effective March 1, 2023 through February 29, 2024.

Step 7: Prepare For A Buyout Offer.

A buyout offer is typically presented when the landlord wants a tenant out but has no viable just-cause reason to force the tenant from their home.  A buyout agreement is a written agreement where a landlord and a tenant agree for the landlord to pay the tenant money to voluntarily move out of their rent-controlled unit.  Both the time to move and the compensation are negotiable.

Before making an offer, the landlord must disclose what your rights are for a buyout under the RSO by providing you with a Rent Board Pre-Buyout Negotiations Disclosure Form.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(E)(d).  Some of the tenant rights included in the form are that buyout agreements entered into must be written in the primary language of the tenant, must contain a statement in twelve-point bold language above the signature line that notifies the tenant of the tenant’s right to rescind (cancel) without consequence within forty-five days of executing the agreement, and must be filed timely with the Rent Board.   S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.9(E)(f)-(h).  After you have signed and returned this form to the landlord, negotiations can begin.

Step 8: Protect Yourself From Harassment By Your Landlord.

Do not let your landlord harass you out of your home.  Landlord harassment is illegal, and the San Francisco Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance prohibits landlords and their employees from harassing their tenants.  S.F. Cal. Admin. Code § 37.10B.

Under the ordinance, interrupting housing services, failing to repair, abusing the right to enter, coercing a tenant to vacate by use of threats, discriminating, interfering with a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment, refusing to accept or cash lawfully paid rent, and interfering with a tenant’s right to privacy are some of the actions that constitute unlawful landlord harassment.  Id.

Proving that your landlord is harassing you can be difficult.  Here are some ways you can prove harassment:

  • Be diligent in notating each harassing event by making a log with dates and times  
  • Keep texts and emails you have had with the landlord
  • Get statements from friends, neighbors, and any witnesses
  • Take pictures, audio recordings, and videos
  • Call the police when necessary
  • Get a restraining order if you feel you are in danger

Tenants who are harassed by their landlord can file a lawsuit against their landlord for damages and for an injunction to stop the behavior.

Step 9: Call A Tenant Rights Attorney For Help.

If your landlord has violated your tenant rights before, during, or after the building sale, call Tobener Ravenscroft LLP at 415-504-2165 to speak with a tenant rights lawyer to understand your rights as a renter.