Illegal or secondary units and you

You see a listing for an apartment on the Internet. There is only one electric meter and one water meter for the apartment and for the upstairs single family house. The apartment was built in the back of a garage. You take the apartment because the rent is ‘reasonable’ for San Francisco.

The Asian Law Caucus recently conducted research in the Excelsior District, a neighborhood that is purported to consist mainly of single family homes. They found one out of every three homes contains illegal units. Many of the tenants who live in illegal or a secondary units are foreign born and nearly half have lived in their homes since 2004. Nearly one-third of the units do not have proper heating facilities, which means the tenants are probably using space heaters. More than 15% of the units do not have smoke detectors.

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection will only issue a notice of violation to the homeowner if someone complains. It is estimated that the Department takes about 50-100 units off the market every year. Maybe a better plan would be to find a way to legalize the units so that tenants will not have to worry about safety concerns. Additionally, legalizing a secondary unit would provide further protections under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance because tenants would be living in a two-unit building.

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Mary Catherine Wiederhold

Tenant Attorney
1458 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

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