Rental agreement changes and your landlord

Effective February 1, 2012, rules issued by the San Francisco Rent Board will change to better protect tenants against landlords unilaterally changing the terms of the lease. Currently, a landlord may change the terms of a tenant’s lease by merely sending the tenant new lease terms.

The proposed Rules and Regulations section 12.20 states a “tenant may not be evicted for violation of a covenant or obligation that was not included in the tenant’s rental agreement at the inception of the tenancy unless: (1) the change in the terms of the tenancy is authorized by the Rent Ordinance or required by federal, state or local law; or (2) the change in the terms of the tenancy was accepted in writing by the tenant after receipt of written notice from the landlord that the tenant need not accept such new term as part of the rental agreement. The landlord’s inability to evict a tenant under this Section for violation of a unilaterally imposed change in the terms of a tenancy shall not constitute a decrease in housing service under the Rent Ordinance as to any other tenant.”

This means that a tenant cannot be evicted because of a change in the terms of the lease that was not in effect at the time the tenant began renting their apartment. The only way a landlord can change the lease terms is to notify the tenant in writing that the tenant need not accept such new term as part of the rental agreement. If the tenant disagrees, then the landlord cannot change the lease terms. The other way that lease terms can be changed by the landlord after the tenancy begins is if there is a change is authorized by the San Francisco Rent Ordinance or by federal, state or local law.

Currently, the lease terms most frequently changed by landlord with long term tenants involve new prohibitions regarding sublettors. For example, in a case that was so outrageous that the NewYork Times wrote about it, a San Francisco landlord changed a long term tenant’s lease. The landlord, a new owner of the building, would not allow the tenant to sublet rooms in his low rent North Beach apartment. The 75 year-old tenant was living on Social Security payments of $600 per month. After renting out rooms in violation of the landlord’s new rules, the tenant was given an unlawful detainer (eviction). The tenant was then evicted by a San Francisco Superior Court Judge. The tenant appealed but lost his home and now resides in a SRO hotel.

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