Checklist for Tenant Estoppels

The landlord or his realtor presents you with a document asking you about the details of your lease. You sign it without thinking about it. Did you just unknowingly give away some of your tenant rights?

In my last blog, “Tenant Estoppel Certificates: The Hidden Trap,” I wrote about the importance of tenant estoppels. This is a form you might receive if your landlord sells your building.

If you’re not in the legal field, you could get fooled into thinking that estoppels aren’t important.

I disagree. I think tenant estoppels are very important.

What are they?

Tenant estoppels legally certify facts about your lease. They are to reassure the buyer of your building that the financial details are correct about your home.

The problem

Tenant estoppels are for the landlord’s benefit, not for you. So if you fill it out incorrectly, or don’t add all the details of your tenancy, you could lose some of your tenant’s rights in the upcoming months or years.

The landlord could give you a tenant estoppel under the name of “Rental Questionnaire” or a “Statement of Tenancy.” Be cautious. Your tenant rights could still be at stake.

And then there’s more…

You usually don’t have much time to fill out a tenant estoppel. Usually the landlord or his realtor will demand you complete it in three days or less. With that time limit, it’s easy to rush filling out this important document.

The Rent Ordinance tries to protect you

Section 37.9(k)(1)(E) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance under the heading “Disclosure of Rights to Tenants Before and After Sale of Rental Units Subject to Section 37.9,” states that the landlord should provide:

A statement that tenants are not required to complete or sign any estoppel certificates or estoppel agreements, except as required by law or by that tenant’s rental agreement.

Check your lease agreement. Does it say you must fill out one? If your landlord is selling your building and you do not have to sign an estoppel, then you might consider not doing so.  But there are risks if you don’t fill it out.

The regulation goes on to state:

The statement shall further inform tenants that tenant rights may be affected by an estoppel certificate or agreement and that the tenants should seek legal advice before completing or signing an estoppel certificate or agreement.

Note that the Rent Ordinance, in recognizing how important these tenant estoppels are legally, suggests that tenants seek legal advice.

Think outside the form

You might be presented with a tenant estoppel form that has limited spaces for you to insert your information. If so, don’t allow the landlord or his realtor to limit your information.

Remember that if there are any significant details of your tenancy favorable to you that are not on the tenant estoppel, then the new landlord could deny this benefit to you later.

You might consider writing a letter that describes the details of your lease that are favorable to you. Then staple your letter to the tenant estoppel form and mail everything to your landlord or to his realtor.

Or fill out the tenant estoppel and reference an addendum and then, of course, staple the addendum to the tenant estoppel.

I always advocate keeping copies of what you send to the landlord. Good records are important.

A checklist to help you

What should you include?

Here’s a checklist of questions to start you thinking:

  1. Do you have onsite parking?
  2. Can you park in the street in the entrance to the garage even though you can’t (or anyone else) use the garage?
  3. Does your landlord provide a storage spot for you in the basement (or other area of the building) that may or may not be on the lease?
  4. Can you leave your shoes outside of your front apartment door?
  5. Do you have access to the building’s washer and dryer?
  6. Can you hang plants outside of your window or balcony?
  7. Do you take care of the back yard or the building in exchange for a monthly reduction on your rent?
  8. Do you sweep the building’s stairs and recycle the unwanted junk mail in exchange for a monthly rent reduction?
  9. Do you have sole access to the backyard and other tenants in the building can’t go back there?
  10. Do you have to take the garbage bins out to the street every week and bring them back in?
  11. Did you buy the appliances in your apartment or did the apartment come with them?
  12. Do you pay for utilities (i.e., garbage, water, PG&E) or does your landlord pay for them?
  13. Does the landlord pay for the internet or cable or do you pay for it?
  14. What about your security deposit? How much was it?
  15. Does your current landlord pay annual interest on the security deposit? If not, when was the last time your current landlord paid interest and how much are you owed?
  16. Are there any items that contradict the terms of the lease that are now allowed by your landlord, i.e. your lease states you must pay your rent by the first of every month, but your landlord lets you pay by the tenth with no late fees.
  17. Can you pay your whole rent throughout the month with no late fees?
  18. Are there any late fees in your lease if you pay late or a rent check bounces?
  19. Do you have to pay your rent online?
  20. Do you have a pet that is allowed by the landlord even though this goes against the terms of the lease?
  21. Can you have a “replacement” pet if your current pet dies?
  22. Do you have one or more than one roommate even though this goes against the terms of the lease?
  23. Can you have roommates without telling the landlord?
  24. Can you go out of town for extended periods of time and sublease your apartment?

This is just to start you thinking. All of the examples above are based on talking with tenants about their leases.  Consider what else might be relevant in your specific circumstances.

Remember, this is an important document in which you need to fill out carefully in order to protect your tenant’s rights.

Did you receive a tenant estoppel certificate? If you have questions, you might consider seeking the advice of an experienced tenant attorney.

Know your rights. Protect yourself.

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Mary Catherine Wiederhold

Real Estate Attorney
1458 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Mary Catherine Wiederhold
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