Giving You a Fighting Chance with Prop F

A tenant facing eviction calls me. I show up in court, and the landlord changes his mind about evicting the tenant.

This isn’t the first time it’s happened. Landlords know when the tenant has legal representation, they’ve got someone with fighting for them.

According to the San Francisco Public Press, Attorney Carolyn Gold, who runs the pro-bono landlord-tenant program at the Justice & Diversity Center of the San Francisco Bar Association, also has experienced the same.

As soon as the tenant entered the courtroom with their attorney, “the lawyer for the landlord said, ‘We do not intend to try this case,’” Gold told the San Francisco Public Press. “That’s why it’s so critical to have an attorney for your trial, because a lot of the cases really are just saying, ‘Will the tenant cave?’”

On the June ballot

The number of unrepresented tenants facing eviction could change.

Proposition F, also called the “No Eviction Without Representation Act of 2018,” is on the ballot this June.  It’s an initiation that would require the City to provide legal representation to all residential tenants in San Francisco facing an eviction. The exception is if the landlord or master tenant resided in the same unit with his or her tenant.

If this initiative passes, the City would have to provide a lawyer within 30 days after the tenant receives an eviction notice or eviction lawsuit. Legal representation to the tenant would last until the notice is withdrawn or the lawsuit is resolved.


An article on the San Francisco Apartment Association website not only says “No” to Proposition F, it says “No, No, No.”

One of the chief arguments against this measure is that it gives every tenant (unless they’re a landlord or master tenant living in the same dwelling unit), regardless of income, the right to legal counsel. Therefore, wealthy tenants would have free representation too. While they might have access to free representation, it’s not likely that wealthy tenants would wait for the city to provide them with an attorney. They would select their own attorney.

Another argument is that tenants will have free representation for actions like non-payment of rent. I find frequently find that there’s more to the legal case than just a non-payment of rent.  That’s why these tenants deserve representation too.

Still a third argument is that those who support this measure, including attorneys such as myself, would profit if the initiative passed. My opinion is the same as Daniel J. O’Connell in an April 3, 2018 Daily Journal article. The money to fund eviction representation will likely go to agencies that already provide these services.

A little history

In 2012, San Francisco became the nation’s first “Right to Civil Counsel” city by passing the Right to Civil Counsel ordinance. The City’s goals were to provide legal representation in cases involving fundamental human needs, such as “shelter, child custody, safety, health, and sustenance.” The piloting program involved attorneys representing low-income clients in eviction defense.

Spending now

According to the San Francisco Controller, the city currently spends about $4.4 million on tenant counseling, education, outreach and eviction-related basic legal services. The actual amount for full legal representation for tenants facing eviction is about $2 million dollars.

What’s in place

A variety of non-profit agencies provide help for tenants facing eviction, such as the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco or the Eviction Defense Collaborative. Other non-profits provide eviction defense depending on the tenant’s circumstances, including Legal Assistance to the Elderly and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. In addition, some non-profits provide legal advice for those facing eviction but not legal representation.

But you have to be low income

A scan of the Landlord/Tenant and Eviction section on the San Francisco Law Library’s “Free or Low Income Service” page show that many of these agencies help low-income tenants. What about those tenants who don’t meet the low-income requirements and yet still can’t afford an attorney?

In 2014, the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office analyzed eviction lawsuits filed in San Francisco. In 2013, they found that tenants represented themselves in 45 percent of all unlawful detainer cases filed in San Francisco Superior Court. Attorneys represented only about 17 percent of those cases.

In 2012, the pattern was much the same with tenants representing themselves in about 50 percent of the total cases, while attorneys provided representation in about 13 percent of the cases. (Many of the remaining cases involved one or more of the parties not showing in court.)

Yet most landlords in the eviction process are represented by attorneys.

Have you received an eviction notice and are unsure whether it follows the requirements of the Rent Ordinance for the city where you live? You should consider talking to an experienced tenant attorney who can help you with your issues.

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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