When I am asked what type of work I do, my response is always the same: “I help Bay Area tenants forced out of rent-controlled apartments get back on their feet.” This describes an ideal client for us. I am often asked whether our focus is an unlawful detainer (eviction) defense. The short answer is no. An unlawful detainer is a special type of lawsuit where the landlord is always the plaintiff, the tenant is always the defendant, and the only legal issue for the court to decide is who has the right to possession of a rental unit. A tenant cannot counter-sue in an unlawful detainer lawsuit.
While we do represent tenants in unlawful detainer lawsuits, this is not the primary focus of our practice. We often refer San Francisco tenants fighting unlawful detainer lawsuits to eviction defense organizations, such as the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) where I am a volunteer member of the Board of Directors. The EDC offers legal assistance to San Francisco tenants in legal proceedings for eviction. A fellow San Francisco tenant rights attorney and EDC Board member used an excellent analogy to describe the work of tenant attorneys versus the work of the EDC: the EDC is the shield to protect tenants; tenant attorneys are the sword. In other words, the EDC focuses on protecting tenants in the process of being evicted; we and other tenant attorneys focus on filing suits against landlord either during or (more often) after a tenant has been displaced. In unlawful detainer cases, tenants are always defendants; in the cases brought by us, tenants are always the plaintiffs.
Of the various types of lawsuits Toscano Law Group, PC brings against landlords, the most common is a suit for wrongful eviction. In a wrongful eviction lawsuit, the tenant who lives in a “just cause for eviction” jurisdiction has been evicted without just cause. San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley are all just caused jurisdictions. In these particular jurisdictions, unlike most other cities and counties in the State of California, a landlord may only evict a tenant for a just cause. In San Francisco, just causes include seven fault-based causes and nine no fault-based causes.
Fault-based just causes include:
(1) failing to pay rent or habitually making late rent payments;
(2) violating a covenant of the lease and failing to cure after receiving written notice;
(3) committing or permitting to exist a nuisance in, or causing substantial damage to, the rental unit, or creating a substantial interference with the comfort, safety or enjoyment of the landlord or tenants in the building, the activities are severe, continuing, and the nature of such nuisance is specifically stated by the landlord in the writing;
(4) using or permitting a rental unit to be used for any illegal purpose (other than short-term rentals cured within thirty days after notice by the landlord);
(5) refusing to enter a written lease extension for a similar term and under terms materially the same as the lease after an oral or written agreement with the landlord has terminated and after the landlord has provided a written request or demand;
(6) after written notice to cease, refusing the landlord access to the rental unit as required by law; and
(7) holding at the end of the term of the oral or written agreement if the tenant is a subtenant not approved by the landlord.
No fault-based just causes include:
(1) owner move-ins;
(2) sale of the unit in accordance with a condominium conversion and without ulterior reasons and with honest intent;
(3) demolishing or otherwise permanently removing the rental unit from housing use;
(4) temporary capital improvements or rehabilitation;
(5) substantial rehabilitation;
(6) withdrawal from rent or lease all rental units within any detached physical structure;
(7) lead remediation or abatement work;
(8) demolishing or to otherwise permanently removing the rental unit from housing use in accordance with the terms of a development agreement; and
(9) expiration of the Rent Ordinance’s tenant’s Good Samaritan Status.
There are a few circumstances that occur quite often but are NOT just causes for eviction under the Rent Ordinance. Those situations include: failing to make needed repairs and allowing the rental unit to fall into disrepair so that the tenants have no choice but to move out; threatening a tenant with an owner move-in eviction without serving the proper legal papers (60-day notice) and paying relocation expenses; threatening a tenant with physical harm if the tenant does not agree to move out; and serving the tenant with a notice of termination of tenancy that does not include any just cause if the unit falls under the Rent Ordinance’s protections (i.e., generally, built before June of 1979). If your landlord has attempted to use any of these circumstances as a basis for eviction, you may have legal recourse under the relevant Rent Ordinances. Many tenant attorneys, including Tenant Law Group, offer consultations to assess your case and determine whether legal action is appropriate. If you believe you’ve been the victim of wrongful eviction, know your rights and do not hesitate in seeking help.