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Eye on the Ball: Know Your Rights and Protect Yourself from Unjust Eviction

Welcome to Eye on the Ball’s four-part series on renters’ rights in San Francisco. This week, we’ll talk about what to do when your landlord says, “You gotta go!”
First, take a few deep breaths. You don’t have to leave just because your landlord tells you to. There are rules they have to follow and rights you have in this process.

The first thing that needs to happen in any eviction process is that the tenant needs to be provided an eviction notice, which must be in writing for it to matter in court. Being given an eviction notice is different from being evicted.
What the landlord is saying with this notice is that if you don’t leave within a specified amount of time, they will ask the court to evict you. It’s the court that also decides whether you stay or go, not just the landlord!
Here is your to-do list if you get an eviction notice:

  1. Act fast and get a tenants’ rights counselor or lawyer right away. Click here for a great list of resources. It’s important to be aware that the legal eviction process has a very specific timeline in which tenants must respond, sometimes in as few as 3 days, but usually longer.
  2. Keep records of everything, in case you should decide or need to go to court. Only documented facts and communications will count. Records of letters and e-mails are vital. Pictures may also be important, but nothing verbal will be useful.
  3. Don’t sign anything before talking to a counselor.

Every situation is different, which is why talking to a counselor is so important. The situation can change depending on the building you live in, or your own or your landlord’s circumstances. Whatever the case, you must equip yourself with information.
Check this list for numerous drop-in clinics, information hotlines and legal resources.
Note: If you have been given a “Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer,” you can bring your paperwork to the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) at 995 Market Street at 6th Street, 12th Floor, in San Francisco, between 9:00 and 11:00 am or 1:00 and 3:00 pm, Monday through Friday, for drop-in counseling (no phone counseling, unfortunately).


GLIDE Volunteer Coordinator Lauren Small and former Advocacy Intern Ashley Kelly at a protest for tenants’ rights last year.

If you are experiencing harassment, talk to a tenant counselor.

  • Your landlord cannot verbally or physically harass or threaten you, or call the police to try to force you to leave.
  • Your landlord cannot discriminate against you because of your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, immigration or citizenship status, religion, age, parenthood, marriage, pregnancy, disability, AIDS/HIV status or because you have a child.
  • Threats about your immigration status constitute harassment and are illegal under the rent ordinance.

Visit sfadc.org/ for a list of tenants’ rights groups in San Francisco.
Remember to keep a written record!

  • A written record can help you document harassment and protect yourself against claims from your landlord.
  • Save copies of letters you send to your landlord.
  • Save receipts.
  • Keep a log of what the landlord said or did to you, noting the place and date when each incident occurred. In the case of harassment, note any witnesses.

If the harassment persists, write a letter to the landlord detailing the offensive behavior. Include dates and times. You might consider a Decrease in Services Petition at the Rent Board (if you’re under rent control), a Small Claims Court action or consulting with an attorney about some other potential legal actions.
You have the right to file for a restraining order in Superior Court restricting when your landlord may contact you. Forms are available at the Superior Court Clerk at the Superior Courthouse on the corner of Polk and McAllister Streets.
Landlord Entry
Your landlord must give you 24 hours’ notice in writing to enter your unit, and they can only come in to:

  • Make necessary or agreed-upon repairs or services.
  • Show the unit to prospective tenants, buyers, mortgage holders, repair persons or contractors.
  • Inspect the unit at the request of the tenant for a security deposit refund.
  • When there is a court order authorizing entry by the landlord.

If a landlord illegally enters your home, you should write a letter demanding 24 hours’ notice for future entries, and stating that you want the illegal entries to stop. You can also demand that the landlord only schedule times to enter during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm). Realtors may enter on weekends to show the unit on a limited basis.
Utility Shut-Offs
Your landlord cannot shut off any of your utilities for the purpose of evicting or harassing you. If your utilities have been turned off, call the utility company and try to have them turned back on. If that doesn’t work, try the Public Utilities Commission at 415-703-1170. If it’s a water turnoff, call 415-551-4767 to get the bill put in your name.

  • Keep a list of all incidents, including the dates and the length of time that your service was turned off.
  • Inform your landlord in writing that you know your rights and that the utility cutoff is illegal. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.
  • If your landlord is not paying the utility bills, you can get them turned back on in your name.
  • Go to the SF Rent Board (25 Van Ness Ave.) and file a “decrease of services petition” for a potential rent reduction.

Your landlord cannot lock you out of your home. If you have been locked out:

  • Under Penal Code 418, your landlord is guilty of a misdemeanor and could be arrested.
  • You have a right to regain entry to the premises even if you must break in to your home. Keep proof of your tenancy with you at all times.
  • Keep a record of these incidents.
  • Write a letter to your landlord stating that you are aware of your rights and that you want the situation stopped without further harassment. Keep a copy.