Board Report

Turn a New Lease

written by Eric R. Andresen

Take a look at what’s new in the 2021 SFAA Residential Tenancy Agreement.

Once again, Charley Goss—SFAA’s government affairs director—and I met with a volunteer panel of attorneys (remotely this year) to update the SFAA Residential Tenancy Agreement (RTA). It was a great group this year, and we managed to accomplish a serious overhaul of the RTA. As of this writing, the 2021 RTA has been sent to the printer and is being prepared for online use. The electronic and print versions of the agreement will be available the first week of February..

While we knew we’d make changes due to COVID-related restrictions, we also needed to prepare for the Unit Registration and Licensing Ordinance that we’ll have to comply with by mid-2022. We also recognize that evictions are becoming more restrictive, so the 2021 RTA reflects an updated approach to tenancy terminations.

COVID-19 Lease Updates
COVID-19 has accelerated what was already happening in San Francisco and the state: evictions, or, to use the modern term, forced housing displacements, are becoming a thing of the past. We need to let go of the fictional notion that a property owner will ever be allowed to forcibly displace residents from their housing over relatively minor things, like stating false information on a rental application or not covering 80% of the hardwood flooring.

This COVID nightmare could end tomorrow, but we need to recognize that the courts will likely never again entertain forced housing displacements for anything except severe nuisances, limited nonpayment of rent (after many chances to cure), and very restricted no-fault grounds. This is undoubtedly the new reality, and we need to modernize our attitudes. Terms like “evictions” should no longer be used, and we should not attempt to terminate a tenancy unless there is an absolute need to go down that rabbit hole. With that in mind, we have “toned down” the RTA by removing trigger words like eviction, electing instead to use phrases like recovering possession of the unit.

Unit Registration and Licensing Ordinance Updates
You will also find the new San Francisco Rent Registration Addendum attached to the RTA. A mandatory Rent Board form may supplant this form in the coming months, but for now, we can begin the process of obtaining required unit registration information that will be required in July 2022 and annually thereafter. The form tracks the Unit Registration and Licensing Ordinance in terms of what we’ll need to submit to the Rent Board each year for every rental. The form has also been created as an individual document for existing tenancies before the July 2022 deadline.

Other Updates
With the additional addendum and several additions to the RTA, three more pages were at first added to the lease document. Recognizing that it was already too big, we rearranged and reformatted sections to fit better. The result is that we were able to reduce the RTA’s overall length, but please be aware that some sections have moved around.

Going through the RTA from the beginning, the first substantial change is the addition of Paragraph 7 – Rent Board Fees. Recognizing that the Rent Board will likely have to substantially increase the annual fees to pay for staffing that the Unit Registration and Licensing Ordinance will require, we added this section to disclose our right to collect a portion of the fee from the tenants.

The next significant change is to the “Occupancy” paragraph, now Section 12. Prior RTAs had extensive language relating to guests, the number of guests, and how long they could stay per year. Due to several new rules established by the Board of Supervisors and the Rent Board, such restrictions have become a thing of the past, so we have removed the language entirely. We still have some legal rights in this regard, but they are no longer what they used to be, and the prior language is simply not enforceable.

We have updated language in the “Utilities and House Rules” sections relating to recycling, garbage, and boxes. Each year we have made improvements with the recommendations and support of Recology, our local scavenger company. We have strengthened the requirements that tenants must adhere to relating to recycling regulations and have made it even clearer that tenants are responsible for disposing of their large items such as boxes and other debris. We have also included our right to recover increased costs related to non-compliance with any of these requirements.

The “Maintenance and Repairs” paragraph, now Section 35, was given a complete overhaul. We have been adding to it for years, and it was time to review and update the section to meet current standards and to further clarify resident responsibilities, not only for upkeep but also for the expenses of repairs to damage tenants may cause. We have also added succinct language about who is allowed to do work, and clarified our rights relating to liens or other fines and penalties that may be assessed as a result of improvement work.

The “Satellite Dish” section has been updated with new language relating to allowable placement, liability, and owner protections. The “Noise and Behavior” section has been updated with new language to more appropriately establish the expectation that tenants resolve disputes amongst themselves and use neighborhood dispute services before filing any complaints against owners. Parking requirements have been updated to include more restrictions related to storage, and to use and blockage of doors, sidewalks, and fire escapes. We also worked with the San Francisco Fire Department to enhance existing language relating to fire egress, access for firefighters, and maintenance of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

In the past, we have been reticent to include any “attorney fees” language because these clauses attract tenant attorneys to assist bad tenants with unlawful detainer defenses and/or affirmative cases against owners. However, legal decisions have made it possible to require the limited reimbursement of fees for court actions filed by the owner for breach of contract and related causes of action, so a new paragraph, Section 54, has been added.

And finally, the “Termination” paragraph received a rewrite and update that further establishes the right to depend upon termination notices from tenants, and the ability to recover costs related to holding over. This paragraph also further establishes the process and expectations when a tenant terminates their tenancy.

As always, however, we do recommend that you continue to review your legal concerns with qualified local counsel.

Eric Andresen is a past President and continuing member of SFAA’s Board of Directors. He has been responsible for organizing the annual updates of the RTA for many, many years. Eric owns and operates West Coast Property Management and West Coast Property Maintenance companies.