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Small Claims, Baby Claims, Condo Conversions and Why Does My Landlord Hate Me?

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We tapped attorney Dave Crow to share rental laws that your landlord probably doesn't want you to know about. Mr. Crow's private legal practice has emphasized eviction defense, wrongful eviction and other landlord tenant and real property matters. He currently serves as a tenant commissioner on the San Francisco Rent Board.

To commemorate Renters Week at Curbed SF, here are five little-known laws and facts for San Francisco renters.

1. Ten grand ain't bad
As rents skyrocket in San Francisco, so do security deposits. Typically, a security deposit is equivalent to one month's rent. Many tenants are plunking down $3,000.00 or more just for a security deposit, not to mention first and last month's rent.

So what happens when your landlord unreasonably withholds your security deposit and you want to sue him for it plus the statutory damages equivalent to two times the amount of the deposit? Last year you could only collect $7,500.00 in a small claims lawsuit.

This year, however, due to a law passed in 2011, the small claims damage limit has been increased to $10,000.00, enough to punish a bad landlord who steals as much as $3,333.00. This new limit also can justify a small lawsuit for breach of the warranty of habitability or retaliation without the cost and hassle of going to Superior Court.

2. Double dippin' one-year-olds
You're a family of three with a baby who have all lived in an apartment for a year or more. The owner of your building wants to evict you to move in. As you may know, you are entitled to a relocation payment under Rent Ordinance §37.9C. How much do you get?

The law is clear that you, your partner and your child, if she has lived in the apartment for one year or more, are each entitled to $5,153.00. Your child is a tenant under the law.

You are also entitled to an additional $3,436.00 because you are a family with a minor child. This may be the last time you ever receive money because you have a child. Enjoy it!

3. Babies get to play hookie
Rent Ordinance §37.9(j) was recently enacted to extend the time that a family with minor children can stay in their apartment if they are served an owner move-in (OMI) eviction notice. If you are served with an OMI notice, you have a minor child and inform the landlord within 30 days of the service of the notice, you can extend the move-out date until the last day of the San Francisco Unified School District school year (May 31, 2013.) If the unit is a house or condo or if an owner also has minor children, the extension does not apply.

What if your child isn't in school? It doesn't make a difference. The law is clear that any family with a minor child is eligible for the time extension.

4. Oops, no condo conversion
Any landlord who evicts a senior citizen over 60 years of age a disabled tenant or a catastrophically ill pursuant to a no-fault eviction (OMI eviction, capital improvement eviction, removing a unit from the market or Ellis Act eviction) forever loses the right to convert the building in which the eviction has occurred to condominiums. (San Francisco Subdivision Code §1396.2)

5. You're the villain
If you're a rent-controlled tenant in San Francisco, your landlord hates you because you're not paying enough rent. He may hate you if you try to assert some of the rights discussed above. He also hates you because it's in his etymological DNA.

The word "tenant" comes from the French word tenir, "to hold." Many medieval tenants were "villains."

Villain. Vil"lain\, n. [OE. vilein, F. vilain, LL. villanus, from villa a village, L. villa a farm. See Villa.] 1. (Feudal Law) One who holds lands by a base, or servile, tenure, or in villenage; a feudal tenant of the lowest class, a bondman or servant. (Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 1913)
For landlords, tenants have been villains since feudal times. Now tenants are villains because they refuse to remain second-class citizens. As you work to expand your rights and your protections, your landlord will despise you, as all nobility has despised its peons, even as their peons enriched them. They don't call 'em landlords for nothing. You should also check out Dave Crow's weekly advice column Tenant Troubles over at the SF Appeal.
· Renting Laws Your Landlord Probably Doesn't Want You to Know [Curbed SF]
· Tenant Trouble archives [SF Appeal]
· Tenant Lawyer Profiles [Crow and Rose]