buzzer.jpgI understand that The California Code of Regulations stipulates that a building of 16 units or more is supposed to have a Resident Manager who shall “have charge of the apartment building.” It looks like certain landlords enjoy making sport of circumventing the clear spirit of this regulation (which certainly could benefit from being more specific) by making the defined duties of their Resident Manager non-existent.

I live in a 30-some-unit former Citiapartments building on Nob Hill, which is now in receivership.The interim property management (we’ve redacted the company’s name) company has installed a company employee in the unit that has always been the Manager’s Apartment. We received a paper notice announcing this person’s arrival as our “Resident Manager.”

However, the phone number the notice provides is answered, during their regular business hours, by the “Guest Services” desk of the property management company’s short-term rental operation. I’m not at all sure these humans are aware of the existence of actual tenants here, as opposed to short-term “guests,” and I believe not one of them has ever or will ever set foot on the premises.

So, when the police arrive at 2 in the morning and want to get in, they wake the first tenant listed on the directory. Likewise when a “guest” arrives after hours. Or the cable guy, exterminator, emergency plumber, or elevator repair team. I often find these kinds of folks standing helpless at the door or randomly dialing on the entry box, as do my neighbors.

The property management company can and does send repair people here, but they don’t buzz them in and show them where the problem is or give them access to it (e.g. the boiler room is locked). Sometimes these folks are given the entry code to buzz themselves in, which creates a whole other security issue, with all kinds of people having the run of the building.

Just this week, there was no heat for almost a week and there was never a notice posted or distributed about it. The phone answerers either had no idea what was going on or were providing nonsensical and/or contradictory information, and that only if you called and pushed for it. When the elevator goes out (not an infrequent event, given its age) there are no repair status reports posted or, more importantly, distributed directly to the disabled, so no way for disabled tenants to work around the outage or even know enough about what’s happening to ask for assistance to survive it.

When I needed repairs in my unit, the property management company told me to leave my door unlocked because they aren’t here to let the folks in and out of my apartment.

They also can’t, from their offices, supervise any repair work or the people doing it. So one comes home to complete messes, incomplete or incorrect repairs, and, in once recent case, a creepy note from a young workman affixed to a female tenant’s fridge.

We have reported the it’s-just-pretend Resident Manager situation to the Department of Building Inspection but when they investigate the complaint, the powers that be at the property management company points to this faux Resident Manager and the BI throws up his or her hands helplessly. The people who answer the phone at the property management company don’t even bother to pretend that this person living in the building has anything resembling “charge over the premises” when we call now. So the message to the regular tenants on this issue, seems to be “Suck on This.”

But must we? I’ve Googled up at least a couple of cases* in which the Rent Board granted “decrease in services” petitions to renters who reported the absence of a Resident Manager. Truly we would rather have the real thing than a bit of extra cash, but we’ll take what we can get.

Is there another or better way to persuade the property management company to comply with the spirit as well as the letter of California Code of Regulations, Title 25, Article 5, Section 42, Page 105? Or, if indeed the reg is too vague to be enforced in cases like ours, any chance there’s a campaign afoot to give it some real teeth?

Lately there has been a lot of discussion about vacation rentals and their impact upon rent control and affordable apartment inventory. New York and Paris have recently cracked down on vacation rentals and pied-à-terres.

You’d think that your property management company’s website alone would be prima facia evidence that the property management company has offered units for tourist or transient use, a blatant violation of San Francisco Municipal Code §41A.5.

Notice that that the Director of the Department of Building Inspection is responsible for the enforcement of Section 41A.5. You and your fellow tenants should write letters describing your property management company’s illegal practices to:

Ms. Vivian L. Day, Director
San Francisco Department of Building Inspection
1660 Mission Street, 6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 9410

Copy your letters to:

Mr. Dennis Herrera
City Attorney
City Hall, Room 234
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102-4682

Ms. Kamala Harris, District Attorney
850 Bryant Street, Room 322
San Francisco, CA 94103

This will still be a tough case to prove. Why? Because your property management company will maintain that they would be happy to continue to rent “suites” to tenants even as rent controlled tenancies. What do they care if they have a long-term tenant paying $14,000.00 (or whatever) per month?

That’s why you may perceive some reticence to investigate and prosecute from the officials charged with that duty. Although the potential benefit in tax revenue to our cash strapped city should be motivation galore. (Yes, Laramar, Golden Gateway and others who rent “executive suites” should be paying the hotel tax!) But before I begin to castigate our public servants, let’s see what happens.

Write another version of the letter to the building’s receiver emphasizing the lack of the resident manager and the habitability issues. If the receiver has been appointed by the court they have a duty to protect assets, one of which is to avoid being sued.

You should also begin to document all of your complaints in writing. In other words, send letters to the “resident manager” directly, so that you can ask him or her questions like, “Did you receive our complaint?” “What did you do about it?” “Isn’t it your job as the resident manager to respond to tenant complaints?” “Answer the door for the police and workmen?” and “Just what do you do?” in the hearing for your decrease in services petition at the Rent Board.

Report the violations of the warranty of habitability to a Housing Inspector at the DBI. Notices of violation are also good evidence for decrease in services.

Refuse to buzz anyone in who isn’t coming to visit you. Let the “guests” do that. It will make them feel neighbors, members of the building community.

Finally, the Code of Regulations is clear that buildings with over 16 units must have a resident manager, janitor, housekeeper or other responsible person, but it doesn’t provide a penalty for a violation. A housing law written without a remedy is the legislature’s version of “Suck on this!”

the author

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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  • Josh

    Hi Dave,

    I’m also in a building with a manger who is mainly out to lunch. He does answer his phone however. There are a lot of small neglect issues, and a couple of things which are outright illegal going on, but I’d rather wait a bit before taking them to the rent board/lawsuit level.
    What I would like to do, is right to the court/the bank/the receiver. Do you know where I might find this information?

    I don’t know if it’s the same company as the person above, but I do know that my management company has received a lot of the CitiApartment buildings.

  • Josh

    Hi Dave,

    I’m also in a building with a manger who is mainly out to lunch. He does answer his phone however. There are a lot of small neglect issues, and a couple of things which are outright illegal going on, but I’d rather wait a bit before taking them to the rent board/lawsuit level.
    What I would like to do, is right to the court/the bank/the receiver. Do you know where I might find this information?

    I don’t know if it’s the same company as the person above, but I do know that my management company has received a lot of the CitiApartment buildings.

  • Dave Crow

    Josh,

    You should be able to check the records of the property by going to the Assessor/Recorder’s office at City Hall. I don’t think you can get the receiver’s name online. You won’t need to write to the court and I doubt that the bank will do much. Banks are often difficult to contact and even when you can find the right person they disregard everything tenants have to tell them.

    I also neglected to mention that tenants in this predicament should write to their San Francisco Supervisor as well.

    Dave

  • Dave Crow

    Josh,

    You should be able to check the records of the property by going to the Assessor/Recorder’s office at City Hall. I don’t think you can get the receiver’s name online. You won’t need to write to the court and I doubt that the bank will do much. Banks are often difficult to contact and even when you can find the right person they disregard everything tenants have to tell them.

    I also neglected to mention that tenants in this predicament should write to their San Francisco Supervisor as well.

    Dave

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Dave.
    This is all good advice which my neighbors and I are beginning to act on. Meanwhile, what do you make of what we were told today about our pretend Resident Manager situation? This is in response to events of a few days ago that involved smoking elevator parts, the fire department, people not being able to get out of an elevator that kept bouncing up and down to different floors without coming to a complete stop, and ongoing elevator issues following late night emergency repairs.
    During all of this, the pretend manager refused to come out of his apartment and no one else from the management company was ever onsite, even though we spoke to the Remote Guest Services phone answerer many times…
    I quote verbatim from an email we just received from the Director with responsibility for our building:

    “ON SITE MANAGER: This position is required by the City to assure that if in the event of an Emergency, there is a representative of the Owner on site. This person that is the On Site Manager throughout the City, is not required to be on site 24/7 therefore, to make sure our Residents receive the response they need, we have found that the 24/7 Guest Services that we provide offers the best service. The City of San Francisco requires that someone on behalf of the owner responds and we have discussed this with the Inspectors and they are comfortable with the system we have in place.”

    Do you think she’s telling the truth that the City is perfectly OK with her special arrangement?
    Thanks

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Dave.
    This is all good advice which my neighbors and I are beginning to act on. Meanwhile, what do you make of what we were told today about our pretend Resident Manager situation? This is in response to events of a few days ago that involved smoking elevator parts, the fire department, people not being able to get out of an elevator that kept bouncing up and down to different floors without coming to a complete stop, and ongoing elevator issues following late night emergency repairs.
    During all of this, the pretend manager refused to come out of his apartment and no one else from the management company was ever onsite, even though we spoke to the Remote Guest Services phone answerer many times…
    I quote verbatim from an email we just received from the Director with responsibility for our building:

    “ON SITE MANAGER: This position is required by the City to assure that if in the event of an Emergency, there is a representative of the Owner on site. This person that is the On Site Manager throughout the City, is not required to be on site 24/7 therefore, to make sure our Residents receive the response they need, we have found that the 24/7 Guest Services that we provide offers the best service. The City of San Francisco requires that someone on behalf of the owner responds and we have discussed this with the Inspectors and they are comfortable with the system we have in place.”

    Do you think she’s telling the truth that the City is perfectly OK with her special arrangement?
    Thanks

  • Dave Crow

    The quote from the email is already erroneous. A resident manager is required by state law as you pointed out in your question.

    If, indeed, the inspectors are comfortable with the system they have in place, you want to see that in writing. If you get it writing, present that to your supervisor, who might be inclined to make them less comfortable. Keep up your letter writing campaign.

  • Dave Crow

    The quote from the email is already erroneous. A resident manager is required by state law as you pointed out in your question.

    If, indeed, the inspectors are comfortable with the system they have in place, you want to see that in writing. If you get it writing, present that to your supervisor, who might be inclined to make them less comfortable. Keep up your letter writing campaign.

  • Hannah955

    Our property manager doesn’t even PRETEND that we have a resident manager anymore since the previous one moved out.

    Here’s an interesting article by a landlord about this very subject:

    http://www.sfaa.org/0706wilson1.html

    Very interesting that the Rent Board would allow for a reduction in rent due to a reduction in services. But then, the property manager could just do what yours did – install someone in name only.

  • Hannah955

    Our property manager doesn’t even PRETEND that we have a resident manager anymore since the previous one moved out.

    Here’s an interesting article by a landlord about this very subject:

    http://www.sfaa.org/0706wilson1.html

    Very interesting that the Rent Board would allow for a reduction in rent due to a reduction in services. But then, the property manager could just do what yours did – install someone in name only.