unwelcome guest.jpg

Dave’s here to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com, here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

My wife and I recently purchased a 2 unit building as a future home; inheriting the present tenants. The top unit is rented to an individual; in the bottom, three bedroom unit, the rooms were rented out individually as a boarding-house with 2 bedrooms tenant occupied.

Our plan is to move into either unit when they become vacated (we’re in a comfortable rental now, with no rush). However, I have a job where I work from home and the third bedroom in the bottom unit would make an ideal home office. Beside keeping good relations with the current tenants, which we have been careful to maintain; is there anything in the ordinances that would keep this from being allowed?

I’m writing to you, because I think the explanation would clarify matters for tenants in the opposite situation.

Your question underscores an argument implicit in everything I write about landlords and tenants, “They don’t call ’em landlords for nothing.” Unfortunately our culture cedes inordinate power to people who, at the very least, don’t understand how to wield it.

Owning property changes people; and never for the better. Before you became a landlord, would you have imagined that you would be referring to people as property like some modern-day plantation owner? That’s what you did when you said you “inherited” your tenants. While your motives may be honorable, I gotta tell you, you lost me after the first sentence.

Most tenants understand, at least vaguely, that they have the right of exclusive possession of a leased premises. Even unsophisticated tenants figure that a landlord shouldn’t be bothering them if they pay the rent on time. Yet tenants also understand that the power balance with their landlord is so disproportionate that they will go to extreme lengths to avoid pissing him off.

Your vision is so clouded that you fail to consider the impact on the tenants if you came to them with your proposal to, essentially, move into the third bedroom. You may not understand this, but there aren’t many tenants who want to live in the same apartment as the landlord. Let’s face it, even Anna Madrigal had her own unit. So your tenants will resent you, but they may give in because they’re afraid you’ll try to evict them.

While you might not understand this, your motives are suspect. I’ve seen other landlords try to pull this off because they understand that a unit could be exempted from the rent control ordinance if the tenants live in the same unit as the landlord. (See Rent Ordinance §37.9(b).) One could also assume that this is an elaborate ploy to avoid paying statutory relocation payments. Let’s face it, you look like you’re trying to cheap out, rather than just renting an office somewhere else.

The law is not on your side either. You cannot force your tenants to let you maintain an office in the third bedroom. As you may have read in last week’s column, a landlord must evict all of the tenants in a unit to gain possession of any part of that unit.

Similarly the Rent Ordinance §37.9(a)(8)(i), OMI (owner move-in) eviction provision, provides that a landlord may evict a tenant, “For the landlords use or occupancy as his or her principal residence for a period of at least 36 continuous months.”

So let me tell you what I would advise the tenants if they came to me about your proposal to use the third bedroom as an office. I would advise them that they don’t have to agree with the deal. I would also advise them to determine what the total rent for the premises is with three bedrooms occupied. I would suggest they request to legally add a new roommate and create a tenancy of roommates as opposed to a boarding house.

Certainly there are risks involved in that course of action. If one roommate cannot pay the rent on given month, he could jeopardize the entire tenancy. The other roommates would be responsible for making up the difference. But I believe the advantages outweigh the the disadvantages. One of the advantages is a potentially more harmonious home life in which the possessory interest conforms to the law.

If the tenants were okay with you using the bedroom as an office, I would suggest that they make you a subtenant under a written agreement that required you to pay rent to them.

You have stepped into the shoes of a lord. Contrary to the bullshit one sees on TV, commoners do not love their lords. They put up with them because they have to. In this case, your tenants do not have to honor your request.

Image: The Unwelcome Guest, JA Pasquier, 1872

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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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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  • laurie

    “Inherit” does not refer solely to property: you can inherit powers, problems, situations, genetic traits, etc. Before offering such a harsh characterization of the letter-writer — who appears to me to just be asking an objective legal question — perhaps you could have checked a dictionary.

  • laurie

    “Inherit” does not refer solely to property: you can inherit powers, problems, situations, genetic traits, etc. Before offering such a harsh characterization of the letter-writer — who appears to me to just be asking an objective legal question — perhaps you could have checked a dictionary.

  • laurie

    One other thing. Why does this column carry the label “news” at the top? This is most certainly not news. If this “newspaper” wants to attain any credibility at all, it needs to try to establish at least some *basic* journalistic standards and clearly separate opinion from news. Sheesh.

  • laurie

    One other thing. Why does this column carry the label “news” at the top? This is most certainly not news. If this “newspaper” wants to attain any credibility at all, it needs to try to establish at least some *basic* journalistic standards and clearly separate opinion from news. Sheesh.

  • Greg Dewar

    If we’re going to get sticky with labels, I’d suggest “news feature” since this is a column, not day to day news reporting. However, tone down the faux-outrage. The writer is an expert attorney in the specific field of tenant’s rights and responsibilities, and did so based on his point of view as said expert who has made it clear he is NOT AN ATTORNEY FOR LANDLORDS OMG SRSLY! This guy knows his stuff FOR TENANTS and the writer of the letter had to know that before he submitted his question (also: stupid idea).

    If you want to attain any credibility, “laurie” try looking at your own biases and prejudices first, then pop off. Or guess what – go read some pro landlord stuff and relax in the knowledge you don’t have to read anything that runs counter to your point of view. Your blood pressure will go down, and you’ll sleep happily. Sheesh, indeed.

  • Greg Dewar

    If we’re going to get sticky with labels, I’d suggest “news feature” since this is a column, not day to day news reporting. However, tone down the faux-outrage. The writer is an expert attorney in the specific field of tenant’s rights and responsibilities, and did so based on his point of view as said expert who has made it clear he is NOT AN ATTORNEY FOR LANDLORDS OMG SRSLY! This guy knows his stuff FOR TENANTS and the writer of the letter had to know that before he submitted his question (also: stupid idea).

    If you want to attain any credibility, “laurie” try looking at your own biases and prejudices first, then pop off. Or guess what – go read some pro landlord stuff and relax in the knowledge you don’t have to read anything that runs counter to your point of view. Your blood pressure will go down, and you’ll sleep happily. Sheesh, indeed.

  • Brock Keeling

    How rude is that?!

  • Brock Keeling

    How rude is that?!

  • Eve Batey

    Thanks for your feedback, Laurie.

    If you pick up most print newspapers, or open up most online ones, you’ll see columnists expressing their opinions right alongside news articles, in the “news” sections!

    Some great examples of this are the Chronicle’s CW Nevius or The Bay Citizen’s Elizabeth Lesley Stevens (her opinions are also right there in a news section of the print and online New York Times). I could go on and on, but you get my drift.

    And, no disrespect to either of those publications, but we are even more explicit then they are, as we clearly state at the bottom of every single one of Dave’s columns “the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author.”

    Neither the Chron nor the BC or NYT spell things quite as clearly as that. Not that they should — it seems pretty clear that they are, indeed, columnists, as clear as it it that Dave is.

    So, when you say “If this ‘newspaper’ wants to attain any credibility at all, it needs to try to establish at least some *basic* journalistic standards and clearly separate opinion from news,” I guess I would respond that (in this case), we are doing as well as those other incredible publications.

    Thank you again, as always, for your interesting comments on the Appeal.

  • Eve Batey

    Thanks for your feedback, Laurie.

    If you pick up most print newspapers, or open up most online ones, you’ll see columnists expressing their opinions right alongside news articles, in the “news” sections!

    Some great examples of this are the Chronicle’s CW Nevius or The Bay Citizen’s Elizabeth Lesley Stevens (her opinions are also right there in a news section of the print and online New York Times). I could go on and on, but you get my drift.

    And, no disrespect to either of those publications, but we are even more explicit then they are, as we clearly state at the bottom of every single one of Dave’s columns “the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author.”

    Neither the Chron nor the BC or NYT spell things quite as clearly as that. Not that they should — it seems pretty clear that they are, indeed, columnists, as clear as it it that Dave is.

    So, when you say “If this ‘newspaper’ wants to attain any credibility at all, it needs to try to establish at least some *basic* journalistic standards and clearly separate opinion from news,” I guess I would respond that (in this case), we are doing as well as those other incredible publications.

    Thank you again, as always, for your interesting comments on the Appeal.

  • laurie

    Greg,

    My outrage was hardly “faux.” The idea that “owning property changes people; never for the better” is so extremist and bigoted, I almost don’t know where to begin to express the outrage I feel about it. (And I say this as a TENANT, not a property owner.) This intellectually rigorous assertion is then followed by “while you might not understand this, your motives are suspect,” “your vision is clouded,” etc.

    Obviously it’s clear that the author’s a tenants’ rights lawyer — but he seems to be claiming to be a mind-reader as well.

    Laurie

  • laurie

    Greg,

    My outrage was hardly “faux.” The idea that “owning property changes people; never for the better” is so extremist and bigoted, I almost don’t know where to begin to express the outrage I feel about it. (And I say this as a TENANT, not a property owner.) This intellectually rigorous assertion is then followed by “while you might not understand this, your motives are suspect,” “your vision is clouded,” etc.

    Obviously it’s clear that the author’s a tenants’ rights lawyer — but he seems to be claiming to be a mind-reader as well.

    Laurie

  • laurie

    Eve,

    Of course I regularly “pick up newspapers” and read the ones you cite online regularly. I’ve never seen a column by Krugman, Friedman, etc with a “news” label at the top. In fact, if you click on over to nytimes.com, you’ll see that the columnists offerings are clearly segregated into a section called “Opinion.” Right on the front page, the Opinion section is called out, with the columns listed underneath. On SFGate.com, I’ve never seen Nevius called out with anything other than his name (that’s how the column’s promoted on the home page there).

    The issue isn’t so much location, though, but the explicit “news” label that you put at the top of the article, and even as an added graphic on top of the image when the article was on the home page. Of course opinion can reside in the news section of apublication without confusion, but not if it’s labeled as news.

    Laurie

  • laurie

    Eve,

    Of course I regularly “pick up newspapers” and read the ones you cite online regularly. I’ve never seen a column by Krugman, Friedman, etc with a “news” label at the top. In fact, if you click on over to nytimes.com, you’ll see that the columnists offerings are clearly segregated into a section called “Opinion.” Right on the front page, the Opinion section is called out, with the columns listed underneath. On SFGate.com, I’ve never seen Nevius called out with anything other than his name (that’s how the column’s promoted on the home page there).

    The issue isn’t so much location, though, but the explicit “news” label that you put at the top of the article, and even as an added graphic on top of the image when the article was on the home page. Of course opinion can reside in the news section of apublication without confusion, but not if it’s labeled as news.

    Laurie

  • Eve Batey

    Thank you, Laurie! I am quite appreciative of your helpful feedback, which I am sure is only intended to help the Appeal gain the credibility you mention.

    We shall certainly take your concerns on how confusing this site’s headings can be under advisement.

  • Eve Batey

    Thank you, Laurie! I am quite appreciative of your helpful feedback, which I am sure is only intended to help the Appeal gain the credibility you mention.

    We shall certainly take your concerns on how confusing this site’s headings can be under advisement.

  • laurie

    Eve, you are quite right, that is the spirit in which the feedback is intended. I have been watching the Appeal with interest — we need an independent online newspaper here in SF, and I think there’s a wonderful opportunity at hand for you and the rest of the team. Your publication is a great idea. Thanks very much for your response.

  • laurie

    Eve, you are quite right, that is the spirit in which the feedback is intended. I have been watching the Appeal with interest — we need an independent online newspaper here in SF, and I think there’s a wonderful opportunity at hand for you and the rest of the team. Your publication is a great idea. Thanks very much for your response.

  • sfbird

    I have no desire to insult this website (which I like very much) or even this column (ditto). But yeah, the statements by the author that all property owners are bad people (or at least all the ones with tenants) is kind of ridiculous. I’ve had bad experiences with landlords but then also had very good experiences. There isn’t anything about the economics of it, even in this city, that forces a landlord to be a dick.

    Also, comparing a statement about “inheriting” tenants to all the language of dehumanization and slavery is way over the top. I can’t really think of how to construct that sentence otherwise without getting into some kind of tortured “language of empowerment” phrasing. As in “We purchased a home within which several individual renters have been living, and will continue to live in the future….” Good grief. Who talks like that?

    That sort of blustery fake outrage can cut both directions. So if you say “my landlord” are you saying that they’re your property, that you own this person like your personal slave? Oh heavens, I’m offended!

  • sfbird

    I have no desire to insult this website (which I like very much) or even this column (ditto). But yeah, the statements by the author that all property owners are bad people (or at least all the ones with tenants) is kind of ridiculous. I’ve had bad experiences with landlords but then also had very good experiences. There isn’t anything about the economics of it, even in this city, that forces a landlord to be a dick.

    Also, comparing a statement about “inheriting” tenants to all the language of dehumanization and slavery is way over the top. I can’t really think of how to construct that sentence otherwise without getting into some kind of tortured “language of empowerment” phrasing. As in “We purchased a home within which several individual renters have been living, and will continue to live in the future….” Good grief. Who talks like that?

    That sort of blustery fake outrage can cut both directions. So if you say “my landlord” are you saying that they’re your property, that you own this person like your personal slave? Oh heavens, I’m offended!

  • LibertyHiller

    Late to the party, but I have my 2¢ to add:

    A landlord seeking advice from a lawyer who’s dedicated to the tenant’s cause may not be as foolish as some have said. It seems to me like the landlord wanted a worst-case analysis, and he got one, with spicy sauce.

    However, Dave came across as unnecessarily condescending; he could have dialed back the Proudhonism to 1 and still made his point. I suggest that his bio could be tweaked to make it clear that his practice is pro-tenant, and I encourage him to continue to take questions from either side. It will give him more material to work with, as well as serve the readers; some of us who are currently tenants intend to become landlords someday, and I for one want to be ethical about it.

    Eve, as long as I’m making suggestions, I agree with others that some of these regular columns don’t really belong in a section called “News”; I bet it would be fairly simple to implement an Op-Ed or “How to SF” section in Movable Type, or whatever you use these days as a CMS. Until then, keep up the good work.

    Memo to all: I suspect most of us would agree on this much: no matter what side of the landlord-tenant stick one holds, it kind of undermines one’s superiority to rudely criticize someone for being rude.

  • LibertyHiller

    Late to the party, but I have my 2¢ to add:

    A landlord seeking advice from a lawyer who’s dedicated to the tenant’s cause may not be as foolish as some have said. It seems to me like the landlord wanted a worst-case analysis, and he got one, with spicy sauce.

    However, Dave came across as unnecessarily condescending; he could have dialed back the Proudhonism to 1 and still made his point. I suggest that his bio could be tweaked to make it clear that his practice is pro-tenant, and I encourage him to continue to take questions from either side. It will give him more material to work with, as well as serve the readers; some of us who are currently tenants intend to become landlords someday, and I for one want to be ethical about it.

    Eve, as long as I’m making suggestions, I agree with others that some of these regular columns don’t really belong in a section called “News”; I bet it would be fairly simple to implement an Op-Ed or “How to SF” section in Movable Type, or whatever you use these days as a CMS. Until then, keep up the good work.

    Memo to all: I suspect most of us would agree on this much: no matter what side of the landlord-tenant stick one holds, it kind of undermines one’s superiority to rudely criticize someone for being rude.

  • J. Beaman

    What a self righteous prick. That’s my opinion.

  • J. Beaman

    What a self righteous prick. That’s my opinion.

  • Samuel

    ” I would advise them that they don’t have to agree with the deal. I would also advise them to determine what the total rent for the premises is with three bedrooms occupied. I would suggest they request to legally add a new roommate and create a tenancy of roommates as opposed to a boarding house.”

    Horrible advice! As a renter, the general rule is the less roommates the better, and the best roommates are the ones are who never there! Unnecessarily adding a new roommate just for the sake of preventing a landlord from getting partial possession is not good advice.

    Think about it, would you rather share an apt with a landlord who comes in when you leave for work and is gone by the time you return; or a roommate who is always there, in your face, hogging the bathroom, taking over the fridge, making a mess. Talking about making a bad situation worse! If I’m the tenant, I’d prefer the former to the later.

    I was in a similar situation as a renter, with a landlord who uses a bedroom as his office. So what? I never even see him, it’s like he wasn’t even there. The only time I ever noticed was when the landlord voluntarily fixes things (like the sink with dripping water) because he uses it too. It’s actually pretty nice when you think about it.

  • Samuel

    ” I would advise them that they don’t have to agree with the deal. I would also advise them to determine what the total rent for the premises is with three bedrooms occupied. I would suggest they request to legally add a new roommate and create a tenancy of roommates as opposed to a boarding house.”

    Horrible advice! As a renter, the general rule is the less roommates the better, and the best roommates are the ones are who never there! Unnecessarily adding a new roommate just for the sake of preventing a landlord from getting partial possession is not good advice.

    Think about it, would you rather share an apt with a landlord who comes in when you leave for work and is gone by the time you return; or a roommate who is always there, in your face, hogging the bathroom, taking over the fridge, making a mess. Talking about making a bad situation worse! If I’m the tenant, I’d prefer the former to the later.

    I was in a similar situation as a renter, with a landlord who uses a bedroom as his office. So what? I never even see him, it’s like he wasn’t even there. The only time I ever noticed was when the landlord voluntarily fixes things (like the sink with dripping water) because he uses it too. It’s actually pretty nice when you think about it.

  • CyclistDriver

    I, too, thought the sentence “Owning property changes people; and never for the better.” was out of line. My current landlord as well as my previous landlord (5 years and 3k miles away) are both great people. If they became worse after buying their respective properties, I really want to invent a time machine to meet them before! I even had a good relationship with the building manager of my apartment building before that.

    Oh wait. I’m part of the problem. See, my family like real estate. My (working class) parents have an investment property they had the gumption to rent out under market value. Shows you what I know. I have capitalist pig blood flowing through me.

  • CyclistDriver

    I, too, thought the sentence “Owning property changes people; and never for the better.” was out of line. My current landlord as well as my previous landlord (5 years and 3k miles away) are both great people. If they became worse after buying their respective properties, I really want to invent a time machine to meet them before! I even had a good relationship with the building manager of my apartment building before that.

    Oh wait. I’m part of the problem. See, my family like real estate. My (working class) parents have an investment property they had the gumption to rent out under market value. Shows you what I know. I have capitalist pig blood flowing through me.