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.

crackedwindow.jpgI recently moved to San Francisco and I’ve been apartment hunting. I saw a studio near Dolores Park that’s reasonably priced. It is one of 3 units in a pretty old looking building. However, a large window in the unit faces the street, and it has a big crack in it.

I asked the landlord if he would replace the glass at some point and he says he cannot do that because it’s so old, he would have to replace the entire window. He said he would just leave it as-is. There is also a hole in the drywall at the corner of the room and he has no plans to fix that either. Is there some sort of rule/regulation that says the landlord has to keep his unit in reasonable condition? Is a cracked window reasonable?

The San Francisco Housing Code and and California Civil Code ??1941.1 and other statutes define a landlord’s duty to provide a habitable or tenantable premises. In this case, both the cracked window and the hole in the drywall are likely violations and could be cited by a housing inspector from the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI).

The cracked window could leak and/or let in the cold air in the winter (or summer in San Francisco) and the hole in the wall could be an entry/exit for vermin.

Maybe you don’t understand how the free market works. Landlords are given an opportunity to increase the rents to market rate after rent controlled tenants vacate. To remain competitive in a free market, they will, naturally, fix issues like the ones you describe. Right?

Like many tenants searching for housing in San Francisco, you’re facing a common conundrum. Do you rent the unit, despite it’s relatively minor problems, or do you point them out to your prospective landlord and risk losing an opportunity to rent a reasonably priced apartment?

In this case (this is not a legal opinion) I would likely opt to rent the unit if I thought it would work for me despite the small habitability issues. That what I did when I rented the apartment in which I currently reside. I have some drapes for the cracked windows. I don’t have any holes, but I could fix them myself.

If you do rent the apartment, you should take photos of the cracked window, the hole and anything else, like wood floors that need refinishing, cracks in the walls, peeling paint, etc., to document the condition of the unit at move-in. For example, you will need to to prove that the window was cracked before you moved in when the landlord withholds your security deposit, claiming that you cracked it.

If the conditions get worse or begin to bother you, ask the landlord to fix them (in writing). If he refuses, call DBI to get a housing inspector out to violate the unit.

If the breaches constitute substantial decreases in service you can petition the San Francisco Rent Board for a decrease in yur rent.

You may want to join and consult the San Francisco Tenants Union if you decide to file a petition at the Rent Board. They can help you determine the values for you decreases in services.

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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  • fishfry

    I must say that as a longtime renter of many different apartments and houses over the years, I disagree that the prospective renter should document, take pics, cover it with drapes, etc.

    Rather, the prospective renter should run like hell the other way. Just say no.

    The idea isn’t to cite this or that paragraph of the state law and prove that you are right and the landlord is wrong. The idea is to choose a landlord that won’t send you running to the lawbooks to deal with them.

    In short, choosing the landlord is as important — way more important, in fact — than choosing the property. A landlord who is letting the place fall apart is simply not someone you want to be doing business with.

    That’s my tip for the day. Choose the landlord as well as the property. Take a great landlord with an average property over a bad landlord with an attractive property. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

    Remember by the time you have to go looking up rental statutes, you’ve already lost. And if you’re doing this before you even move in … believe me this will only get worse.

    My two cents.

  • fishfry

    I must say that as a longtime renter of many different apartments and houses over the years, I disagree that the prospective renter should document, take pics, cover it with drapes, etc.

    Rather, the prospective renter should run like hell the other way. Just say no.

    The idea isn’t to cite this or that paragraph of the state law and prove that you are right and the landlord is wrong. The idea is to choose a landlord that won’t send you running to the lawbooks to deal with them.

    In short, choosing the landlord is as important — way more important, in fact — than choosing the property. A landlord who is letting the place fall apart is simply not someone you want to be doing business with.

    That’s my tip for the day. Choose the landlord as well as the property. Take a great landlord with an average property over a bad landlord with an attractive property. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

    Remember by the time you have to go looking up rental statutes, you’ve already lost. And if you’re doing this before you even move in … believe me this will only get worse.

    My two cents.

  • Josh

    Go for it, take the place. Doesn’t matter if the landlord doesn’t have ‘plans’ to fix it; they’re legally required to. D.B.I. will order the repairs be made. Dave is right; document the initial move in conditions, so you can’t be held responsible for them; because they’re not normal wear and tear, it could be taken out of your deposit, unless you itemize that this was the condition in which you rented it.

    Just because you rent something in disrepair, doesn’t mean you’ve agreed to live with that disrepair; the city has rules about basic upkeep. Once in, the landlord can’t move you out based on these complaints. The Tenant’s Union can fill you in, but basically, there are very few things the landlord can legally kick you out for, and making a complaint actually protects you from landlord retaliation for quite some time. You’ll be under rent control if the place was built before the late 1970’s, so the landlord won’t be able to raise your rent beyond a tiny percentage, any way.

    Dave: Pay for, or get your landlord to repair the window; drapes don’t cut it. Report the problem, so that you can’t be held accountable for damages which occur because of the leak, and then, well, you know what to do.

  • Josh

    Go for it, take the place. Doesn’t matter if the landlord doesn’t have ‘plans’ to fix it; they’re legally required to. D.B.I. will order the repairs be made. Dave is right; document the initial move in conditions, so you can’t be held responsible for them; because they’re not normal wear and tear, it could be taken out of your deposit, unless you itemize that this was the condition in which you rented it.

    Just because you rent something in disrepair, doesn’t mean you’ve agreed to live with that disrepair; the city has rules about basic upkeep. Once in, the landlord can’t move you out based on these complaints. The Tenant’s Union can fill you in, but basically, there are very few things the landlord can legally kick you out for, and making a complaint actually protects you from landlord retaliation for quite some time. You’ll be under rent control if the place was built before the late 1970’s, so the landlord won’t be able to raise your rent beyond a tiny percentage, any way.

    Dave: Pay for, or get your landlord to repair the window; drapes don’t cut it. Report the problem, so that you can’t be held accountable for damages which occur because of the leak, and then, well, you know what to do.

  • Josh

    Go for it, take the place. Doesn’t matter if the landlord doesn’t have ‘plans’ to fix it; they’re legally required to. D.B.I. will order the repairs be made. Dave is right; document the initial move in conditions, so you can’t be held responsible for them; because they’re not normal wear and tear, it could be taken out of your deposit, unless you itemize that this was the condition in which you rented it.

    Just because you rent something in disrepair, doesn’t mean you’ve agreed to live with that disrepair; the city has rules about basic upkeep. Once in, the landlord can’t move you out based on these complaints. The Tenant’s Union can fill you in, but basically, there are very few things the landlord can legally kick you out for, and making a complaint actually protects you from landlord retaliation for quite some time. You’ll be under rent control if the place was built before the late 1970’s, so the landlord won’t be able to raise your rent beyond a tiny percentage, any way.

    Dave: Pay for, or get your landlord to repair the window; drapes don’t cut it. Report the problem, so that you can’t be held accountable for damages which occur because of the leak, and then, well, you know what to do.

  • Josh

    Go for it, take the place. Doesn’t matter if the landlord doesn’t have ‘plans’ to fix it; they’re legally required to. D.B.I. will order the repairs be made. Dave is right; document the initial move in conditions, so you can’t be held responsible for them; because they’re not normal wear and tear, it could be taken out of your deposit, unless you itemize that this was the condition in which you rented it.

    Just because you rent something in disrepair, doesn’t mean you’ve agreed to live with that disrepair; the city has rules about basic upkeep. Once in, the landlord can’t move you out based on these complaints. The Tenant’s Union can fill you in, but basically, there are very few things the landlord can legally kick you out for, and making a complaint actually protects you from landlord retaliation for quite some time. You’ll be under rent control if the place was built before the late 1970’s, so the landlord won’t be able to raise your rent beyond a tiny percentage, any way.

    Dave: Pay for, or get your landlord to repair the window; drapes don’t cut it. Report the problem, so that you can’t be held accountable for damages which occur because of the leak, and then, well, you know what to do.

  • In my own opinion, if i have the money or not i will not rent an apartment that is not in good shape. You are just investing your money in a bad deal and i mean, how can you rest comfortably if your getting a bad apartment? So, for me it’s really not good to settle for less, you have to settle for those you can afford but, will give you comfort. 🙂 -http://www.stonehavensouthapts.com/

  • In my own opinion, if i have the money or not i will not rent an apartment that is not in good shape. You are just investing your money in a bad deal and i mean, how can you rest comfortably if your getting a bad apartment? So, for me it’s really not good to settle for less, you have to settle for those you can afford but, will give you comfort. 🙂 -http://www.stonehavensouthapts.com/