Tenant Troubles: Do I Really Get A Lifetime Lease If My Apartment Becomes A Condo?

I live in San Francisco in a four unit rent-controlled building (currently a TIC). I’ve lived here for a couple of years (had a one year lease but have been month to month since then). My apartment building is being converted into condos due to the new bypass law. My landlord has announced his intent to sell when the conversion is complete. I know he has to offer to sell the apartment to me first. If I decline to buy it, I’ve read that he has to offer me a life-time lease. I don’t really understand what protection this would give me (if any), since I thought intent to sell was a just cause for eviction. What does this “life time lease” mean for me? If I can do nothing about eviction, does the landlord owe me any relocation costs? I have a good relationship with my landlord and don’t want to cause any strife, but I’d like to see what my protections are – if any!

Tenant Troubles Archives

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.

The new condominium lottery bypass law and new requirements for condominium conversion of buildings with three to six units can be found in San Francisco Subdivision Code sections 1396.4 and 1396.5. Remember, two-unit buildings are still exempt from the lottery and consequently from the new requirements.

You are correct. The landlord must offer to sell you the unit pursuant to the old condominium conversion law. The new law provides that that any tenant (not just elderly, catastrophically ill or disabled tenants) must be offered a lifetime lease. Subdivision Code §1396.4(g)(1) is clear:

Any application for conversion under this Section shall include a certification under penalty of perjury by the applicants that any non-purchasing tenant(s) in the building has been given a written offer to enter into a life time lease in the form and with the provisions published and prescribed by the Department in consultation with the Rent Board. Such written offer for a life time lease shall be executed by the owners of the building(s) and recorded prior to the time of Final Map or Parcel Map approval.

In other words, proof of the offer must be submitted to the Department of Public Works and any life time lease must be recorded before any conversion under the new law can be finalized. Other language/requirements for such a lease are listed in Subdivision Code §1396.4(g)(2).

Rent Ordinance §37.9(a)(9) tells us:

A landlord shall not endeavor to recover possession of a rental unit unless [t]he landlord seeks to recover possession in good faith in order to sell the unit in accordance with a condominium conversion approved under the San Francisco subdivision ordinance and does so without ulterior reasons and with honest intent.

However, the drafters of the new legislation foresaw that landlords might attempt to evict tenants to prepare a building for conversion, so they prevented conversion of a building that has any “no-fault” evictions. Subdivision Code §1396.4(b)(10) states:

In addition to all other provisions of this Section, [...] the applicant(s) must certify that to the extent any tenant vacates his or her unit after March 31, 2013 and before recordation of the final parcel or subdivision map, such tenant did so voluntarily or if an eviction or eviction notice occurred it was not pursuant to Administrative Code Sections 37.9(a)(14) then the applicant(s) shall certify that the original tenant reoccupied the unit after the temporary eviction.

As long as you pay your rent, comply with the covenants (terms) of your lease and don’t commit nuisance (a meth lab in your apartment is a no-no), you cannot be evicted.

Unfortunately, I predict a rash of bullshit three-day notices in the future to get around this requirement. For example, a three-day notice endeavoring to evict my client because she listed her business address at her home, allegedly violating a clause in the lease providing for residential use only. The extent of her commercial use involved making phone call from home.

I suggest that you continue to monitor the conversion process in your building. You can do so by reading the general information at the San Francisco Department of Public Works website. Or you can see the progress at your specific address.

All tenants who suspect that their buildings are undergoing conversion should look at that site regularly. Why? At least 20 days before the issuance of a “tentative map,” DPW must publish the addresses of buildings being considered for approval on its web site and any interested party may submit information contesting the eligibility and request a hearing.

Clearly one would want to challenge a bogus document purporting to have offered you a life time lease. Who would turn that down?

One would also want to challenge a bogus claim that an owner lived in the unit for the requisite period of time. I been involved in several cases in which landlords had their mail delivered to a tenant’s unit, later claiming that they lived in the same unit.

If you receive the landlord’s mail, inform him that you are not Mailboxes Etc. If he refuses to change his address, make like Elvis Presley’s angry ex-girlfriend, “Return to sender, address unknown. No such number, no such zone.”

These three articles provide in-depth analyses of the condominium bypass legislation:

“Board of Supervisors Approves 10+ Year Moratorium on Condo Conversions Ban on Conversion of 5+ Unit Buildings by 8-3 Vote,” by the San Francisco Tenants Union

“New TIC Condominium Conversion Rules,” by R. Boyd McSparran & David R. Gellman

“New Condominium Conversion Lottery Bypass Law,” by Andy Sirkin

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.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!