Evictions Based on Tenant Behavior


Several of the “fifteen just causes” for eviction under rent control in San Francisco are based upon a tenant’s behavior. However, even if you are confident that your tenant’s behavior falls under this domain, it’s crucial to have professional legal guidance whenever starting an eviction process. Here is an overview of eight tenant behaviors that make eviction viable.

Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent

By far, the most common type of eviction we encounter is one where a tenant stops paying rent. Here, the landlord’s usual goal is to obtain rent owed, regain possession of the unit, or both. Whether you choose to hire our firm or not, you should seek the advice of an experienced attorney before taking any steps to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent under section 37.9(a)(1)(A) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. Similar causes of action can be brought for habitual late payments under 37.9(a)(1)(B), or frequently bounced checks under 37.9(a)(1)(C), which this section does not cover.
The most common defenses a tenant will assert are that the unit is not habitable (usually citing code violations) or that the landlord has breached his covenant of quiet enjoyment. Under Civil Code section 1927, the landlord has the responsibility to preserve the “quiet enjoyment” of all tenants and can be held at fault if any manner of disruptions violate this state. As you can imagine, this is a broadly definable category. If either of these defenses are valid, it can complicate the eviction process by entitling the tenant to a temporary rent reduction until habitability issues and breaches of quiet enjoyment have been remedied. Therefore, landlords tend to be more successful when their properties are kept in habitable condition and when they have acted promptly addressed tenant complaints.
The first step to an eviction for nonpayment of rent (ie. anytime after the rent is deemed late) is for the landlord to properly serve the tenant with a valid “Notice to Pay or Quit.” This can happen at any time once the rent payment is late, but should be done promptly to avoid a waiver of rights. If the notice expires with no response from the tenant and the tenant does not leave on his own accord, the landlord needs to go to court where each side presents their case. If the landlord wins, he will obtain a judgment against the tenant for possession or money or both. At this point, a sheriff will lock the tenant out.

Eviction for Breach of Lease Covenant

The next most common type of eviction is one for an actual violation of an explicit provision of the lease (under section 37.9(a)(2) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance). There are two types of breaches–ones that can be cured, and ones that cannot be cured. Whichever type of lease violation you are dealing with, you should seek the advice of an experienced attorney before taking any steps to evict a tenant for breach of lease. Chan Legal Group has represented numerous landlords and have successfully evicted many tenants for breach of lease.
For a breach of the lease that can be cured, a landlord needs to give a notice to the tenant that allows him the opportunity to cure the breach before the eviction process starts. For example, if the lease says “tenant is not to store junk in common areas,” and the tenant has clearly stored junk in the common areas, he is now in breach of the lease. Since this is a curable breach, the landlord needs to submit to the tenant a notice (called a “Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit”) giving him the opportunity to clear out his junk within a certain amount of time. If the tenant cleans up his junk within that time, the situation is resolved and there is no cause for eviction. But if the tenant fails to do so, then the landlord can bring an action to evict. The most common types of curable breaches we’ve seen lately are for violations on occupancy limits or subletting and assignment provisions.
For a breach of the lease that cannot be cured, a landlord need not submit a notice that gives tenant the opportunity to cure the breach, and instead may endeavor to recover possession of the unit after serving what’s called a “Notice to Quit.” Again, an attorney experienced in San Francisco eviction matters can expedite this process and ensure that it’s handled appropriately.

Eviction for Nuisance

When a tenant causes a nuisance or considerable damage to the unit, or substantially interferes with another tenant’s safety and enjoyment of the building, he may be evicted under section 37.9(a)(3) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. However, these cases tend to require evidence in the form of multiple notifications from the landlord to the tenant, police reports, other documentation to corroborate witness testimony, and the cooperation of other tenants who are willing to be such witnesses.
San Francisco is a diverse city, and with that diversity comes great differences of opinion of what may constitute a nuisance. Because of the harsh nature of an eviction, Landlords must realize that they cannot force a tenant out simply because they do not like the tenant. Because of the antagonistic relationship that usually leads to these types of evictions, many tenants can assert the defense of harassment by their landlords or by other tenants. It’s imperative that the eviction process be handled legally and scrupulously by an attorney experienced in San Francisco eviction matters in order not to jeopardize the eviction.

Illegal Purpose

An eviction for illegal purpose under section 37.9(a)(4) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance is in many ways similar to the eviction for nuisance. It requires a strong showing of evidence that the tenant is permitting a rental unit to be used for any illegal purpose, examples being drug trafficking or prostitution.

Refusal to Sign a Lease of Substantially Similar Terms

Under section 37.9(a)(5) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, a landlord may present a tenant with a lease of substantially similar terms of an oral or written agreement that has terminated, and if the tenant refuses to sign it, he may be evicted.

Denying Landlord Access to Unit

If a tenant unreasonably refuses to give the landlord access to the unit after being served with a valid notice of entry, then under section 37.9(a)(6) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, there is just cause to evict him.

Holdover Subtenant

If the occupant is a holdover subtenant of which the landlord never approved, he may be evicted under section 37.9(a)(7) of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. This situation usually arises when two tenants–let’s call them A and B–sign a lease, and then A moves out and is replaced by C, another occupant whom the landlord never approved (and often does not know about). Then when B moves out, the original tenancy has terminated… yet C remains. C may be evicted under such circumstances because the landlord never agreed, explicitly or implicitly, to C’s ability to stay in the unit.

Expiration of Good-Samaritan Status

This relatively new ground for eviction (as of February 8, 2011) is meant to protect landlords who enter into short term leases with tenants after they have been victims of a fire, earthquake, landslide, or similar emergency situation. Such tenants have good samaritan occupancy status, and may be evicted if, after a valid notice of termination of tenancy is served upon them, they continue to hold possession of the unit. However, there are strict requirements that need to be satisfied in order for such tenancies to be considered of this class, and a landlord can easily enter into a full fledged rent controlled tenancy by accident (some may say punishing the good samaritan). Therefore, before entering into such agreements, landlords should consult with experienced real estate attorneys like the attorneys at Chan Legal Group.


The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult a San Francisco real estate attorney for advice regarding your own situation.