Renting a property in San Francisco

Houses up for rent in San Fracisco
Whether someone has just moved or is considering moving to San Francisco, the first item on their to-do list is to try and find a place to call home. 

While some real estate companies specialise in rentals, the best place to start looking and getting a feeling of the rental market is online. This gives house hunters the opportunity to browse all kinds of listings such as for apartments, sublets and roommate situations.

However, in order to start browsing, an expat should already have narrowed down choices by considering a few factors:
  • Whether or not they want to live with roommates
  • Which neighbourhood they want to live in
  • What their budget is
  • Which amenities they absolutely need
  • Whether they are going to use public transportation or rely on their own car

Once an expat has found listings online that they are interested in, they can contact the landlord to schedule a visit. After inspecting the premesis, if they are interested in renting the property, prospective tenants should be prepared for the following requests from the landlord:
  • Fill out a rental application which generally requests personal information including employment history, previous housing, references and income 
  • Pay a credit report fee for the landlord to verify the information provided in the rental application

The landlord will respond within a few of days and let the applicant know if their application has been accepted. If it has, then be prepared to sign a one year lease and pay a security deposit that will amount to a maximum of two months' rent (three months in the case of a furnished apartment). Most of the time, the rent covers water and garbage but this is not mandatory so don’t forget to ask.
After signing the lease, the expat becomes a San Francisco resident.

Tenant rights in San Francisco

If an expat rents or owns a residential rental property in San Francisco, their lease will most probably be regulated by what is commonly called the Rent Ordinance.

Officially called the Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance, it is part of the San Francisco Administrative Code and regulates rent increases, the relationship between landlords and their tenants, and protect the rights of renters.

When a landlord or a tenant in San Francisco fills in a petition regarding rent adjustments under the City's rent contral laws, they will most likely deal with the San Francisco Rent Board (SFRB) which primarily conducts hearings and mediations between landlords and tenants.  

The SFRB also provides counseling and information on subjects that are covered by the Rent Ordinance as well as investigates reports of alleged wrongful evictions. However, only the courts can decide whether an eviction is legal or not.

There is no charge for filing a tenant petition, which can be done without a lawyer.

San Francisco tenants are able to combine more than one type of claim in a Tenant Petition. There are different types of claims that can be made through a petition, including:
  • Substantial Decrease in Housing Services
  • Failure to Repair and Maintain
  • Unlawful Rent Increase or Request for Determination of Lawful Rent
  • Improper Utility Pass-through
  • Improper Water Revenue Bond Pass-through
  • Improper General Obligation Bond Measure Pass-through
  • Failure to Discontinue a Capital Improvement Pass-through
  • Proportional Rent Claim by a Subtenant Against a Master Tenant
  • Unlawful Initial Rent Claim by a Subtenant
  • Tenant Summary Petition Based on Receipt of Invalid Notice of Rent Increase
  • Report of Alleged Wrongful Eviction
Landlord and tenant disputes are never pleasant, but expats who rent in San Francisco should know their rights and not be afraid to act through the correct channels if they feel they are being treated unfairly.

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Our San Francisco Expert

Nicholas's picture
Paris, France
San Francisco
European Real Estate Broker, living and working in San Francisco. My fluency in French and Italian have enabled me to help...

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