Legal FAQs for Renters in San Francisco, CA

This page has local legal information on residential (not commercial) renters’ issues. It is not legal advice, and you should check with your local legal aid and courts for current information.

This page was last updated on May 13th, 2022. It was reviewed by our volunteer attorney experts.

Flag of San Francisco, CA
Are there any special protections for renters in San Francisco during the emergency?

The moratorium in San Francisco expired on April 1, 2022, but there are other protections.

If you have a pending application with the California Covid-19 Rent Relief Program, you may have some protections. Through June 30, 2022, landlords who are trying to sue for eviction must demonstrate to the court that the tenant does not have a pending application with the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief Program or was denied assistance by this program. Otherwise, the court will not let the landlord move forward with their lawsuit. Even if the court were to issue the lawsuit, a pending application will put a pause on the legal process.

The city of San Francisco, California had an eviction moratorium that stops most residential evictions, and gives renters more time to pay rent that was missed because of COVID-19 hardships. It went into effect on March 13, 2020 and ended on April 1, 2022.

Renters are still protected from evictions based on nonpayment of rent that is due from March 16, 2020-September 30, 2020. As long as this nonpayment was based on Covid-related hardships, then the landlord cannot evict you based on this nonpayment. Also, the landlord cannot impose late fees or penalties for rent owed from this period.

If you have been served with an eviction notice or lawsuit in San Francisco, contact the Eviction Defense Collaborative immediately to help you with the legal process: call 415-659-9184, email, or visit in-person 1338 Mission Street (Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10-11:30 am and 1-2:30 pm).

What do these protections mean for San Francisco renters?

After April 1, 2022, only renters that have pending applications with the state rent relief program may be protected from an eviction lawsuit.

But even though the emergency protections have ended, there are still other ways for tenants to defend themselves. There are free legal and financial services to help renters in San Francisco.

Apply to the San Francisco Emergency Rental Assistance Program (SF ERAP) as soon as possible. They may help you pay the money you owe to stay in your home.

If you have been served with an eviction notice or lawsuit, contact the Eviction Defense Collaborative immediately to help you with the legal process: call 415-659-9184, email, or visit in-person 1338 Mission Street (Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10-11:30 am and 1-2:30 pm).

Find more legal help and financial assistance to help deal with any housing problems you're dealing with.

Legal Help resources

Eviction Defense Collaborative (415) 947-0797 San Francisco

Tenant Rights Hotline from Tenants Together (888) 495-8020

Law Help California

Bay Area Legal Aid, (800) 551-5554 Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara (except Gilory & Morgan Hill areas)

San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition

Bar Association of San Francisco's Conflict Intervention Service, (415) 782-8940

Tenderloin Housing Clinic CEOP, 415-775-7110 ext. 1702

Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, 415-703-8634

South of Market Community Action Network, 760-913-8913

San Francisco Tenants' Union, (415) 282-6622

Emergency Protections during COVID

Emergency Protections during COVID

Are there any special protections for California renters during the COVID-19 emergency?

California has some protections for tenants who were unable to pay their rent between March 1, 2020 and March 31, 2022, because of COVID-related financial distress.

Tenants may be protected from eviction if they have applied for California government rental assistance and they are waiting for a decision. If a landlord does try to sue the tenant while they are waiting for the decision, the tenant can tell the court about their application. This is a valid defense to the eviciton lawsuit.

In addition, tenants who couldn't pay rent due to COVID-19 hardships through September 30, 2021 may also be protected from eviction. The missed rent must have occurred between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. The renters must have paid at least 25% of their rent to avoid eviction. They also should have filled in this Declaration form to explain their financial distress and given it to their landlord. Read more about California's protections here.

Many local California cities and counties have implemented such eviction freezes and additional protections for renters. Check here to see if any apply to you.

What do the protections mean for renters in California?

The protections mean that as of April 2022:

  1. Your landlord can still give you a notice to quit. You still cannot be made to leave without going through the court process. The notice is a warning that your landlord will begin that process as soon as they are legally able to do so.
  2. Your landlord can still file an eviction claim in court against you. If the filing was made after March 27, 2020, you may have a longer period to respond (rather than the usual 5 day deadline).
  3. Hearings on eviction may go forward. If you have applied for rent relief and are waiting to hear back, you can defend yourself in court by showing your application.
  4. You may be removed from your home with an eviction order. Check with a lawyer to see if you have any protections from earlier laws.

Please check if your local California city or county gives you additional protections from eviction. Over 150 local California governments have issued eviction freezes or other protections.

Do I still have to pay rent during COVID-19 in California?

Yes, California renters still need to pay rent during the emergency. You may have had protections against eviction for rent owed through September 30, 2021.

Many local California cities and counties give additional protections about how long a renter will have to pay back the rent owed, but not all do. Check here to see if your local government has set a special timeline for paying back rent, or if they have rules to protect you from late fees.

If you cannot pay rent, take steps to protect yourself:

  1. Apply for rent help: If you need financial assistance for housing costs like rent or utility bills, you may be able to get help.
  2. Communicate with your landlord: Send a written letter or email to your landlord within 7 days of the rent's due date. (You must do this for each missed rent payment). Explain why you cannot pay the rent because of COVID-19 impact. You can also try to negotiate with your landlord to make a payment plan or get a temporary rent reduction. Get help here with drafting and mailing a letter to your landlord. You can also use this letter-writing tool here.
  3. Get written records of all communication: Keep copies of any letter or email you send, and any responses from the landlord. Keep receipts for any payments you make. If you make a payment plan or rent agreement, make sure to get it in writing.
  4. Keep proof of COVID-19 impact on you: Keep any proof of your COVID-19-related employment problems, health care issues, or other issues that affect your ability to pay rent. You may need to use these as evidence to protect yourself against eviction.
Can my landlord evict me during COVID-19 in California?

Some California renters still have protections from eviction.

If you have applied for government rental assistance and are waiting for a decision, then your landlord should not bring an eviction lawsuit against you. If they do sue for eviction, you can tell the court that you are waiting on a rental assistance decision.

You may also be protected from eviction for rent or other housing costs that were owed between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021. You may be able to defend yourself against an eviction for rent owed from that period.

Some local city or county California governments may give you additional protections.

If you receive a notice to quit from your landlord, or an eviction lawsuit, reach out for legal help.

Can my utilities be shut off during COVID-19 in California?

California renters' utilities may be shut off due to a lack of payment since the emergency period expired.

If you need financial assistance for utility costs, you may be able to get help.

Landlords are never allowed to shut off a renter's utilities in an attempt to force the renter out. This is illegal. Reach out to a lawyer for help if this happens to you.

What if I need repairs to my home during COVID-19 in California?

Tell your landlord about any repairs needed, particularly if they affect your health and safety.

The emergency may delay your landlord's ability to make repairs, but if they are urgent you should call your landlord to make the repairs as soon as possible.

Emergency repairs could be for problems with:

  • Running water or hot water
  • Heat or air conditioning
  • Stove, refrigerator, or oven
  • Electricity
  • Bathroom use
  • Missing doors, locks, or windows
  • Pests

If your landlord doesn't make the repairs promptly, send them a written letter or email about the need for emergency repairs (and keep a copy of this communication). If you request repairs, you must be willing to have the landlord make them.

Reach out for legal help for additional guidance.

Can I break my lease during COVID-19 in California?

You may be able to break your lease if you can come to an agreement with your landlord.

Your lease is still valid despite the emergency period.

However, you can talk to your landlord to see if they will agree to let you leave early. If they agree, be sure to get the agreement in writing.

Also, you can review your lease. It may have a part that lets you end the lease early in times of financial difficulty. If your lease includes this, you might be able to break the lease (in some cases penalty-free).

Find legal help to get advice for your situation.

What do I do if my landlord tries to evict me during COVID-19 in California?

Contact a legal help organization to help defend yourself.

It is illegal for your landlord to evict you without first going to court and getting an eviction order. To remove you from your home, a landlord must take you to court by filing an eviction lawsuit, win the case, and getting an eviction order from the court.

Legal aid groups might be able to provide you with full representation, or other legal organizations can give you information or brief advice.

You may be able to defend yourself using California's eviction protections.

Find legal help to protect your rights.

Are eviction cases still proceeding through California courts?

Eviction cases are being heard in California courts as of Autumn 2021.

Check with the California courts for more updates.

Did I have eviction protections under the CARES Act?

Renters in 3 categories have special national protections against being evicted during the Emergency Period of March 27, 2020 to July 24 or 25, 2020. These national protections add onto any state and local protections you have.

Do you fit in any of these 3 categories?

Your home’s owner has a federally backed mortgage loan or other guarantee (like through Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae). Search if your home is covered.
You pay rent through a federal assistance program like the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, Rural Development Voucher, or other 'covered housing' program.
You live in Public Housing, where the government is your landlord.

If you are a renter in one of these 3 categories, the federal CARES Act section 4024 gives you these protections. (Remember, these protections add onto any state and local protections you have)

  • Your landlord cannot file a new eviction lawsuit against you for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period. They can still evict you for other behavior, like drug abuse, other criminal activities, or other lease violations.
  • Your landlord cannot charge you new fees or penalties for not paying your rent during the Emergency Period.
  • After the Emergency Period ends, your landlord may not be able to evict you immediately.(Different states interpret the protections ending on July 24 or 25. Check with local lawyers to see about your state). If you have not paid your rent in full during the Emergency Period, your landlord must wait until the period ends before giving you a notice to vacate. For example, they may give you a notice on July 26, and you must be allowed until at least August 25 to leave the property.

For more help on these national protections, reach out for legal and financial help here. Also, use this tool to write a letter to your landlord if you are having issues with rent or eviction.

Received a Warning Notice about Eviction?

Received a Warning Notice about Eviction?

My landlord gave me a notice to "pay or quit" my rental home in California. What should I do?

You do not have to leave your home yet. Landlords can not legally physically remove you, touch your personal property, change the locks, or cut off your utilities.

In California, your landlord must give you an official notice that they may bring you to court to evict you for not paying your rent (or other reasons). The notice should give you time to either pay your rent or prepare defenses against eviction.

This official notice must follow some rules to be valid. If it doesn't follow these rules, then you can challenge it and stop an eviction.

These are the California requirements for an eviction notice:

  1. The notice must be written down.
  2. It has to have your full name and address.
  3. It must explain why you may be evicted -- whether it is for non-payment of rent, a lease violation, or other reason.
  4. It has to say exactly how much rent you owe and the dates it was due. Multiple months must be listed separately. (it can only include 1 year of back rent, so even if you owe money for a longer time, the landlord can only request up to 1 year of payment).
  5. It has to say that this rent must be fully paid within 3 days of receiving this notice or you must move out (the 3 days do not include weekends or federal holidays).
  6. It must say the dates and times you can pay the rent you owe, as well as the address you can pay it at or mail it to.
  7. If the notice is based on a violation of the lease, it must explain how you can correct the problem, and when you need to do so.

Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't correct, or if you need assistance in defending yourself against the eviction.

Find local legal help in California here.

What if the landlord has just told me, face-to-face or over the phone, that I need to leave my home in California?

A verbal conversation doesn't count as an "eviction notice". To be legal, the notice must be written down and given to you in the correct way.

Reach out for legal help if your landlord is trying to make you leave without going through the court process. This is illegal and a lawyer may be able to help you protect yourself.

Find local legal help in California here.

Do I have to leave my home in California by the time of the eviction notice's expiration date?

No, you do not have to leave (or 'quit') your home by the date listed on the eviction notice.

You do not have to leave your home until you have been brought to court, and a judge has ordered that your landlord can make you leave.

After the date on the eviction notice passes, then your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit in court against you. You will be able to go to court and present defenses to protect yourself.

Find local legal help in California here.

My eviction notice says that I will be evicted unless I pay back-rent I owe in California. What if I can't afford to pay it?

You still have time to reach out for rental assistance, and stop the eviction from moving forward.

Be sure to let the local financial help group know that you have received an eviction notice and what its deadline is. They may be able to help you pay the rent you owe, or work with your landlord to reduce the amount or put you on a payment plan.

Find local financial help in California here.

How long do I have after I receive an eviction notice in California to pay back the rent to stop the eviction?

In California, you have a minimum of 3 days between your landlord giving you a notice and them filing a lawsuit against you in court to evict you.

The notice should tell you how many days the landlord is giving you. If they are giving you less than 3 days, then you may be able to challenge it as illegal.

Reach out for legal help if you think the notice isn't giving you the required time to make your payment.

Find local legal help in California here.

Facing an Eviction Lawsuit?

Facing an Eviction Lawsuit?

My landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit against me in court in California. What should I do?

You should make sure that the landlord properly 'served' you with the lawsuit. If they didn't give it to you in the correct way, you can challenge the eviction lawsuit. In California, a landlord must follow certain rules to let you know about the lawsuit:

  1. Only certain people can give you the lawsuit's Summons and Complaint. The landlord can not give you these papers - it has to be a person not involved in the case.
  2. The server must let you know you are being served and must give you the papers in person.
  3. If the server can not reach you, they have to try again for least 2-3 times, on different days and different times. Only then can the server hand the court papers to a member of your household or to someone in charge where you work. They also have to mail a copy of the papers to your home.
  4. If both of these methods don’t work, the landlord has to get permission from the court to post and mail the papers to you. The serve must post the papers on the property where you can see it and mail a copy to your last known address.

You should also reach out to local lawyers who can help you prepare for your court hearing so you can protect yourself against the eviction.

Find local legal help in California here.

Do I have to do anything after I get an eviction Summons and Complaint in California?

In California, you are required to respond to the eviction lawsuit, if you want to avoid the eviction. You will need to submit a proper legal response, not just call the courts or send them a letter. There is a form response available.

If you were served in person, you will have 5 days (not including weekends or holidays) after you receive the Summons and Complaint to get a written response back to the court. If the Summons and Complaint was handed to a member in your household and/or you received in the mail, you have 15 days, starting from the postmark date on the envelope (the first 10 days include weekends and holidays, and the last 5 days do not) to submit your written response. If you do not submit this response by this time frame, you may lose your case and the judge may give the landlord permission to remove you from your home.

Reach out to legal help to learn what your rights and defenses are in your eviction case. These organizations can help you deal with this lawsuit.

Find local legal help in California here.

Can I settle my eviction case without going to court in California?

You can come to an agreement, but you should still go to court to make sure your case is closed.

You can work with your landlord to work out an agreement before the date of the court hearing. This might be a payment plan or other agreement on what needs to happen for you to stay in your home.

Be sure to get this agreement in writing, so that you can prove it exists and that your landlord follows through on it.

Also, you should still go to court for your hearing date, to make sure the court knows about the agreement and closes the lawsuit. If you do not go to court, the lawsuit might still continue and the judge might rule that the landlord can remove you. Go to court yourself to make sure this doesn't happen.

You can reach out for legal help to get assistance in negotiating an agreement with your landlord, and making sure this agreement is being followed.

Find local legal help in California here.

Behind on Rent?

Behind on Rent?

Who can help me with rent that I owe?

If you are behind on rent, you can get help from your local Rental Assistance program. This is a government service to help people who owe rent or utility bills.

Especially if you are behind on rent because of COVID-19 hardships, your local Rental Assistance (or Rent Relief) program can help you.

Find your local Rental Assistance program at your Get Help page here.

Am I eligible for rent relief?

Local governments set the rules about who is eligible for rent relief. Most programs focus on people who have suffered COVID-19 hardships.

You can talk to your local Rental Assistance program to learn their eligibility rules.

You may have to show your household income, or if you are on other benefits programs like SNAP.

You may also have to show that you are at risk of homelessness or eviction if you don't get rental assistance.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program to see if you are eligible.

Does immigration status matter for rent relief?

Many local Rental Assistance programs are open to everyone, regardless of immigration status. Many programs do not even ask about immigration status.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program to make sure about eligibility rules and immigration.

Can a landlord apply for their renter, to get rental assistance?

Most Rental Assistance programs let landlords apply.

Either a renter or a landlord can start the application.

The landlord will have to fill in as much information they have about the amount of money needed, and the eligibility for the program. The tenant may have to fill in the rest of the information.

Check with your local Rental Assistance program about the steps to follow to apply for rent relief.

Get Help From Local Groups

State information is taken from these sources:SF Mayor's eviction moratorium orderSF city website on eviction moratoriumTenant Together's tracker of Temporary Local Covid-19 Residential Eviction Protections in CaliforniaTenant Together CA tracker

State information is taken from these sources:Governor's executive orderJudicial Council orderPrinceton Eviction Lab's COVID Policy ScorecardsColumbia Law School COVID-19 Eviction Moratoria analysisEnergy and Policy Institute Utility Disconnect TrackerNolo's page of California emergency tenant protectionsGovernor's extension of local moratorium

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