Herrera Asserts Rights of S.F. Tenants During Foreclosure Crisis

Legal Memorandum Outlines Rights of Tenants to Stay in Rentals, Receive Utility Service When Property Owners Face Foreclosure

SAN FRANCISCO (Jan. 16, 2009) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today issued a public memorandum detailing the rights of tenants in San Francisco under state and local law to remain in their rental units and continue to receive utility service when residential property owning landlords face foreclosure by creditors or delinquency on utility bills.

“It’s vitally important for tenants to know their rights and understand how to protect themselves from losing their homes if a landlord defaults on a mortgage or utility service,” Herrera said. “Though San Francisco has been lucky so far to avoid the widespread crisis we’ve seen in other cities, foreclosures here are still on the rise. State and local law affords tough protections for most tenants, and prudence dictates knowing your rights and the availability of legal and community resources in the event they’re needed.”

Herrera’s 11-page memo, which was issued to Acting Director of the Department of Building Inspection Vivian Day, PUC General Manager Ed Harrington and Director of Public Health Dr. Mitch Katz, holds that the San Francisco Rent Control Ordinance protects tenants in rent controlled units from evictions as a result of foreclosure on the deed of trust or mortgage of the building.

The memo confirms that existing policies of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission shield all City tenants from termination of water and wastewater services when property owners become delinquent on payments, and identifies provisions of state and local law to compel such privately-owned utilities as PG&E to continue gas and electric service when a public health or building officer certifies its necessity to protect life, health or safety. State and local law additionally provide for penalties for violations by private utilities of up to $1,000 per day, and recovery of attorneys’ fees for prevailing litigants.

Though the legal advice was issued as a published, public interest memorandum, Herrera urged tenants facing possible adverse consequences of property foreclosures to consult with private legal counsel or appropriate community organizations for information relating to their particular circumstances. Resources that may be available to tenants dealing with these matters include the following:

* The Bar Association of San Francisco’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service
Online: https://www.sfbar.org/lawyerreferrals/
Phone: (415) 989-1616

* The San Francisco Tenants Union
Online: https://www.sftu.org/
Phone: (415) 282-6622

* Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco
Online: https://www.hrcsf.org/
Phone: (415) 703-8634

* Comite De Vivienda (St. Peter’s Housing Committee)
Online: https://www.comitedevivienda.org/
Phone: (415) 487.9203

* Asian Law Caucus
Online: https://www.asianlawcaucus.org/
Phone: (415) 896-1701

* AIDS Housing Alliance
Online: https://www.ahasf.org/
Phone: (415) 552-3242