Can I evict tenants who lived in a house I inherited for years without a lease?

I inherited a house in San Francisco from my aunt.

My aunt had rented her basement to an older couple (probably illegally) for a few years at below market prices. I don’t believe there was a lease, and it’s probably against building code to have tenants in the basement. The couple’s family lives nearby.

I really prefer not to continue with the lease because I live out of state and because of the strict tenancy laws in San Francisco.

What should I do if I don’t want to own? Can I just give them notice to terminate the lease? Do I have the right to evict them? (I don’t plan to, but just in case.) Or do I have to sell the property to end the lease?

I heard that California has very strong protection for tenants and evictions are tough. The tenants are an older couple but they are in good health.

I’m afraid that if I accept rent from them, it’s an acknowledgment of our landlord-tenant relationship. Would selling the property be a way to get them out? Or should I just ask them to leave and start eviction proceedings if they refuse?

I really need advice. Please can you help?



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Dear Intrigued,

Before you move, ask yourself if you want to continue owning the house or selling it since you said you didn’t want to own it.

I would say the first step is to contact the residents and ask them, politely, if they could leave the unit since the ownership of the house had changed hands. Explain the situation to them – having rented below market rates, you would like to end this pre-existing relationship, and you also do not want to manage a rental when you are out of state.

Also be clear and firm and tell them that you don’t want to rent the unit out at all and that you are considering selling (or any other plans you may have).

You must be clear about your intention. Because if you want to clear the house of tenants before you sell the house, then you have a tough road ahead of you.

You can raise the rent to market rate and then see if they are able to pay, which would be a tough way to evict them. Either they would pay, or they would be unable to pay and be behind on the rent, or they would move out.

You can also consider selling it with tenants. Real estate investors may be interested in purchasing this property since it is located in San Francisco. Some may agree to be landlords and deal with the mess of tenants who don’t pay the market rate.

But if you’re determined to get the tenants out, the second step would be to contact a lawyer to get an idea of ​​how the eviction process works.

Scott Freedman, an attorney with San Francisco-based law firm Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, told MarketWatch that since there’s no lease, the unit is considered “illegal” under the law. from San Francisco.

And “even if a rental unit is ‘illegal’ in San Francisco, it is treated as a legal unit in determining if, how, and under what conditions a landlord can ask a tenant to vacate the unit,” he said. explain.

This means that a landlord needs at least one reason from a list of “just cause” reasons to ask the tenant to leave. You must also pay the moving costs. And usually you also have to give those people written notice, 30 or 60 days in advance.

It’s not something simple that you can do yourself (unless you’re a lawyer.)

Freedman said there may be one or more “just causes” applicable to your situation. But he also pointed out that the list did not include asking a tenant to leave “simply because a landlord no longer wants to rent a particular unit.”

And assuming these people paid your aunt the rent on time at the rate she set, you might not be able to just ignore the rent payments they make and pretend they didn’t pay. , because there is a history of transactions that reveal a relationship.

But those payments also put you at risk, Freedman said. “It is also technically illegal to collect rent for [illegal units]and it can be difficult to get proper insurance for renting an illegal unit,” he added.

He recommended that you contact the San Francisco Rent Board for information on just causes and illegal housing.

Also consult a lawyer. Freedman agrees with you that tenant protections are strong in SF, “and the consequences, even for innocent mistakes, can be significant.”

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