Skip to main content

Living in an apartment for 20+ years without a lease; why does the landlord want one now?

San Francisco, CA |

My family has been living in a 4 unit apartment building for more than 20 years and for some unknown reason, there was never a lease nor a security deposit. We are a family of immigrants, although US citizens, it is just that my parents do not have the greatest knowledge of the English language and tenant laws. The apartment is not in great shape and a previous landlord has tried to evict us before (10 years ago) but we had a senior citizen and we prevailed. The case is different this time, no senior citizen and no lease. I am afraid that they will either try to evict us or try to impose some ridiculous changes in order to try to get us to leave voluntarily (such as super high rent). What should I do?

Attorney Answers 3


I am a San Francisco Attorney. In essence it appears that you have an oral month-to-month tenancy agreement which is protected by Rent and Eviction control ordinances. Whether your lease is oral or written, your landlord must have "Good Cause" to evict you.

One Good Cause to evict a tenant is when a tenant refuses to sign a new rental agreement which is substantially similar to the last agreement. The San Francisco Rent Ordinance states a landlord may evict a tenant:

"....[W]ho had an oral or written agreement with the landlord which has terminated, [and] has refused after written request or demand by the landlord to execute a written extension or renewal thereof for a further term of like duration and under such terms which are materially the same as in the previous agreement; provided, that such terms do not conflict with any of the provisions"

Therefore since your last agreement was oral, only the terms of the oral agreement may be deduced into a written contract including the rental price of the unit. Otherwise if any new or unfamiliar terms are added the new written lease may not be "substantially similar" to the old oral lease.

Please do not sign any agreement with your landlord unless you have a local attorney who is familiar with San Francisco Rent Control Law review the proposed written lease agreement.

Mark as helpful

1 found this helpful


In San Francisco, most tenants are covered by rent control. This means rents can only be raised by certain amounts per year.

The City and County of San Francisco passed its Rent Ordinance in 1979, initially as emergency legislation in order respond to a perceived crisis in the economics of rental housing that was causing the displacement of long-term tenants, including senior citizens. The SF Rent Ordinance limits rent increases for tenants in occupancy, and protects tenants from evictions in order to preserve low-cost housing in San Francisco.

Tenants who are protected under the Rent Ordinance may not be evicted for no reason or any reason, but only based upon one of the enumerated "just causes", such as non-payment or rent, nuisance, or owner-occupancy.

I strongly suggest you consult with a San Francisco tenant attorney to review the proposed lease, and to advise you of the intricacies of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance.

You can read more about this at the following link:

Mark as helpful

1 found this helpful


There are several non-profit tenant rights groups in San Francisco. There is the Eviction Defense Collaborative, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Housing Rights Committee, among others. Almost every tenant rights organization offers bi-lingual assistance. Your family should contact one of these organizations or an experienced San Francisco tenant attorney to make sure they are not taken advantage of.

As others have stated, if this apartment is subject to the San Francisco Rent Control Ordinance, the landlord must have “just cause” to evict. There are specific provisions concerning rent increases on a rent controlled property. The landlord cannot force you to sign a new lease which raises your rent in excess of the amount allowed under the rent control ordinance. Keep in mind that a rent increase is allowed every year, and a landlord may impose all previously untaken rent increases.

The legal information presented on this site is for informational purposes only and should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Your receipt of the information on this website is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, a contract for representation by the Farmer Law Firm. This website is not intended to solicit clients outside the state of California. The lawyers of the Farmer Law Firm are licensed to practice law in the State of California.

Mark as helpful

1 found this helpful

Landlord-tenant topics

Recommended articles about Landlord-tenant

What others are asking

Can't find what you're looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer

Browse all legal topics