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I Don’t Think I Left My Heart In San Francisco

For anyone who has ever found himself in a landlord-tenant situation in New York City, there is often a feeling of having no control of your destiny. Either as a tenant being mistreated by a bad landlord or a landlord having a nightmare tenant who cannot be tossed out easily due to tenant protection laws, this is a subject that one can hear regularly from both sides of the fence.

The one heard about most is the slum landlord that has the tenant living in rat-infested housing with leaks and broken walls, etc. For some reason, these stories hit the newspapers immediately—as opposed to the tenant who may be having problems of a different kind, such as a landlord that kept a key and snoops in the apartment when the tenant is not around, or whom the tenant needs to chase after in order to get an appliance fixed or a doorbell repaired. These items might not be as severe as a rat-infested apartment, but are just as stressful to the tenant having to chase after the landlord, nonetheless.

Being a landlord in New York City is not such an easy deal all the time either. People assume that the landlords just collect the money and run to the bank each month with nothing to do but pay the utilities and make out new leases for new tenants. Many do not see the other side of being a landlord. The side where you have a tenant who decides that he does not want to pay the rent anymore—not for any particular reason, but simply because he knows that it will take 6–8 months for the landlord to take him to court to try and evict him for not paying rent, and maybe during that time he will be able to save the money he was supposed to pay to the landlord in rent and use it for a vacation or something.

He can always get a new apartment and start this sequence once again. If you think this does not happen, let me enlighten you that it is more common than you think. I have seen many situations of tenants that are serial rent slackers and literally do this for a living, only their track records do not usually surface until a landlord starts proceedings to take them to court for failure to pay rent.

New York City has a record as a high tenant-advocate area where landlords have to fight in court, usually for a lot of money, to even attempt to get a tenant evicted—which is how I got to San Francisco. I started reading an article about homeowners in San Francisco who had built legal auxiliary apartments to their homes for the extra income in years past. Today, San Francisco, which had been a city with thousands of these types of auxiliary apartment units available for rent, has found itself in a situation of having tens of thousands of empty apartment units taken off the market. The owners of these units had chosen to leave them empty rather than to rent them out anymore and have to deal with tenant-landlord courts in San Francisco when they had problem tenants.

After reading this opening paragraph, I became interested in where this story was going. I poured myself an extra cup of coffee and told my husband to hold all my calls!

It seems the tenant advocate laws in San Francisco are even more severe than in New York City. As an example of what can happen, a former landlord of one of these auxiliary apartments tells the story of renting to what seemed to be a good tenant at one time, only to find himself woken up regularly at 2 a.m. every time this tenant got drunk and could not remember where he put his keys to the apartment. (But he seemed capable of remembering to wake the landlord for an extra set of keys, even when drunk.) One day this guy came home drunk only to find the landlord not home when he tried to wake him. Instead of calling a locksmith, he took a sledgehammer and starting breaking a hole through the outside of the house. He was caught in middle of the act, and he stated that under San Francisco law he was allowed to break a hole through the wall as long as he repaired it afterwards.

Obviously, this was not the case. But because the courts so heavily favor tenants in San Francisco, the impression was out there that a tenant can do whatever he wants and the landlord has no recourse. Is this actually true? I don’t know. New York City is sounding better and better. v

Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to

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Posted by on June 13, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.