Attention Tenants: You Have a Right to Heat

by on January 3, 2017

Tenants have the right to heat and should not live in the cold
Tenants have the right to heat and should not live in the cold

In an unfortunate by-product of our housing crisis, many tenants are shivering in their apartments this season due to their landlord’s failure to provide heat. Some tenants are not even reporting the heat violation to their landlord, fearing eviction if they do.

That is a big mistake.

No San Francisco tenant can be legally evicted for asking for heat or filing a complaint about lack of heat with the city’s Department of Building Inspection. Such eviction attempts constitute illegal retaliation under both local and state law, and even the most pro-landlord judges will side with the tenant in such cases.

Few landlords seek to evict in response to heat complaints. In my own 35 years dealing with heat issues, I cannot think of even a handful of cases where the landlord sought to evict in response to heat complaints.

San Francisco tenants lacking sufficient heat should call DBI’s housing inspectors at (415) 558-6220. Heat complaints are a priority, and an inspector can usually get out the next day. Tenants can also call various housing counseling groups but because the tenant has to be home to let the inspector in these agencies still need the tenant to be involved.

A lot of Bay Area tenants are not on the lease and mistakenly believe that only the “master tenant” can call in heat complaints. Wrong! Every tenant who is paying rent has the right to heat and the right to call an inspector; inspectors do not discriminate against sub-tenants in following up on heat complaints.

There are landlords who only want to take complaints from the master tenant. Yet that does not bar subtenants for contacting landlords about heat complaints, and these complaints constitute “legal notice” to the owner about the problem.

Sub-tenants lacking heat can and should complain to both the owner and city inspection agencies if the landlord fails to act. It’s too cold not to demand action!

If complaining about heat cannot result in eviction, why the fear?

Some tenants see the landlord retaliating by addressing discretionary issues. For example, maybe the tenant has more people living in the unit than the landlord knows. Or has not gotten a rent increase in four years and is afraid complaining about heat will trigger a banked rent increase.

But the vast majority of landlords expect to provide heat. And given San Francisco’s past record of high profile civil and even criminal prosecutions of landlord heat cheats, this is one area where even negligent property owners try to avoid getting into trouble by not following the law.

I’ve been involved in helping thousands of tenants and have never found it a good strategy for them not to assert core legal rights. And no right is more fundamental than the right to heat.

If any San Francisco tenants gets into any difficulties with their landlord by making a heat complaint, please contact me through the feedback button or call the Tenderloin Housing Clinic for free assistance.

It’s too damn cold out for tenants not to have heat!

Randy Shaw is the Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Editor of Beyond Chron

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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