The San Francisco Rent Ordinance - Severing Garages

San Francisco Rent Ordinance contains strict restrictions on owners removing, or severing, a garage from a rent-controlled tenancy. If a written or oral lease includes a garage with the tenancy, then the garage can only be severed from the tenancy with just cause. These are the same sixteen just cause reasons required for an owner to evict a tenant. However, when examined closely, these requirements make it clear that it would be difficult to sever a garage. If any of the just cause reasons existed, then severing a garage would be not applicable or a secondary goal. Therefore, this law is an effective ban on severing garages.

There are sixteen just cause reasons to sever a garage. Seven for fault – the tenant did something. Nine reasons are considered no fault. 

The fault reasons for severing a garage are: (1) nonpayment of rent; (2) breach of rental agreement; (3) the tenant is committing a nuisance or causing damage to the unit; (4) the tenant is using the unit for an illegal purpose; (5) the tenant refuses to enter into a new rental agreement that is the same as the previous agreement; (6) the tenant is refusing access to the unit; (7) an unapproved occupant is holding over at the end of the lease term. 

The no fault reasons to sever a garage: (8) an owner/relative move in; (9) an owner seeks to sell the unit in accordance with an approved condo conversion; (10) an owner seeks to demolish or remove the unit from housing use; (11) a temporary eviction for capital improvements or rehab work; (12) substantial rehabilitation; (13) Ellis Act; (14) a temporary eviction for lead remediation; (15) to  permanently demolish the unit or building in accordance with a development agreement with the city; (16) tenant’s Good Samaritan status has expired. 

The just cause reasons effectively prohibit severing any garage from a tenancy.  It’s illogical to sever a garage because the tenant is being a nuisance or not paying rent. If a tenant is not paying rent the goal of an eviction would be possession of the property or the unpaid rent. Severing the garage because of nonpayment of rent would not resolve the ultimate issue of the tenant’s delinquencies.  

It would be similarly illogical for an owner to use a no-fault reason to sever a garage. For example, an owner/relative move in to sever a garage is illogical because the owner would required to move into garage within 90 days of the eviction and live there for 36 continuous months. 

 A condo conversation does not apply because the goal would be to sever the garage from a tenancy, not condo convert the unit. Reason (10) does not apply because this would entail demolishing the unit and the garage. 

Just cause reason (11) does not apply because this is only a temporary eviction. Reason (12), substantial rehabilitation, does not apply because this would only be allowed when the building has been condemned or cannot be occupied safely. An Ellis Act would not apply because this would entail evicting everyone and removing the whole building from the rental market. Reason (14) does not apply because it relates to lead remediation and is a only temporary. Reason (15) relates to demolition the whole building or unit to build a new property. Finally, reason (16) is a limited eviction reason where an owner temporarily houses a tenant during a disaster. Recovering a garage would be secondary to any of these evictions, and therefore these just cause reasons would not help an owner seeking to sever a garage. 

Just cause reason (12) is the most applicable reason to sever a garage. For example, an owner may be required to sever a garage because soft story retrofitting or because construction work requires that the garage space be physically removed. A garage can be temporarily removed for mandatory seismic work, without a corresponding decrease in rent.

In the event that a garage is severed from a tenancy, the owner must provide a corresponding reduction in rent. An owner or a tenant can file a Rent Board petition to determine the amount of the rent reduction.