SFGate: Artist Gets Eviction Notice in the Wake of Ghost Ship Tragedy


It is not uncommon tenants of non-residential rental spaces to actually be living in the unit. These occurrences can range from the innocent (landlord doesn’t realize they never obtained a certificate of final completion on the new construction) to the handshake deal (tenant renting a logically divisible portion of a single family home with its own sink and stove) to the aggressive, unapproved highest use of a property.

In the wake of the tragic Ghost Ship fire, Bay Area landlords are cracking down on unpermitted use. The SF Chronicle reports on a use of a warehouse as an apartment/dance studio, and a landlord’s efforts to terminate the tenancy and end the unpermitted use.

In this particular case, the landlord is relying on a 30-day notice of termination. Generally, an established residential tenancy requires a 60-day notice, and, in San Francisco, also requires “just cause” (for instance, that the landlord is taking it off of the residential rental market or has permits to demolish the space).

It has been evident for some time that an unpermitted space may still be subject to residential rent control ordinances if it is rented to a residential tenant for residential use. A recent Appellate Division case out of Los Angeles has also clarified that a landlord may not enforce conventional lease obligations – like paying rent – against a residential tenant in an unpermitted unit, because the contract is considered void.

It is very likely that a court would consider the residential use of this dance studio sufficient to earn the hallmarks of residential tenancies in San Francisco – namely, that they require just cause to terminate. (It would follow that, under state law, 60 rather than 30 days’ notice to vacate for residential tenancies would be required.) The landlord may need conditional use to remove the “unauthorized unit” or have to invoke the Ellis Act to remove the building from the residential rental market.