8. Illegal Units

Frequently Asked Questions

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Some tenants in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area live in illegal or unwarranted units. If a tenant has been residing in an illegal unit that tenant prospectively has a right to recover all of the rent they have paid in the last 4 years because a rental agreement or lease (even an oral agreement) for an illegal unit is an illegal contract. In illegal unit cases where there are a multitude of defective conditions present inside the unit and in the common areas, there can be a significant recovery of damages for the tenant. In San Francisco or Oakland an illegal unit can additionally have treble or triple damages under their respective rental laws (rent ordinances). There are numerous other legal theories which could apply to an illegal rental unit and could mean additional monetary damages. Illegal units can be hazardous because they have never been inspected by a city or county building inspector, and may, for example, have a dangerous electrical system.

There are many ways to discern if a unit is illegal including:

  1. a unit without a designated address;
  2. a unit without its’ own gas/electric meter;
  3. a basement unit;
  4. a unit built into a garage;
  5. cottages or in-law units;
  6. attic units with low ceilings;
  7. units with ungrounded outlets (e.g. 2 pronged outlets);
  8. units without modern electrical systems; and
  9. units without built in heating systems including forced air or electrical wall heaters.

Greenstein and McDonald has had tremendous success with illegal unit cases, in large part because of the novel ways we plead the lawsuits and characterize damages using local rent laws! You should call our office for a free consultation if you know or suspect that you are living in an illegal unit.