Because of the high rents in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, landlords construct in law units, unpermitted units and illegal units to maximize their recovery of rent. These actions violate various laws and also very dangerous because typically the construction is not to code and the City is not involved in the permitting or inspection process. Many times this results in many repair problems as well as constant harassment by the landlord.  The Hooshmand Law Group has settled many cases involving illegal units and there are many State and Local Laws Governing Illegal Units.  Civil Code 1940.6 is one of those rules.

It is important to note that the unit is Rent Controlled! That means a landlord cannot force you out. In rare instances a landlord can address the illegality of the unit but then you are due relocation fees and also you have the right to recover your back rent. The case of Carter v. Cohen is a seminal case on this subject.

If you have rented or rent an illegal unit contact us to recover damages. Depending on where you are and the facts and circumstances surrounding your rental you may not have to pay rent if you rent an illegal unit. An illegal unit is not the same as a unit that has problems with heat or mold or other issues but is generally one that was constructed without permits from the city. The San Francisco Rent Board, a great reference for any landlord tenant issue, identifies the following regarding illegal units.


A rental unit that is not a legal unit with the City is nevertheless subject to the Rent Ordinance unless exempt for another reason. To determine if a unit is legal, you will need to review the relevant public records at the Department of Building Inspection.

Tenants in illegal units who contact the Department of Building Inspection to report code violations should be aware that the inspector might cite the owner for having an illegal unit. In such cases, this means that the unit may have to be demolished or removed from residential use because it cannot be brought up to code requirements. Demolition or permanent removal of the unit from housing use is a “just cause” for eviction under the Rent Ordinance. However, the landlord must first obtain all necessary permits to remove the unit before an eviction notice can be given. The eviction notice must comply with the requirements of the Rent Ordinance as well as state law.

Again, if this situation applies to and you have rented or rent an illegal unit, Contact Us so we can help you recover damages!

Some helpful links and interesting articles affecting illegal units, unpermitted units, and units not built to code:    Topic No. 253: Renting an Illegal Unit

The Hooshmand Law Group has successfully litigated and settled many illegal unit cases as referenced on our Verdicts and Settlement page.

Translate »