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Advice for the student tenant in SF

By Essie Harris
The The Guardsman

Finding affordable off-campus housing is one of the trials in a student’s quest to receive an education at City College.

Whether you are fresh out of high school and just beginning the beautiful journey of attending City College, or a weathered student beaten down by the realities of continuing your education, finding a decent apartment is an obstacle that can make living on the streets and panhandling seem appealing.

When I moved here four months ago, I hastily signed a six-month lease for a claustrophobic in-law unit at $640 per month. The months that followed this decision were pure hell. From landlord harassment to crack head neighbors and request for repairs being ignored, my living situation was unsafe. I was ignorant to the rights I had as a tenant, when in reality, I owned my landlord.

The issues
Four times per week, I was awakened at 7 a.m. sharp by my landlord working in the garage that I paid for and was included in my lease. By law, landlords are required to give 24 hours notice to enter rented property, and it must either be agreed upon by the tenant or authorized by court. Strike one.

Despite my persistent verbal and written requests for repairs on a somewhat urgent matter, I was ignored when the lock to the front gate broke. For two weeks I had to crawl through a tiny window leading to my bedroom as my only method of entry.

This was an obvious violation of my Warrant of Habitability. A safe entry way is on the list of things a landlord must provide which can be found on the San Francisco Tenants Union website. Strike two.

On three separate occasions within the three months I occupied the unit, inadequate draining for the jerry-rigged washer and dryer led to flooding of the garage and my apartment – also listed as a violation of my Warrant for Habitability. Strike three.

I attempted to communicate these issues to my landlord without any intention of breaking my lease.

When that didn’t work, I used the word all landlords fear: “lawyer,” a word that should be used only with great discretion for its implications have the potential to start a war. The just tenant would undoubtedly win, but at both a mental and financial cost.

I was lucky, and the landlord let me out of the lease, and so began the apartment search on Craigslist.

The nightmare begins
In the Sunset for $650, I could live with a group of four professionals, all of whom spoke only Chinese. Personally I found the language barrier too difficult to tackle.

For $700 in the Haight, I found an amazing room with a great view. However, the potential roommate was a 28-year-old male that practiced a “clothing optional” policy. I wasn’t keen on the idea of waking up to that every morning.

After several more hopeless room viewings, I found that for a slight increase in price I could have my own studio. And so the search continued: $800 for a 5×5 closet with an outhouse-style bathroom in Ingleside; $850 for a dorm-style apartment in Russian Hill, sharing a bathroom with a 90-year-old who hasn’t worn pants since ‘85 and seemed to not care where and when he discarded his dirty diapers.

For three weeks I spent endless hours looking for my new home. No one should have to experience the things I saw iduring that time. A few apartments seemed great, but I was competing with 40 other renters, all with better credit scores and more reliable jobs.

I finally moved onto a boat in the South Bay Marina for $600 a month. The first night, sea sickness left me praying for death so I abandoned ship. For those who aren’t bothered by motion, you may look into this as an option as an alternative living situation. It is an affordable way to have your own place for the low maintenance type.

I finally convinced a home owner in Bernal Heights to rent a lovely in-law studio to me for $775.

The struggles and worries are now put to rest but I have left this process a changed woman,  challenged but not defeated. I have just enough juice left in me to battle the traffic ticket Nazis and mafioso-style city regulations raping me out of every last hard-earned penny.


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