Renting and Leasing
Alternatives to Buying a Home

As a newcomer to the Bay Area, you may want to familiarize yourself with different neighborhoods and regions before determining where to buy. While some people strive to obtain homeownership, others realize that renting or leasing is a much more suitable decision for the short or long term. After all, you have only just arrived in your new city. With so many things to be done, making a large investment may be handled best after getting yourself acclimated to the area. If you have been relocated by your employer, the chance of another relocation may be in your future, in which case purchasing a house might not guarantee a return on your investment. If you moved from a rental, you may not be ready to take the plunge into owning your first piece of property. Allowing yourself time to settle into your new environment before committing to homeownership will give you time to get a feel for the various communities that make the Bay Area such a diverse place to live and decide which type of home is best for you.

While the Bay Area is certainly a great place to buy a home, it is also a great place to satisfy all renting appetites. With various units found throughout the city and loft construction on the rise since the turn of the millennium, finding a place to rent or lease in the San Francisco is not difficult. Finding the right place that meets your needs and suits your lifestyle is the key to finding a place you can call home. As other metropolitan cities have experienced slowing construction because of market volatility, San Francisco continues to add to its supply of renting and leasing inventory.

SNAPSHOT
In San Francisco, 43.3 percent of the city’s residents are renters, and you’ll find the city is a landlord’s market with occupancy at approximately 91.2 percent. According to Rental Guide magazine and its website www.rentalguide.com, mid- to high-end condominium units, rather than apartments, dominate properties currently under construction in the Bay Area, and the inventory of apartments continues to be reduced by condominium conversions. These factors combined with a healthy job market and the high quality of Bay Area life, keep the demand for rentals high.

As of February 2013, apartment in San Francisco rentals range from an average of $1,845 for a one bedroom to upwards of $2,364 for select three bedrooms depending on the area.

MOST LUXURIOUS RENTAL PROPERTIES
If you’re looking for the lap of luxury in your apartment rental in the City by the Bay, look now further. A website called the Luxe List (www.luxelisthome.com) showcases the Top 10 percent of San Francisco’s luxury rental properties based on richness of amenities, location and everything that will please the most discriminating urban dweller. From Union Square to the Mission District to the Waterfront, Luxe List offers the following as the Top 5 Most Luxurious Rental Properties in the Bay Area.

— Millennium Tower
Scoring 100 out of 100, Millennium Tower comprises a 60-story, ultra-luxury residential tower and adjacent 11-story, mid-rise building located in the city’s exciting South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood. Developed by Millennium Partners, Millennium Tower combines inspired architecture, gracefully elegant contemporary design and world-class features, finishes, services and amenities to completely redefine the modern urban luxury lifestyle. Its one-, two- and three-bedroom luxury apartments and penthouse residences range from approximately 750 to 6,000 square feet and offer state-of-the art residential design with extraordinary finishes and components. An architectural landmark, the two gleaming towers also offer world-class ultra-private club caliber amenities and services on site that include professional concierges and exclusive access to the 20,000-square-foot Club Level with an owners lounge, tasting room and cellar, private dining room (serviced by Chef Michael Mina’s RN74 restaurant on the ground floor), screening room, children’s playroom and an outdoor terrace. Don’t forget the 5,500-square-foot fitness center operated by Sports Club-LA, complete with Pilates and yoga studios, massage therapy, locker rooms, Jacuzzi and steam rooms and a dramatic 75-foot indoor saltwater lap pool beneath a soaring skylight. For more information, call (415) 955-7968 or visit www.millenniumpenthousesf.com.

— Via
Opened in late spring 2012, the much anticipated ultra-luxury community Via scored 98 out of 100 in luxury. This brand-new community provides a new standard of luxury living by combining stylish and spacious luxury living with terrific amenities, on-site retail opportunities and convenient access to the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The community features the most sought-after amenities that are sure to please the most discriminating modern urban dweller, including a stunning pool and spa with sundeck, a cyber café, a resident club room with billiards, a state-of-the-art health and fitness center with professional aerobic and weight-training equipment and an outdoor fire pit and grilling stations. The Zen-inspired courtyards and all common areas feature free Wi-Fi throughout for residents while the spacious apartments feature nine-foot ceilings, gourmet kitchens with energy-efficient stainless-steel appliances, custom maple cabinetry and CeasarStone countertops. Apartments also have a private patio or balcony and unique flex rooms perfect for an additional bedroom or home office. The on-site stores feature, among others, a Fresh & Easy market for easy grocery shopping. For more information, call (866) 958-2962 or visit www.liveatvia.com.

— 1200 Lakeshore
Located on historic Lake Merritt with spectacular views of the lake, Downtown Oakland, the Oakland Hills and the bay sits the luxurious 25-story 1200 Lakeshore, which rated 94 out of a possible 100. Here, spacious one-, two- and three-bedroom residences come with all the modern amenities and features demanding urban dwellers have come to expect. Recently renovated, the apartments large private decks and modern finishes in the kitchens and baths, including fine contemporary cabinetry, granite counters, new designer appliances and plush carpets. The amenities here will please all residents who enter its grand lobby entrance with 24-hour lobby attendants and also enjoy a resident lounge for entertaining or relaxing, a fully equipped fitness center, redwood sauna, professional business center and an outdoor garden courtyard, which complements the building’s pet-friendly policy. 1200 Lakeshore residents can walk to a convenient BART station and have easy access to the finest Oakland dining and shopping destinations. Plus a complimentary daily commuter breakfast creates the impression of living at a fine hotel. For more information, call (510) 834-1200 or visit www.1200lakeshore.com.

— Acappella Apartments
Scoring a high 94 out of 100, Acappella Apartments at the Crossing in San Bruno in the heart of the San Francisco Peninsula introduces stylish contemporary luxury living. At Acappella, residents find one- and two-bedroom luxury apartments with a unique blend of timeless classic design and contemporary amenities. The residences have spacious walk-in closets, nine-foot ceilings, extra-large windows, granite countertops, custom cabinetry GE appliances in gourmet kitchens. Residents also enjoy inviting bathrooms, private patios or balconies, in-unit washer and dryer, prewired portals for state-of-the-art telecommunications and elegant ceramic tile flooring. Community amenities include a fully equipped fitness center, resort pool, whirlpool spa and modern grilling stations within a lushly landscaped interior courtyard. Walking distance to shops at Tanforan and Bayhill Plaza, Acappella is conveniently close to BART and CalTrain public transportation so residents have easy access to all of the fine shopping, dining, entertainment and cultural destinations available in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, call (866) 247-5812 or visit www.liveacappella.com.

— Archstone
In the heart of San Mateo, which is situated perfectly between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the Archstone apartment community rates an impressive 90 out of 100 to bring the best of the San Francisco Bay Area to its residents. The apartments are loaded with thoughtful features and upgraded finishes, including fireplaces, vaulted ceilings, crown molding and gourmet kitchens. Community amenities include a game room with billiards, shuffleboard and an amphitheatre; a business center and conference room; resort-style pool and spa; movie theater with stadium seating; and a state-of-the-art fitness center with cardio equipment, free weights and flat-screen TVs throughout. Situated in a beautiful park-like setting with picnic areas and barbeque grills, Archstone also has an on-site yogurt shop, plus great restaurants and quaint shops are right out the front door. For more information, call (866) 788-1332 or visit www.archstoneapartments.com.

AMENITIES GALORE
In addition to affordable rents in the area, amenities provided by many apartment complexes in the Bay Area are considered luxuries in other U.S. cities. Expect to find conveniences, such as disability access, some paid utilities, balconies or patios, cable-ready outlets, emergency maintenance, laundry facilities, outdoor pools, hot tubs and spas. Many have tennis courts, basketball facilities, billiard rooms, playgrounds and fitness facilities outfitted to rival private gyms. Also available at many complexes are limited-access gates, dry cleaners, detailed landscaping and basic cable TV. Some apartments have extravagant clubhouses with big-screen TVs, executive business centers, parking garages, sundecks, gazebos, elevators and video-monitored limited-access entries.

Interior features considered standard for most San Francisco apartments include heating, air conditioning, miniblinds, fully equipped kitchens with a dishwasher and multiple phone lines. Other features might include nine-foot ceilings, crown molding, oval garden tubs, bay windows, fireplaces or garages or covered parking. In addition, some communities have resident programs that include free and optional services, such as maids, concierges, aerobic classes, guest suites for visitors, free shuttle services and car detailing centers.

WHAT TO EXPECT
In San Francisco, it’s wise to arrive at every prospective rental prepared to write a deposit check to hold the property. Also bring a copy of your credit report for the building manager or leasing representative. Landlords will want references from your previous residences as well as your basic employment information. They can request only nonsmokers, they can prohibit pets other than a working dog, and they can bar you from having overnight guests for more than a certain number of nights per year.

If asked to complete a rental application, have available the following information:
  • Current and former addresses
  • Current and past employment
  • Credit references
  • Copy of your credit report
  • Pet résumé that summarizes your pet’s best qualities

You may be charged a nonrefundable application fee to cover the cost of processing your application: running credit checks, verifying rental histories and the like. Properties also may charge an application deposit, which usually becomes part of a security deposit if the application is approved. If the application is declined, the application deposit usually is refunded.

Many apartment communities have strict policies regarding pets, often limiting them to 20 pounds and requiring a pet deposit. When outside, a pet must be kept on a leash and walked only in designated areas. Apartment communities employ full-time maintenance people to handle repairs and perform preventive maintenance, with some offering 24-hour emergency repair services. If leasing from an owner, be sure to establish responsibilities for repairs and maintenance.

After searching, weighing your options and deciding on the property to rent, you will want to get settled into your new home as soon as possible. Luckily, many buildings offer Virtual Leasing Offices on their websites that allow you to start the application process 24 hours a day. Before applying for a rental, you may want to check out your credit record with a report from a consumer-reporting agency to clear up any problems or mistakes on your record. Identity thieves can wreak havoc on your credit without your knowledge, and correcting the damage will need to be started right away because it takes time.

Most landlords use printed forms for their leases and rental agreements; however, printed forms may differ from each other. There is no standard rental agreement or standard lease. Therefore, carefully read and understand the entire document before you sign it. The written rental agreement or lease should contain all of the promises that the landlord or the landlord’s agent has made to you, and should not contain anything that contradicts what the landlord or the agent told you. If the lease or rental agreement refers to another document, such as “tenant rules and regulations,” get a copy and read it before you sign the written agreement.

Other important considerations for renters are similar to those faced by homebuyers: number of bedrooms and bathrooms, schools and districts, commuting distance and time and convenience of lifestyle options, such as shopping centers, malls, restaurants and entertainment. Amenities to be considered include washer and dryer connections, a fireplace, fitness facilities and covered parking.

Prioritizing features and amenities on a checklist can help potential renters find the apartment home best suited to meet their needs and preferences. Following are things to consider during your search:
  • Are the kitchen appliances clean and working? Do the stove’s burners work? Check the oven, does it work? Is there sufficient water pressure coming from the kitchen sink faucet? Is there enough kitchen counter and shelf space? Does the dishwasher work?
  • Do the windows open, close and lock? Do the bedroom windows open onto a noisy or potentially dangerous area?
  • Are the closets big enough to accommodate your belongings? Is there any additional storage space?
  • Do the electrical outlets work and are there enough?
  • Is there any sign of pests or bugs?
  • Do the washer and dryer work properly?
  • Is there a garage in the building for your car or one nearby? How is the parking for guests?
  • How is the neighborhood? Does it feel safe? Is the building close to transportation and shopping?
  • Who pays the utilities? It varies from place to place.

TENANTS’ RIGHTS IN CALIFORNIA
Tenants have basic legal rights that are always present, no matter what the rental agreement or lease states. These rights include all of following:
  • Limits on the amount of the security deposit that the landlord can require you to pay
  • Limits on the landlord’s right to enter the rental unit
  • The right to a refund of the security deposit, or a written accounting of how it was used, after you move
  • The right to sue the landlord for violations of the law or your rental agreement or lease
  • The right to repair serious defects in the rental unit and to deduct certain repair costs from the rent, under appropriate circumstances
  • The right to withhold rent under appropriate circumstances
  • Rights under the warranty of habitability
  • Protection against retaliatory eviction

Under California law, a lease or rental agreement cannot say that a security deposit is nonrefundable, so when the tenancy ends, the landlord must return any payment put down as a security deposit unless the landlord properly uses the deposit for a lawful purpose, such as repair to the unit not due to normal wear and tear.

HEALTH AND SAFETY
You have a right to demand that the landlord repair any condition that materially affects your health and safety. Under California law, by renting you the property, the landlord guarantees that the unit will be a fit place to live; that is, it must be habitable or fit for occupation by human beings and that it substantially complies with state and local building and health codes that materially affect tenants’ health and safety.

California law makes landlords and tenants each responsible for certain kinds of repairs, although landlords ultimately are legally responsible for assuring that their rental units are habitable. Before renting a rental unit to a tenant, a landlord must make the unit fit to live in. In addition, while the unit is being rented, the landlord must repair problems that make the rental unit unfit to live in. On the other hand, tenants are required by law to take reasonable care of their rental units, as well as common areas such as hallways and outside areas. Tenants must act to keep those areas clean and undamaged. Tenants also are responsible for repair of all damage that results from their neglect or abuse, and for repair of damage caused by anyone for whom they are responsible, such as family, guests or pets.

SECURITY
Although there are some specific exceptions, under California law, a dwelling must be equipped with security devices, such as window latches; keyed deadbolts on exterior doors; sliding-door pin locks, handle latches or security bars; and door viewers. These devices must be installed at the landlord’s expense. If such devices are missing or are defective, you have the right to request their installation or repair.

ADDRESSING REPAIR ISSUES
Most apartment complexes employ full-time maintenance workers to handle the repairs and perform preventive maintenance, with some offering 24-hour emergency-repair services. If leasing from an owner, be sure to establish the responsibilities for repairs and maintenance.

Depending on your lease, the owner may or may not be responsible for minor problems, such as leaky faucets or issues with appliances. However, if the landlord will not make repairs needed to protect your health, safety or security and you follow the procedures required by law, you may be entitled to make the following remedies:

— Repair and Deduct Remedy
This allows a tenant to deduct money from the rent to pay for repair of defects in the rental unit that make for substandard conditions that affect the tenant’s health and safety that an unrelated to activities of the tenant, guests or pets. In addition, the repairs cannot cost more than one month’s rent, and the remedy cannot be used more than twice in any 12-month period. Risks involved with this remedy may be that the defects may not be serious enough to justify the tenant’s action, so make sure it is necessary. Following are the basic steps for employing this remedy:
  1. The tenant must inform the landlord, orally or in writing, of the repairs that are needed.
  2. The tenant must give the landlord a reasonable period of time to make the repairs. Usually the law considers this to be 30 days, but the period may be shorter due to the nature of the defect.
  3. If the landlord doesn’t make repairs within the reasonable period, the tenant can make the repairs or hire someone to do it then deduct the cost of the repairs from the rent when it is due. Keeping receipts is required.

— Abandonment Remedy
This remedy allows the tenant to abandon (move out of) a defective rental unit when the repair of the defects would cost more than one month’s rent and involve substandard conditions that affect the tenant’s health and safety that an unrelated to activities of the tenant, guests or pets. After abandonment, the tenant is not responsible for paying further rent. Risks involved with this remedy may be that the landlord will sue the tenant to collect additional rent or damages if the defects are found not to be serious enough to warrant abandonment. Following are the basic steps for employing this remedy:
  1. The tenant must inform the landlord, orally or in writing, of the repairs that are needed.
  2. The tenant must give the landlord a reasonable period of time to make the repairs. Usually the law considers this to be 30 days, but the period may be shorter due to the nature of the defect.
  3. If the landlord doesn’t make repairs within the reasonable period, the tenant must notify the landlord in writing of their reasons for moving and then actually move out, returning all keys to the landlord. Keeping a copy of the notice is highly recommended.

— Rent Withholding Remedy
This remedy is allowed by law so the tenant can withhold some or all of the rent if the landlord does not fix serious defects that involve substandard conditions that affect the tenant’s health and safety that an unrelated to activities of the tenant, guests or pets and the defects are more serious than would justify use of repair and deduct or abandonment remedies. Risks involved with this remedy may be that the landlord will sue the tenant to collect the rent or damages if the defects are found not to be serious enough to warrant withholding that rent.
  1. The tenant must inform the landlord, orally or in writing, of the repairs that are needed.
  2. The tenant must give the landlord a reasonable period of time to make the repairs. Usually the law considers this to be 30 days, but the period may be shorter due to the nature of the defect.
  3. If the landlord doesn’t make repairs within the reasonable period, the tenant can withhold some or all of the rent until the landlord makes the repairs. The tenant must save the withheld rent money and not spend it with the full intention of paying it when the repairs are made.

AVOIDING PITFALLS
You may experience these additional problems:

Deposit recovery.
Most landlords require you to pay a security deposit to cover any repairs needed when you move out or your failure to pay the last month’s rent. By law, landlords cannot refuse to return the deposit. If you give your landlord your new address in writing and you do not receive your deposit or an explanation within 21 days of your departure, contact the landlord. If you cannot resolve the problem satisfactorily, you may wish to consult an attorney.

Deductions for damages. The landlord must return the deposit—less any amount deducted for damages—within 21 days. Do not forget to leave a forwarding address so the deposit can be sent back to you. If the landlord withholds part or all of your deposit, he or she must give you an itemized list of deductions with a description of the damages.

Normal wear and tear. The landlord may not charge you for normal wear and tear on the premises and may only charge for actual abnormal damage. If the carpet simply becomes more worn because you and your guests walked on it for a year, the landlord may not charge you for a new carpet. If your waterbed leaks and the carpet becomes mildewed as a result, you may be charged.

Advance-notice requirements. In California, tenants must give the landlord the same amount of notice as there are days between rent payments (usually 30), but rental agreements may specify other amounts of notice, such as 10 days or even 60 days, so look at your lease closely for the terms.

Rent increase. There is no commercial rent control in San Francisco. Rather San Francisco’s Rent Ordinance regulates rents and evictions for certain residential rental units in San Francisco. Chapter 37A of San Francisco’s Administrative Code allows the city to collect a per-unit fee for each residential dwelling unit that is subject to the San Francisco rent ordinance. This fee defrays the entire cost of operation of the rent Board and is billed to the landlord each year on the property tax statement sent in November. A landlord is allowed to collect 50 percent of the cost of the fee from the tenant. In 2012–13, the allowable Rent Board fee collectable from tenants is $14.50, and it has been that way since 2008. Effective March 1, 2013, through February 28, 2014, the allowable annual rent increase is 1.9 percent, which is based on 60 percent of the increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers in the Bay Area.

Late rent payment. Most rental agreements require that rent is paid at the beginning of each rental period (e.g., month); however, the lease can specify any day of the month that that rent is due. It is very important to pay the rent on the date that it is due. Unpaid rent can lead to negative entries on your credit report or even an eviction. Often rental agreements offer a grace period in which to pay the rent without penalty, so consult your specific lease for those details.

Renters insurance. Although not required by California law, the law allows rental property owners to require renters to buy rental insurance. If so, you normally will be asked to submit proof of insurance to the leasing agent before you move into your property. If you let your rental insurance lapse, it may be a violation of your lease and give your landlord grounds for fines or evictions. Renters insurance is an affordable way to safeguard against unforeseen occurrences and protect against personal losses is having renters insurance. Insurance rates are heavily influenced by the comprehensiveness of the coverage and can average $169 a month for $15,000 worth of coverage. Your lease likely contains a clause that states that the owner will not be liable for any damages to the resident’s personal belongings or to that person except in cases where a disaster occurred due to the owner’s own negligence; then the resident has a course of action.

Guests. It is normal to want to share the amenities that have drawn you to your apartment, but landlords usually have policies about your guests’ amenity usage. Whether it is a maximum number of guests allowed per tenant or necessary accompaniment with your guest, it is best to avoid breaking the rules by inquiring with the landlord first.

The surest way to stay in compliance while at your rental is always to keep your lease handy so you can reference it often. If you know your rights, know the rights of the property owner and take the right course of action when needed and you will be more likely to avoid problems.

If buying a home is not right your you or your lifestyle, the Bay Area certainly provides many excellent and affordable renting and leasing options so you can settle right away into your new city.
 
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