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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

VLSP’s Eviction Defense Project - Preventing Homelessness and Stabilizing Lives


Unfortunately there are landlords in San Francisco taking advantage of low-income tenants who are not fully informed of their rights. Take for example the story of Spanish-speaking immigrants John and Maria Rodriguez.* Maria works at night and John lost his job and has been working sporadically on a contract basis.

In 2007, John and Maria began renting an apartment in the Mission District from Enrique and Consuela Garcia. John and Maria moved into the premises with their daughter-in-law and two-year old grandchild. The unit did not have any centralized heat nor any fans in the bathroom or kitchen thus creating problems with excessive moisture and humidity. The apartment also had an illegal wall that created a substandard additional bedroom.

It was not until January 2010 that the landlord took steps to correct the habitability problems such as fixing the roof, installing centralized heating and kitchen fans. John sent two letters to the landlord in March 2010 complaining about the defects in the premises that were not fixed. After getting no response from the landlord, and seeing no other option, the Rodriguez’s decided to withhold their rent until the problems were fixed.

Steven MacDonaldEven though their lease was oral, in April 2010, the Rodriguez’s were served with various breaches of lease covenants notices through the Garcias’ attorney. The Rodriguez’s were also served with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit in retaliation for the complaining about the habitability defects. After a demurrer to an unlawful detainer (eviction) claim was filed, the Rodriguez’s sought assistance through VLSP’s Eviction Defense Project. Through the project, long-time VLSP volunteer Steven MacDonald, Esq., agreed to provide pro bono representation to the Rodriguez’s. At the same time, the landlords engaged a new attorney who promptly and voluntarily dismissed the case.

The landlords filed a second unlawful detainer action in June 2010, this time just for non-payment of rent. Before June, the landlords had made some repairs to the premises but additional repairs were still needed. After a successful demurrer to their complaint, the landlords decided to engage in settlement discussions.

Their offers were very low until MacDonald sent a letter detailing the landlords’ notice of the habitability problems in the premises, their failure to make repairs and the required statutory relocation expenses for a temporary capital improvements eviction—as the landlords wanted to remodel the kitchen. The landlords responded by offering $50,000 and a waiver of $10,800 in back rent if the Rodriguez’s vacated the unit by November 30, 2010. The Rodriguez’s accepted the offer which gave them the time and income to find a new apartment.

Thank you to Steven MacDonald for this incredible outcome.


If you would like to volunteer for VLSP’s Eviction Defense Project and/or to discover other ways you can volunteer with VLSP, visit

* Clients and landlords names have been changed.

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