Why Is My New Management Company Asking Me So Many Questions?

Dave’s at SF Appeal to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com, here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

I live in a 27 unit building built in 1920 in San Francisco.

I have lived here since 1992. Last year my landlord died and since then a management company has taken over running the building.

Now the management company is asking me to fill out a questionnaire that has a lot of questions about how much rent I pay, my lease, rental increases that I have been charged, and all other details pertaining to my agreement with the landlord.

Should I voluntarily fill out the questionnaire as they request? Will the information I put there be binding in future? etc…

The document you are describing sounds like an estoppel certificate, a tenant questionnaire designed to collect information to present to a potential buyer of the property.

It is likely, given the death of the former landlord, that the management company is collecting the information because, either the building is in escrow or they are preparing to market the building.

Of course the management company’s failure to inform you that the building is for sale is a already a violation of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. “Before property containing rental units subject to Section 37.9 may be sold, the owner/seller shall disclose to tenants of the property the rights of tenants during and after the sale of the property.” (Rent Ordinance §37.9(k)(1))

The section lists various requirements for the notification including “A statement that tenants are not required to complete or sign any estoppel certificates or estoppel agreements, except as required by law or by that tenant’s rental agreement. ” (§37.9(k)(1)(E)).

You should check your lease to see if there is a requirement to provide the information. If there is not, you may refuse to submit the document.

But should you refuse to submit the information? That’s a more nuanced call.

If you have a cat and there is a no pets clause in your lease, but the landlord told you it was okay, you may want to provide that information to a new buyer. That way the buyer is arguably estopped (prevented) from attempting to evict you for breach of the lease because he knew about the cat and your arrangement with the former landlord.

Similarly, you may want to tell a new buyer that you have the use of the backyard; a storage area in the garage; a parking space not mentioned in the lease; that you own the washer/dryer, etc.

The San Francisco Tenants Union recommends that you write the landlord a letter rather than fill out the estoppel certificate and I agree. Using the form as a guide, you want to think about how you really use your living space as opposed the requirements of the lease. How has your tenancy expanded over the years?

Remember that the information you provide could be binding, so it might not be a good idea to inform the landlord about the meth lab in the bathroom.

I should just be cutting and pasting this by now: Check the drop-in hours of the Tenants Union. Take your lease and any other documents pertaining to your use of your apartment to the TU to discuss the items you should include in a letter or whether you should write a letter at all.

Crow & Rose's legal practice emphasizes eviction defense, wrongful eviction and other landlord tenant and real property matters.

One Response to Why Is My New Management Company Asking Me So Many Questions?

  1. Dave, very informative reply to an often-confusing subject for tenants and renters. You bring a very good point that executing an estoppel certificate is not necessarily a bad thing and may actually be in the tenant’s best interest. I’ve only dealt with landlord-requested estoppels in the past and have always wondered what reasons may a tenant have for requesting an estoppel certificate. Your examples answered that question!

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