Neighbors get together in the Inner Sunset for a Tenant's BootCamp.

If you think that Bootcamps are just for technology geeks who won’t sleep until they discover the next protocol or park denizens who get up early to get in shape, you are wrong. The newest – and most popular – San Francisco bootcamps are for tenants.

“The idea for the bootcamps came from a workshop that I did at my daughter’s preschool for teachers about their rights as tenants, and another parent and I set up a workshop and trained dozens of teachers about their rights,” said Dean Preston, the executive direct of Tenants Together, one of the presenters at the bootcamps. The San Francisco Tenants Union organized the bootcamps after Preston reached out.

Preston, who has trained hundreds of attorneys, counselors and organizers statewide, does a know-your-rights presentation, followed by a Q&A session and some one-on-one counseling with tenant’s rights advocates.

The first two free workshops reached around 150 renters, and the third one, which took place last night in the Inner Sunset, another 50. Ten bootcamps are scheduled and although they focused initially on District 5  where three-quarters of the residents are tenants, there are plans to extend them to other neighborhoods including the Mission.

“Tenants across the city are under siege right now,” said Preston. “It’s more pronounced in certain neighborhoods and obviously the Mission is facing enormous displacement… the highest tenant population in the city is in District 3, so there are places getting a lot more of the speculation. But the fear of being displaced is one of the top issues for people across San Francisco.”

Fear, anger, curiosity and a sense of community, were noticeable at Wednesday night’s bootcamp at a small Irving street cafe. Neighbors spent more than two hours listening and asking questions about what landlords can and can’t do, and how to stand up together against displacement.

Although they asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from landlords, their stories are common: A woman’s landlord died and now his heirs want to evict her; a group of neighbors are dealing with a building owner who never gives the rent deposits back; a young lady can’t reach her landlord to get some changes in her lease; a man complains about some handouts given in his street by a Real Estate Agent, inviting owners to workshops to teach them eviction rules.

“We are not treated as humans anymore. It seems like an add for pest control,” he said.

The counselors said the number one reason tenants lose their homes in San Francisco is because they don’t know their rights. Few people were aware that a landlord can’t evict them verbally or by text/email, or enter their homes without 24 hour written notice.

Moreover, it’s illegal for owners to refuse to make needed repairs, or impose punitive fees for a late payment, the tenants learned. A landlord cannot legally terminate a tenancy just because a renter complains about housing conditions. The list of rights is as long as the ignorance on the subject, which is why the Bootcamp have become increasingly popular.

‘Gotcha’ evictions

A report released in April by the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition showed that the two leading causes of rising evictions are minor lease violations or “nuisance” allegations.

“People call them no-fault evictions, or low-fault evictions,” said Preston. “We call them ‘Gotcha!’ evictions, very minor or trivial things that landlords and speculators are seizing on, to use them as an excuse to kick people out. That’s on the rise.”

These include for example, restrictions on roommates, airbnb rentals, pets, unauthorized improvements, loud parties and arguing with neighbors.

“Lot of the speculators and landlords have tried those kinds of evictions, when they don’t work, then they resort to other types of evictions like Ellis Act evictions, rehabilitation evictions… but most of it starts with harassment and allegations about violations of the lease or nuisance behavior. Tenants really need to learn their right to get help and push back on those,” added Preston.

As for many people, leaving their homes imply leaving the city, organizations like Causa Justa, located in the Mission, and the Housing Rights Committee are campaigning strongly with neighborhood clinics and free counseling for tenants.

Advice from Wednesday night’s camp: read your lease, get informal agreements in writing, write down all interactions with landlord, beware of ownership changes and… don’t just leave! Learn rights, get help, and as it happened last night in the Inner Sunset, get together with your neighbors to defend your rights. Mission: Stay tuned for your bootcamp.

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  1. When does a home owner get to END a lease with a tenant? At the end of ANY contract, including a tenant lease agreetment (month to month or for one year, needs to have an end point) — BOTH parties have the right to say, let’s end the lease. People should not be able to live off rent control, public housing for Life.
    Rights for Landlords is what is needed in SF.

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  2. Quit complaining about being tenants, expecting landlords to subsidize your life. If tenants want the same rights to a place as owners, then they should buy a place and become an owner themselves.

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    1. Since when have landlords subsidized tenants? Everyone knows it’s the other way around! (And the bootcamps aren’t bitch sessions. And tenants have unique rights.)

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