My brief life as a San Francisco squatter

Much has been said in the last few years about the rising rent costs in San Francisco. I’ve heard the crazy stories like Googlers living in a van in their company parking lot. Or the man who built a wooden box in his roommates living room to save on rent.

Sweet Bedroom… or box
Another great 1 br. Gotta head to the Google showers for the 1 ba.

I knew moving to SF from Austin would have some price sticker shock, but I did not expect the experience of finding an apartment to be as outlandish as it became.

For about the last month, every day after work I have been going around trying to find a good apartment. I didn’t really have any preferences on location, as long as it wasn’t located in the Sunset or Richmond. I work in SOMA, so commute time was important to me.

Like everyone else, I started out with Craigslist. I tried a few of the other websites promising great apartments and roommates, but ultimately they gave me no leads. Within minutes of Googling around, I was back on C-list like everyone else.

Over my time trying to find a place, I emailed roughly 200 people. Out of those 200, I had email conversations with roughly 40, and visited around 20 places. So a 10% Conversion Rate. Not bad. If you didn’t realize, I work in digital marketing.

Anyways… Although I was looking for apartments consistently, I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was offered $1500 to share a living room, $2000 to be in a Tenderloin project, went to a roommate mixer, and even hung out with a crazy cat guy.

Given that I needed to move by August, when about July 25th rolled around, I knew I had to find something quickly. I wasn’t having luck in the roommate game, so I went for a single. No roommates, no issues… boy was I wrong. This turned out to be the biggest messes of my life.

The Studio

Too small for wide angle view

As I walked in, I immediately knew I would jump on the apartment. The lady I met needed to rent the place ASAP, and I needed a spot. It was a smaller studio at about 450 square feet, but was in a nice area of Lower Height/Hayes, and came furnished. It was only for two months, which was perfect because it would allow me to get my bearings in SF, and have more time to look for a permanent location.

The landlords only request was that she come in while I’m at work to water her plants. Sounded a little sketch but if I’m at work, I don’t really care if she comes by. At $2200 a month, it was above my limit, but I was in a bind, so what the hell.

The fun part came about 15 days into August. I get a great text saying that I had three days to move out because she was getting evicted. Now I understand people getting evicted, but three days?!

Could she do this? Was this legal? My mind was racing. It didn’t help that it happened two weeks into a new job. The last thing I wanted to think about was moving on such short notice.

As I read through the text I immediately thought of the show Silicon Valley, when Jin Yang reminds Ulrich that as a tenant, he has a year to vacate the property. This got my confidence up a bit.

Yet, even with the semi-truthful show giving me hope, I wanted to do some digging into the actual legality of it.

Luckily, I work for a legal market place startup, Upcounsel, and half my team are lawyers. They said given the fact that I already paid her rent, I have a right to be there. Also, San Francisco has very tenant friendly laws.

She had not served me papers(required), given me notice(required), or mentioned anything from the actual landlord as to the reason(required).

Books everywhere

I called the housing committee and they even mentioned how I could sue her in court for ‘Bad Face’. This is essentially lying about the conditions I would be living in. Given I would be sleeping in a room without the bed listed in her Craigslist post, I had a case.

Yet, going the legal route was not worth the time given my new job. Additionally, I called the rent board who actually said it was a gray area if in fact the tenant was getting evicted (I didn’t think she was). Because I’m renting from a tenant, the main landlord could kick both of us out.


So I decide to just argue by text.

After I mention my tenant rights, and she immediately starts going on a tirade by text saying she will get the sheriff to kick me out if I don’t vacate in the three days! Literally three days or she’ll throw me on the street. She went on to call me a squatter, and had no right to be there. $2200 a month to be called a squatter… only in SF!

So with the choice she gave me, I decided to become a SF squatter.

Come back from work and no bed!

Within a few days of her giving me the notice, she started removing her furniture. Every day she would be in the apartment just moving stuff. Most of it wasn’t a big deal like her books. The problem was the bed. Can’t really enjoy a nice sleep in SF on the hard wood floor. Once the bed was gone, it was officially time to move.

The house on the hill

Once the bed was gone, I immediately started looking at 2–3 places every day after work. I was a little more seasoned of a Craigslist roommate searcher at this point, so I didn’t have as much trouble. The two things all SF people should request prior to moving:

1: Send me your Linkedin Profile and/or Facebook. You need to know they are real, with a job. So many people refused to do this! Big red flag.

2: Are you ok with overnight guests? Some people see this as a deal breaker. I understand people don’t want an extra roommate, but saying you can’t have guests is ridiculous. Ask this question upfront…

3: Who is the lease with? Is it a sub-lease agreement or will you be on the actual master lease? Have everything you do in writing. Better safe then sorry.

I ended up with a great pad in Russian Hill with some two great roommates. I don’t think all this hell was worth the payoff, but it helps with the sting.

Happy SF apartment hunting!