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My Absentee Master Tenant Was Scamming Me And My Landlord

My Absentee Master Tenant Was Scamming Me And My Landlord

My Absentee Master Tenant Was Scamming Me And My Landlord

So in December 2011 I started living in an apt with 3 other girls in SF. Lo and behold I found out that the man who we were paying our rent to was the master tenant not an actual landlord and that he actually lived in San Diego. So since he was there he designated one of the roommates as his spokesperson. She kept in contact with him about any problems with the apartment was in charge of finding new roommates etc. She told me that the way deposits work is that the new roommate writes the deposit out to the old roommate that moves out and whenever I move out the same would be done for me. I have this all in writing in my original rental agreement that I was given.

Now at the end of July 2012 I ended up moving to Chicago for my job. When I asked his “spokesperson” about when I would receive my deposit back she told me that it wasn’t her responsibility and for me to deal with the master tenant. When I did he told her no its your (his spokesperson) job since you deal with the apartment’s business. I have not heard from her since then. In fact she ended up abandoning the apt without notice and supposedly no one has seen her since. It has been almost 3 months and I still do not have my deposit.

I have been in constant contact with the master tenant and he constantly says that he hasn’t heard anything from the landlord and that he doesn’t know what to do. I felt bad for him until I received a forwarded letter in Chicago about a landlords petition where we (I was still included on the list even though i moved out already) were supposed to show up to a court hearing. All of our names were included even though it was dated almost 2 months after I left. Clearly the landlord is not sitting idly by. I brought it up to the master tenant and he says he had no idea and never received a notice (although his address included with his name on the petition was the same address we mailed our checks to.)

Since then I have contacted the SF Rent Board and was told I had the right to bring the master tenant to small claims court. When I brought it up to him in a very civil manner (I even gave him until the end of the month and have the email as proof!) he responded very nasty saying that I could bring him to court but he wouldn’t ever pay me so what good would that do and that I didn’t pay the deposit to him so what could I possibly do to him.

I find it hard to believe that somebody that is not doing all that he can to get us our deposit back is able to just do that with no sort of consequence. What can I do?

I find it hard to believe that you can actually muster up some concern for this sociopath after he blatantly ripped you off.

Before I tell you that your chances of recovering your security deposit are only slightly better than Mitt Zomney’s chances of winning last night’s election, you should call the Rent Board again and find out if decision was made on the landlord’s petition and get a copy of that decision.

I think the landlord probably discovered that the master tenant did not live in the unit and was likely making a profit on the rent by overcharging the roommates. The landlord probably filed a petition under Rent Board Rules & Regulations §1.21 alleging his right to increase the rent to market rate based upon the fact that the master tenant did not reside in the unit.

I’ve written about this issue several times. See, for example, “Tenant Troubles: Why An Absentee Master Tenant Is A Bad Idea” and “Bad Master Tenant.”

Simply put, your ex-master tenant is a liar. He received the notice from the Rent Board and he never talked to the landlord about getting your money.

Essentially a landlord can collect a security deposit at the inception of the tenancy, when the tenant or tenants sign a lease. The deposit is held, as security against damage, nonpayment of rent, etc. Even if roommates come and go, the landlord does not have to return the security deposit until the tenancy ends, until a new lease is signed with, presumably, new tenants. The building owner/landlord has no duty to return your portion of the security deposit.

The master tenant knew this. He would never jeopardize his little enterprise by contacting the landlord for you.

It is also likely that the lease provided that he had to seek the landlord’s permission to sublet. Do think he did that? You’re actually lucky that weren’t named in an unlawful detainer (eviction lawsuit). I recommend that you contact the real landlord and inform him that you moved out in July just in case he decides to evict the rest of the roommates.

Normally I would advise you to sue ’em all and let the court sort it out. But master tenants rarely have assets or jobs that you can lien and/or attach. That’s why they set up these schemes in the first place. To complicate matters, the roommate/manager (thief number 2) absconded with your security deposit and you don’t know where she is to be able to serve her with a summons to appear in Small Claims Court.

You don’t mention the amount of your deposit, nor do you say if you still live in Chicago. Each of those factors should be considered before you file a claim. Will the amount of the security deposit justify flying back to California to present your case when it’s likely you’ll be suing two deadbeats?

If you want to find out more about the small claims process read Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court in California from Nolo Press.

Sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Tenants: Never, ever rent a room from an absentee master tenant!

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Am I Still The Master Tenant If I Moved Out Of My Apartment For Six Years?

Am I Still The Master Tenant If I Moved Out Of My Apartment For Six Years?

Am I Still The Master Tenant If I Moved Out Of My Apartment For Six Years?

I live in an apartment building that has six units, built in 1907, in the Mission, near Dolores Park, in San Francisco. My brother and I and a 3rd roommate signed a one-year lease in 2004. In the last 8 years our apartment has been a revolving door of tenants, each we have subleased without the landlord knowing. They are very hands off and don’t ever visit or seem to care about the property as long as they get a check each month.

In 2005, I moved out along with the 3rd roommate on the lease, leaving my brother as the only original lease-signer living in the apartment with two subletters. We never told the landlord.

Fast forward 6 years and I move back in to the apartment, around January 2011, with my brother and a 3rd roommate not on the lease, let’s call her Jamie. Sorry as this gets complicated. My brother moves out in August 2011 and now I am writing the check to the landlord every month for the entire rent amount and I am now the only original lease-signer living here.

I subleased to somebody else, let’s call him John, when my brother moved out, and now our relationship is very rocky. I want to kick John out, and he wants me to leave. I am unsure of my rights and his rights at the moment.

He wants me to leave, but I think that since I’m the only original lease-signer still living here, if I left, Jamie and John would probably be kicked out and the rent would increase; if my landlord even allowed them to stay or sign a new lease.

As far as my landlord knows, I’ve been living in the apartment since my original lease signing, with my brother and the original 3rd roommate, and they have no idea other people live here other than us. This apartment is rent controlled as well.

So, what happens if I leave and nobody on the original lease lives here to write them a check? Am I within my rights to evict John who I’ve been subletting for the past year? What happens if John and I cannot resolve who leaves the apartment, and neither of us will leave willingly?

Whew! Before I answer your question, I have to tell you, “Warning! Warning! Danger! Danger!” If your landlord gets wind of these facts, he may be inclined, given the current rental market, to evict you for illegal subletting. If you plan to stay in the apartment, you should begin to seek permission to sublet for each new roommate you you take on. But that’s for the future.

Technically you are not an original occupant because you moved out for six years. If you find yourself in a Rent Board hearing of some sort, you will not be able to testify, under oath, that you are an original occupant. That could be a problem. You won’t have a great defense based upon the fact that the landlord has continued to accept your rent checks. The landlord can claim that he was ignorant of the facts and that he would not have accepted your checks had he known the truth.

Hypotheticals aside, when you vacate, the landlord will very likely assume that you are the last remaining original tenant. He will certainly be able to increase the rent to market rate pursuant to Rent Board Rules & Regulations §6.14.

Moreover, the roommates are unapproved subtenants and the landlord can evict them using Rent Ordinance §37.9(a)(7) which articulates a just cause allowing a landlord to evict holdover subtenants if “[t]he tenant holding at the end of the term of the oral or written agreement is a subtenant not approved by the landlord.”

You are correct in your first assumption.

I don’t think you have the right to evict John because you don’t have the standing to do so. In law, standing means the status of being qualified to bring a legal matter before a court because a plaintiff has a sufficient and protectable interest in its outcome. Only a master tenant can evict a subtenant. Technically speaking you are a master tenant, but you cannot demonstrate that you are an original occupant because you moved out for six years, unless you lie. Problem.

Even if you do have standing to evict John, unless he signed a sublease or other document that clearly stated his subtenancy was exempt from the just cause provisions of the Rent Ordinance, you cannot simply serve him a notice to vacate without cause. (See Rent Board Rules & Regulations §6.15C.)

As you presented them, the facts don’t seem to rise to the level of a just cause under the Rent Ordinance.

So, no, I don’t think you can evict John, but he cannot evict you either.

Finally, if you and John can’t resolve the issues between you, it looks like somebody’s gonna have to move. But to paraphrase the late Rodney King, Why can’t you all just get along?

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My Master Tenant’s Fallen In Love, Am I Screwed?

My Master Tenant’s Fallen In Love, Am I Screwed?

My Master Tenant’s Fallen In Love, Am I Screwed?

Renters wait for hours to apply for a Tenderloin studio apartment priced at $2500.00 per month.

Master tenant in love

So in the midst of Rentpocalypse 2012, I managed to score a nice room in a spacious flat at a reasonable rate. I know, right? It’s been a good year. Concurrently, however, the master tenant has fallen a little head-over-heels for someone and has increasingly been spending time at their place. As in enough time that even her cat spends more nights over there than in the apartment lately.

I’m thinking there’s a non-zero possibility that she could be moving out, and possibly soon. Not to push my already good luck, but I was wondering: As a subtenant, what are my rights if she gives notice? Would I have to negotiate a new lease entirely? Would I inherit any rent protections? The only interaction I’ve had with the landlord, in writing or otherwise, was a check written out to him personally for August rent, which he cashed.

Master tenant in love? Welcome to Rentpocalypse 2012! Have a seat, but don’t stay too long.

As you might guess, this is a common scenario, but at least you are in the position to gather information and make some plans.

You don’t mention how rent the landlord is receiving for the flat. If your roommate has leased the unit for fifteen years and the rent is $2,000 per month below market, the landlord will have plenty of incentive to increase the rent if your roommate departs. On the other hand, your roommate will have plenty of incentive to keep the place until she is absolutely certain she wants to move.

You need to speak to your roommate and ask her if she has any future plans to move. Point out that it is important to understand her plans because it’s likely that you will either have to pay increased rent or move as well. Read last week’s column to understand why.

Essentially you are a subsequent occupant as defined by Rent Board Rule & Regulations §6.14(c). Your landlord will be entitled to increase the rent when you vacate.

I don’t put too much stock in the argument that because the landlord cashed a couple of your checks, you’ve established a new tenancy. The Costa Hawkins Rent Housing Act (which should be repealed) in Civil Code §1954.53(d)(4) states:

“Acceptance of rent by the owner shall not operate as a waiver or otherwise prevent enforcement of a covenant prohibiting sublease or assignment or as a waiver of an owner’s rights to establish the initial rental rate unless the owner has received written notice from the tenant that is party to the agreement and thereafter accepted rent.”

You should keep paying the rent to the landlord because the longer that goes, the stronger the argument that you are a party to the agreement. But you should not have any illusion that you can keep renting the flat at the current rate simply because you paid rent directly to the landlord.

Go to the San Francisco Tenants Union to more fully discuss your potential issue.

More importantly, talk to your roommate. Hopefully, she doesn’t have any immediate plans to move. Knock on wood. Maybe you can ride out Rentpocalypse.

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Can I Be Evicted For Subletting Without Permission?

Can I Be Evicted For Subletting Without Permission?

Can I Be Evicted For Subletting Without Permission?

Recently a friend of mine was handed an eviction notice from her landlord for subletting one of the rooms in her apartment while she was traveling. It shocked me that out of nowhere, the landlord could evict someone for something like this. She was already back at the house, and the issues was solved. It makes me a bit nervous about my own situation.

I live in a two bedroom flat in the Mission with a third room; a small “office.” Like many tenants in San Francisco, we have rented out the small, extra room to a friend. Having a third tenant was expressly verboten by the landlord when I signed the lease. However, this third person has lived with us for almost three years and there is a good chance the landlord already knows about it; he has made comments in passing such as “let your roommates know,” has probably seen the third person around, etc. I get along very well with my landlord and always pay my rent on time.

I have two questions:

1. A lawyer friend of mine mentioned something about “implied consent,” in terms of tenant/landlord relations, where if there is sufficient reason to believe the landlord is aware of a situation that is in violation of the lease, he or she is implicitly consenting to the violation. Is there any truth to this?

2. Can a landlord serve someone with an eviction notice without warning, or without a notice telling the tenant he or she must fix the situation? If landlords find out you’ve been subletting your room, or you’ve got an extra person in your flat, can they just evict you on the spot without telling you to stop subletting or ask the extra person to leave?

Issues with sub-tenants and people living in laundry rooms are issues that will increasingly apply to San Francisco tenants; this is an expensive place to live. I think we would all benefit from some extra information on the matter.

Having a third tenant was expressly verboten by the landlord when I signed the lease. What can I say? If your lease prohibits a third roommate and your landlord decides that the rent is too low and decides to evict you, it’s his prerogative. He can serve a three-day notice to cure or quit and if the roommate is not gone in three days, boom, the landlord can serve an unlawful detainer (eviction lawsuit). End of story.

Your lawyer friend is referring to the concept of waiver. Waiver is defined as an intentional relinquishment of a known right. In your case the landlord must know about your roommate’s presence and essentially consent it. Notice the term “intentional relinquishment.” How are you going to prove that in court? Certainly not by alluding to vague comments in which the landlord used roommates in the plural form.

The landlord never can evict a tenant “on the spot.” They must follow the rigid procedures defined in state and local law. The first step would be to serve a three-day notice to cure or quit as I described.

A couple of years ago, my business partner Solvejg and I represented a tenant whose predicament was similar to your friend’s. In that case the landlord had served a three-day notice to quit for illegal subletting. By the time we got the case, the landlord had served an unlawful detainer. Our client had to come back from the East Coast to defend the action.

We wrote a demurrer to the complaint alleging that the complaint was defective because the notice did not allow the tenant to “cure” the default as required in the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, but not state law. The notice did not allow the tenant an opportunity to remove the illegal subletter. Our client got lucky, but it cost her about five thousand dollars to keep the tenancy. She was lucky because she had the money to defend the case, and she made a good business decision because her rent was well below market rate.

Most tenants don’t have the kind of dough to pay lawyers to assert their rights and that’s the real point. Yes, tenants have rights and various defenses to unlawful detainer actions, but they often don’t have the resources to adequately assert those rights or to allege a viable defense. Landlords are well aware of this.

Clearly you, and most tenants, don’t understand the stress, pain and costs of defending a lawsuit, otherwise you would not knowingly violate your lease.

Why would you put your roommate through this? He didn’t do anything wrong, yet he could be either forced to move in three days or be named in a lawsuit and potentially screw up his credit.

San Francisco is expensive and many landlords these days want to cash in on the new Twitter/tech boom. One of the easiest ways to remove rent-controlled tenants is to sue them for illegal subletting. Often subletting from which the landlord turned a blind eye in the past, but that was the past and now those eyes are open.

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Can I Put My Apartment On Airbnb Without Informing My Landlord?

Can I Put My Apartment On Airbnb Without Informing My Landlord?

Can I Put My Apartment On Airbnb Without Informing My Landlord?

I’d like to list the apartment I rent (long-time, rent-stabilized) on Airbnb in hopes that someone staying in my apartment while I am on vacation will help cover the expense of my trip. It is not my intention to make a business of doing this, as some renters and most especially some landlords seem to be doing. I just want to offer my place to someone who will enjoy it while I am away – I once did a swap and many times have had house/cat sitters while on vacation. But obviously this is different in that it involves money changing hands and through a third party.

I’m pretty sure my lease says no “subletting,” but is what I want to do actually “subletting” if I am not assigning the lease to someone else, just taking money from a house guest?

If this would be a lease violation on the subletting clause, what is the real risk to me should what I am doing come to the attention of the owner? If they would take an action, would it be a final action (unlawful detainer) or more like a cease-and-desist, warning not to do this type of thing? (I’m actually not sure the current owners are in possession of a copy of my lease post-Lembi and receivership, but in case they are…)

I am aware of pending legislation regarding taxes on airbnb rentals – which would be fine with me – but I’m not clear about how what is being proposed would apply to a situation like mine.

Short answer: If your lease requires the landlord’s written permission to sublet, get the landlord’s written permission and have at it.

Many tenants are confused about the definition of subletting. If you lease a premises, even on a month-to-month basis and you charge another person to rent the entire premises or a portion of the premises without somehow changing the lease by adding her as a tenant, you are subletting. You are the only person liable to the landlord to perform the various obligations of your lease.

So you can understand why I get pissed off when I hear that a landlord accuses a tenant of illegally subletting when the tenant’s partner frequently stays overnight. No rent is changing hands. Landlords often use this ploy to embroil tenants in costly ligation and don’t care if the accusation is true or not. It’s almost always a pretext to remove a rent controlled tenant to increase the rent–a dishonorable, scumbag pretext.

If I was your landlord, I’d give you permission to sublet your apartment so that you could take a vacation. I think vacations are a necessary part of life. But I’m not your landlord and, never will be for that matter. If you read my column, you know that I believe that many landlords can be parasites, and that being a landlord can be a dishonorable profession, even if it’s temporary.

I also think that the City should enforce a ban on renting apartments meant for tenants to tourists, essentially removing much needed housing stock from the market. It’s another dishonorable ploy to violate our rent control laws.

Notice that I’ve repeatedly invoked the concept of honor. It’s also dishonorable to try to go behind the landlord’s back to sublet your apartment without his permission.

If you read my column, you also know that I rail away against master tenants who sublet their apartments because, when they get caught, unsuspecting subtenants get evicted.

What can happen if you are caught subletting without permission? Plenty. Let’s say you’re at the base camp of Mount Everest and you get an urgent email (providing there is reception) from your “guest” telling you that the landlord has served a three-day notice to cure or quit. What are you going to do? Tell the guest to get out? Put him up in a hotel, tell the sherpas to take a hike and book a quick flight from Kathmandu to deal with this issue?

Meanwhile the landlord can develop a fairly solid case to evict you. Why? Well, for starters, he has a copy of the ad you put on Airbnb.

How much money did you think you were going to save?

That’s the point. Almost all dishonorable decisions these days are made in the name of saving or making money.

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I Think My Landlord Is Crazy, Do I Need To Move Out?

I Think My Landlord Is Crazy, Do I Need To Move Out?

I Think My Landlord Is Crazy, Do I Need To Move Out?

The landlord is crazy.

So here’s the deal. I just moved to Lafayette to a unit sight unseen from across the country. Gotta do what you gotta do, right?

I offered to do all the paperwork necessary weeks before I moved, but the landlord declined, saying I could just move into the unit when I got here. Risky, but I went for it, and moved in June of this year.

The rental is basically half of a house, bordered from the rest of the house with a door in the kitchen. There are two mini-fridges, tiny stove and a bar sink to serve as a kitchen. I’m glad i don’t need a hot plate.

The landlord is a retired military (navy) man and is a Romney supporter, I know this’ not through conversations, but because we share a mailbox. He has a tenuous grasp of reality. He will leave me these nasty notes on the door, telling me to move my moving truck, or sign a rental application (threatening eviction), the latest is that he wanted $25 to do a credit check, and he held a delivery of mine, insinuating that I couldn’t have my package until I got him a credit report.

It’s month to month rental, and a fairly boilerplate lease (more of a form). So I’m just wondering what I should do. It’s obviously not bad enough to warrant moving out, but it is annoying and illegal.

Additionally, I have zero property history here besides this tenancy. Finding another place will be difficult without a good local reference, so I don’t want to burn this particular bridge.

Welcome to California. As a new resident of our lovely state you need to understand that you have very few rights as a tenant despite the fact that we are considered to be one of the more progressive states in the field. If you have to drive though a tunnel to get to San Francisco, the chances are about 100 to 1 that you don’t have local rent control to strengthen your tenant rights.

It’s usually a bad idea to live in the same building as your landlord, much less the same unit. Why? Because most landlords think they own you. They think they can control “Every breath you take; And every move you make; Every bond you break, every step you take; I’ll be watching you.” Like in the song by the Police, some landlords can be conflicted about the control they want to exert. They want the drama, the interaction, and they just really want you to love them. It’s, like, stalker fucked up. Sound familiar?

Your landlord cannot demand a credit check now because you already live in the unit. The purpose of a credit check is to determine if you are eligible to rent. So you can tell the Admiral to go to hell on that one.

Tampering with the mail is a federal offense. You can let Captain Queeg know that you will report him to a postal inspector if he continues to do so.

Finally, it is likely that you are living in an illegal unit. I’ll bet any amount of dough that the landlord did not get building permits to divide the house in half.

So what would be bad enough to warrant moving out? Does the landlord have to demand that you swab the the poop deck at four bells every day to get you to consider getting out.

Here’s what I would do. First I would call the City of Lafayette Code Enforcement Department and ask for an inspection to determine if the construction dividing the house is illegal. Then I’d give thirty days notice to vacate. Finally, I’d get all my evidence together to sue the landlord when he refuses to return the security deposit (if you have one.)

The bridge you don’t want to burn is a bridge to nowhere. You were never going to get a good reference from Captain Ahab anyway. Time to find some metaphorical gasoline.

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Why Can’t My Wife Sign Our Rent Check?

Why Can’t My Wife Sign Our Rent Check?

Why Can’t My Wife Sign Our Rent Check?

The weirdest thing happened today. My landlady sent me a note saying that I should be signing the rent checks (I have been doing this till now but the last check was written by my wife). We have a joint account and when I signed the lease I put my wife’s name on the lease.

I feel my landlady is bordering on harassment (there are other incidents) with these nonsensical notes she keeps leaving for me.

What is the law on this? Am I the only one who can pay her? What difference does it make, if the money is from a joint account and she can very well cash the checks?

If you are the only signatory to the lease, one could argue that you should be the one signing the rent checks. If both you and your wife are named on the lease then your landlord is just being an idiot.

Your landlord probably read some half-baked legal argument somewhere that advised her to be cautious about inadvertently accepting subsequent occupants.

If you are the only named tenant on the lease and you want to take care of this once and for all, you should read San Francisco Rent Board Rules & Regulations §6.15D. Section 6.15D outlines the process by which you can add your wife to the lease as an approved subtenant.

If you and your wife moved into the unit together and the land lord was aware of that fact, you can simply tell the landlord that your wife is a “co-tenant” entitled to all of the same rights you have. You should be familiar with San Francisco Rent Board Rules & Regulations §6.14 before you make that claim.

I’m guessing that your landlord simply doesn’t know what she’s doing as evidenced by the notes (always wonderful damning evidence if a case comes to court.) Your landlord is also too cheap to hire an attorney to advise her about how to professionally manage her building.

What difference should it make? Not a bit. Especially when the Costa Hawkins Rental housing Act, which screwed rent-controlled tenants everywhere in California and should be repealed says:

Acceptance of rent by the owner shall not operate as a waiver or otherwise prevent enforcement of a covenant prohibiting sublease or assignment or as a waiver of an owner’s rights to establish the initial rental rate […] California Civil Code §1954.53(d)(4).

I’d be willing to bet that you have lived in your unit for about five years. That’s the time  some landlords begin to exhibit their “eccentricities.” Your landlord probably thinks it’s time for you and your wife to go so she can give herself a pay raise.

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