How Do I Dump A Deadbeat Roommate?

How Do I Dump A Deadbeat Roommate?

How Do I Dump A Deadbeat Roommate?

What are the laws governing kicking out one of your roommates? I read in one of your previous columns that its impossible for a landlord to evict individuals but can it be done by roommates? I’ve got a flat that I share with two people and one of them is a deadbeat. Our lease states that we can only pay rent with a single rent check. Not wanting to incur any late penalties and stay in the good graces of our landlord, on many instances we’ve had to cover the deadbeat’s rent while he finds some scheme to come up with the money. The problem has been getting progressively worse and I fear he might skip out on paying rent all together. Is there anything the other roommate and I can do to get rid of this guy?

Held Hostage by Housemate

Dear HHH,

As you may know from reading Tenant Troubles and from our website, my firm, Crow & Rose, does not represent master tenants seeking to evict their roommates. So I’m reluctant to give advice about how to evict a roommate. I do, however recognize that your predicament is one faced by many tenants and, as you pointed out, your entire tenancy has been placed in jeopardy because your roommate can’t pay his rent. So, I’m not going to talk about the procedure you could use to evict your roommate; you’ll have to get advice from a landlord’s lawyer for that. But I am going to answer your question because this happens all the time.

The first questions to ask: Did you and your roommates all move in at the same time? Are you all on the lease? If that is the case, you do not have the right to evict your roommate at all because you don’t have a “landlord-tenant relationship” with him. You are all co-occupants or co-tenants.

I am assuming that you are a San Francisco tenant living in a rent-controlled apartment. If one of you is a master tenant (a named tenant on the lease who rented a room to the roommate), he may have the right to evict the roommate without just cause. (See Rent Ordinance Rules and Regulations section 6.15C.) A master tenant may always evict a sub-tenant for just cause, in this case for non-payment or habitual late payment of rent. It may involve serving an unlawful detainer, an expensive process that most tenants just cannot afford. Talk to a landlord attorney.

I always think that the best course of action is to try to work it out. You have to talk to this guy with the understanding that he is probably scared as shit. Any scheming and bravado masks his fear of homelessness–unless he’s a total sociopath. You are not his mommy and he can’t expect you to pay his share of the rent.

You could try to mediate the problem to come up with an agreement for him to do what’s necessary to pay rent. I believe the Rent Board has expanded its mediation service to include this type of mediation. Give them a call. You might also try contacting Community Boards.

If your rent is more or less market rate, you may want to consider moving. Sometimes that’s the only way to extricate yourself form a problem like this. I’ve talked to roommates who moved and left the deadbeat to fend for himself. If you are considering that option, you should speak to a counselor at the San Francisco Tenants Union to go over your lease and develop a strategy that minimizes the chance of being sued by the old landlord when deadbeat doesn’t pay the rent.

I understand that times are tough. I believe that, as a society we must work for a more egalitarian system–one that can provide low-cost or even free housing for those who need it. I firmly believe that landlords can be parasites.

But this is the real world. In the real world you have to figure out a way to pay your rent. As a roommate, you have to understand that you jeopardize the entire tenancy when you can’t, for whatever reason, pay the rent.

In many cases, tenants will cover for each other. Tenants are great that way.

Hey deadbeat, when your roommates can’t cover you any more, it may be time to move. If you don’t and you drag your roommates down with you, you’re the parasite. You’re the person that confirms all the shitty attitudes out there about tenants. You’re living proof to those who would rule us that an egalitarian society is impossible.

Your roommate is going to have to quit scheming and, ouch, get a job. Maybe it’s a shitty job that’s beneath him, but he can still employ his con-artistry to unionize his fellow employees.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

Read Your Lease!

Read Your Lease!

Read Your Lease!

If you are living in an apartment with more people than provided for on the lease, but the landlord knowingly accepts rent checks from the extra parties, does this constitute a sort of “oral agreement” in which the landlord must abide the same laws governing his relationship with the other tenants? More simply, if he accepts my rent check as one of the “extra parties,” can he still “evict me” because I’m not on the lease?

Ah, leases…scintillating, page tuning reading, NOT! Imagine a Broadway musical called, “Lease!” No amount of nudity could keep it from flopping.* Unfortunately you need to understand your lease to answer many questions about your tenancy. So my general advice to tenants is: “Read your lease.”

Most leases have a clause governing assignment and subletting. Interestingly, many tenants think that subletting only occurs when one vacates an entire unit and turns it over to somebody else. When you add or replace roommates you are subletting part of the unit, so the subletting cause in your lease applies.

Typical leases provide that tenants may not sublet without the written consent of the landlord.

Assuming your lease is typical; your case is relatively straightforward. Your landlord accepted and presumably cashed your check. It’s likely that he signed the back of it when he deposited it into the bank. By accepting rent directly from you he has waived (given up) his right to evict you and your roommates for breach of the covenant against subletting.

We lawyers also argue that by his conduct of directly accepting your check, the landlord is estopped (prohibited) from claiming that he did not accept your tenancy.

The landlord may attempt to serve you and your roommates a 3-day notice to perform covenant or quit for breaching the lease. If you don’t move out after 3-days, theoretically he can serve an unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit to evict everybody. A landlord cannot legally evict one tenant in the premises; he must sue to get possession of the entire unit.

Given what you’ve told me, if the landlord tries to accuse you of breaching the lease, you have a good defense. You should contact your bank and get copies of all of your checks indorsed by the landlord to use as evidence that he accepted your tenancy.

Mind you, more lies per square foot are told in court than anywhere else but church. And landlords suffer more amnesia than soap opera starlets. Just because you have a good defense to an eviction doesn’t mean the landlord won’t try to boot you out.

I’d like to take my husband off our rental agreement because he left and refuses to pay rent. How can I do that without having hassles from my landlord that I can afford to live in my apartment on one earning? Do I have to enter into a new lease, with a new rent? I’m on the lease now, and the building is protected under rent control, (if that matters.)

It does matter that your tenancy is rent controlled. The just cause eviction provisions of the Rent Ordinance allow your lease to continue on a month to month basis because you can only be evicted for one of the 16 just causes. The Rent Ordinance also provides that your rent can only be increases by the allowable annual increase.

If you are named on the lease you probably don’t have to do anything. You certainly do not have to sign a new lease with a new rent. Rent Board Rules and Regulations §12.20 specifically prohibits a landlord from endeavoring to evict a tenant based on a breach of a term in a lease that “was unilaterally imposed by the landlord and not agreed to by the tenant and either was not included, or is not materially the same as an obligation or covenant in the rental agreement mutually agreed to by the parties.” A new rent amount, unless it is lower, will qualify as such a term. How many times has your landlord tried to lower your rent?

Read your lease. If there is a term requiring you to notify the landlord that your husband moved, do so. Other than that, you should be fine.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

What Rules Govern Master Tenants?

What Rules Govern Master Tenants?

What Rules Govern Master Tenants?

If you’re a sub-tenant/not on the lease, what are your rights? Can the master tenant kick you out, or raise the rent, at his/her discretion?

Some master tenants just can’t resist throwing their weight around. The really bad ones think they own the unit. They can be as oppressive as the worst landlords. “It’s my way or the highway, Chucko!”

The worst master tenant doesn’t even live with you. He tells you that his stuff in the closet means he’s a roommate and he can drop in whenever he wants. He charges the subtenants $1,000 per month per room. Because the total, rent controlled, rent is only $400.00 per month, he can rent a really cool loft in Los Angeles while he works on his screenplay…until your landlord finds out.

Imagine the brouhaha when the landlord finds out he’s losing, say, $2,600.00 per month or $31,400.00 per year. You can bet that everybody’s going to get the boot. Not to mention that master tenants who pull this shit are the stuff of urban legend to the landlord class. They screw up rent control for the rest of us. But I digress…

Your rights in San Francisco with regard to a master tenant can be found in the Rent Board Rules and Regulations § 6.15C. A master tenant may be able to evict you without one of the just causes in the Rent Ordinance only if, “prior to commencement of the tenancy, the Master Tenant informs the tenant in writing that the tenancy is not subject to the just cause provisions of Section 37.9.” Section 37.9(a) lists the just causes, like nonpayment of rent, nuisance, etc.

Usually a master tenant will include that language in a sublease. If you were not informed

in writing that you could be evicted at will, the master tenant cannot just throw you out. Even if a master tenant can evict without cause he must provide you with a 30-day notice or a 60-day notice if you have lived in the premises for more than one year.

Master tenants don’t raise rent, landlords do. One of the more controversial provisions of Rules and Regulations 6.15C(3)(a) provides that a master tenant cannot charge a subtenant more than his proportional share of the rent, with differential calculations including services provided by the master tenant, room size comparison, etc. Arguably, if the master tenant increased your rent without a corresponding increase from the landlord, he may be in violation of the Rules and Regs.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060

What Rules Govern Master Tenants?

Bad Master Tenant

Bad Master Tenant

What is a master tenant? In residential tenancies, a master tenant is someone who is the “senior” member of a household with roommates by virtue of the fact that they are the last remaining named tenant on a lease. So am I going to regale you with stories of head-banging, raunchy, meth induced sex at 3 a.m.? Piles of dirty dishes for days and pilfered chicken pot pies? No. In rent controlled jurisdictions the worst master tenant will unscrupulously jeopardize the roof over your head. Think Bernie Madoff.

A bad master tenant can be the roommate you rarely see. You pay your rent to them once a month when they breeze into town or you mail them the check in LA. Sometimes the bad tenant doesn’t even have a room in the apartment where you live. But in other scenarios, the bad master tenant lives as a roommate in your midst. The truly bad master tenant collects all of the roommates’ rent and then, for whatever reason, doesn’t pay the landlord.  Usually you find out about the problem too late, after you’ve been named in an eviction lawsuit (unlawful detainer) or an eviction notice from the sheriff is posted on your door.

Almost all residential leases, old or new, have clauses that prevent tenants from subletting. You should understand that subletting is not just vacating the entire unit and renting it to someone else. You are also subletting if you get a new roommate or replace an old one. Most leases require the landlord’s written consent to sublet. Without that consent a master tenant is already in breach of the lease when he rents to a roommate. San Francisco law also requires that a unit is a tenant’s primary place of residence to keep the price control provisions of the Rent Ordinance in place. In San Francisco, if a landlord finds that a master tenant does not live in the unit, he can attempt to increase the rent to market rate.

A few weeks ago, I met with a tenant who rented a room for an absentee master tenant. She lived with 3 other roommates. They were each paying about $1,000 a month for their rooms in a large well-located flat. He would come around occasionally and stay on the couch, but everyone understood that he lived in Southern California. One day the landlord served the household with a three day notice to quit. It turned out that the master tenant had not paid the rent, which was $2,400 per month, in several months. Evidently he decided that $1,600 a month for doing nothing wasn’t enough. He had been subletting like this for years.

I hear this at the Tenants Union more times than you might think. I really get pissed off because these are the tenants that ruin the concept of rent control, proving landlords’ points that tenants, in general, take advantage. That isn’t true, but, as a tenant’s rights advocate, my job doesn’t get any easier when examples like the above are thrown in my face.

In San Francisco, Rent Ordinance Rules and Regulations §6.15C requires that a master tenant can only charge a more or less proportional share of the rent based on the amount the master tenant is paying.  A subtenant who feels that he is paying too much rent can petition the Rent Board for a decrease in the rent.

What should you do before you sublet?

•   Find out if the master tenant has permission from the landlord to sublet to you.
•   Ask for a copy of the “master lease” that controls the terms of the tenancy with the real landlord.
•   Certainly find out how much total rent is being paid for the unit.
•   If it doesn’t look like the master tenant is living in the unit, find out why and in most cases just pass. Keep on looking.

How can you tell if the rent is being paid? That’s more difficult, but if the master tenant is experiencing money problems, that may be an indicator. If he has no visible means of support, isn’t working but still pays his bills may be another indicator.

There is nothing more frustrating for me than telling a tenant that even though they paid their rent to the master tenant, the landlord still can evict them because the master tenant didn’t pay the rent. Paying the rent to the master tenant is no defense to an unlawful detainer. Sure you can sue the master tenant, but the landlord has the right to collect his rent or regain possession of the unit by evicting you.

Master tenants are essentially landlords, some good, some bad.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
(415) 552-9060