Why Won’t My Landlords Take A Rent Check From My Partner?

Why Won’t My Landlords Take A Rent Check From My Partner?

Why Won’t My Landlords Take A Rent Check From My Partner?

I moved into my apartment in February 1, 1995 with my partner. At the time the building was co-owned by two families, The Os and the Cs who also owned a construction company.

My partner was not with me the day I signed the lease, but I told Mrs. O, who managed the building, that I would have a “roommate” move in with me; she said that would be fine as it was a one bedroom so there was plenty of room for two. Mrs. O met my partner shortly after we moved in and she seemed to like him. She also accepted rent checks from him.

As Mrs. O grew older, the daughter-in-laws took over the day to day running of the business. They and the Cs did not get along at all. The Cs bought the O’s interest in the building so that they had complete control. Even though the Cs had copies of his rent checks that had been cancelled in the past, they refused to take a check from my partner.

I have a note from my Dr. and from family letters etc. (One of my sisters could name the date in 1995 in which see saw us in this Apartment as she had a training course here. She had also visited us at our old place we used to live in.)

We live in San Francisco. We are getting married this coming week. The rent board here gave us conflicting answers. One senior person working there took my partner back to his office and said that once we were married that any surviving partner would have full rights and benefits of being an original tenant, which he was, but we are having trouble coming up with “proof” of him moving in in 1995. Many former tenants who might be willing to testify have moved away or, sadly, passed away. When I called the Rent Board’s call in line, they told me my partner would be able to continue to live here, but that the landlords could charge him market rate, if I die or move out.

It’s already clear that your partner has been accepted as a subtenant. When the building changed hands the Cs knew the your partner lived in the unit and knew that the Os had accepted him as a tenant, despite any language in the lease that may have prohibited or limited subletting.

You have correctly surmised that the Cs refusal to continue to cash your partner’s checks indicates that some day in the future they will want to claim that he is a subsequent occupant who moved in after 1995.

The year 1995 is important because the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act only effected tenancies established after its enactment in 1995. Costa Hawkins is a big green loogie the California state legislators hocked in the faces of those who would assert necessary local control over their housing markets. In effect our representatives said, “Fuck you San Francisco! Fuck you Los Angeles! Fuck you Oakland! Fuck you Berkeley! Fuck you Santa Monica! Fuck all you all. No, you don’t get to govern yourself. You didn’t elect us anyway, the real estate industry did.”

I don’t think your upcoming marriage will have any impact upon your partner’s (spouse’s) rights as a co-tenant. For example, I don’t think your marriage would confer any tenancy inheritance rights for your partner if he was a subsequent occupant after 1995.

You need to gather evidence that your partner moved into the unit at the same time you did, despite not being named on the lease.

Luckily you may have some allies in the former landlords. You mention that the Os may have had some ill will for the Cs. Here’s a chance to exploit that animosity. Ask the Mrs. O (if she is still alive) or the daughters-in-law for a written statement acknowledging that your partner moved in with you. Ask them for copies of any check he wrote for rent. Ask them for any other relevant evidence they may have.

You should also compile and save any records that you have–copies of checks, bank statements, letters to the landlords–anything that can establish that your partner moved into the unit in 1995.

It is no exaggeration to say that your landlords are eagerly awaiting the day that you die or depart to jack up the rent on your apartment. It’s probably the subject of Thanksgiving dinner conversation.


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My Neighborhood’s Too Dangerous, Can I Break My Lease?

My Neighborhood’s Too Dangerous, Can I Break My Lease?

My Neighborhood’s Too Dangerous, Can I Break My Lease?

Neighborhood’s too dangerous.

In July, my wife and I moved out of a great roommate situation in San Francisco into our first apartment as a couple in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. At the time the move made perfect sense and for the first few weeks things were excellent. We finally had our own place, we discovered that we have the best neighbors, and being 4 blocks from BART for under $2,000.00 is something we could only dream about in the city. 

On the evening of August 16th all of our good feelings changed. We were robbed at gunpoint about 50 yards from our front door. We soon found out that other robberies had happened on our street during the month of August. The robberies have continued in Rockridge within a mile from our home. Most of them at night, but two committed this weekend happened during broad daylight, Saturday 4:15pm on a residential street like ours and Sunday at 2:15pm in front of a busy cafe on College Avenue. 

Last Thursday at the library in Rockridge, Captain Trobiano from the Oakland Police Department met with concerned neighbors to talk about the recent spate of robberies. His advice was to hire private security for the neighborhood. The Oakland Police Department doesn’t seem to have the resources to keep the neighborhood safe. 

One of the reasons my wife and I moved to Rockridge was to take advantage of the many shops, restaurants, and watering holes that dot College Avenue. Now we are terrified to go out because our neighborhood’s too dangerous. I often work late at night and am fearful that I will be mugged while walking from my car to my front door. I hate leaving my wife home alone at night while I work.

We are wondering whether you know if we can get out of our lease? What will the financial penalties be?

I’m sorry to hear about your experience and glad to assume by your email that neither of you were hurt.

Certainly, you have the right to move, to break your lease. Often tenants don’t quite understand that they can always terminate a lease before it expires. Despite what you may have been told, landlords cannot force tenants to live in a unit.

If you terminate a lease early you will be in breach of the lease unless your move can be blamed on the landlord–the roof caves in or the landlord’s direct action forces you to move. As you know, however, there is nothing the landlord can do to prevent this type of crime, so you may incur some financial liability for breach of the lease.

When a tenant breaches a lease, in this case by moving out before the end of the term, a landlord suffers damages. These damages are called “expectation damages.” If you promised to pay $1,900.00/month for 12 months, then the landlord has the right to expect that amount of income for a year. That’s why one hears that tenants can be charged for the rent for the rest of the term of the lease if they move early. That could be true if the law allowed the landlord to sit on his ass and do nothing to rent the unit.

The law requires that the landlord “mitigate” or minimize his damages. He must attempt to rent the unit at the same rate. Because you recently rented the unit, I assume the rent is priced close to market rate. The landlord shouldn’t have any trouble re-renting it for the same price, more or less.

The law is also clear that the landlord cannot be “unjustly enriched.” That means that he cannot collect damages (rent) from you for any time he rents the unit to new tenants.

How do you calculate your potential damages?

Read your lease. If there is a clause that defines a preset fee as damages you may be liable to pay the fee. You should check with a lawyer regarding such a clause. In some cases they may not be legal or may allow the landlord to be “unjustly enriched.”

You should try to give the landlord thirty-days notice of your intent to vacate–in writing, always in writing. Your correspondence during this period should be in writing, email will suffice.

Let’s say you give the landlord notice that you will move out on September 15. If the landlord rents the unit to new tenants for the same price you are paying and their tenancy begins on September 16, the landlord won’t have any damages beyond incidental costs like advertising the unit. Assuming you leave the place in the same condition that you received it, the landlord should also return your full security deposit.

If the rental market has softened in Rockridge and the landlord can only rent the unit for $1,800.00, you may be liable for additional rent of $100.00 per month until expiration of the lease–approximately $900.00. The landlord should be able to deduct that from the security deposit.

Practically, you should make it as easy as possible for the landlord to exhibit the unit to prospective tenants. Work with the landlord to make sure any other issues that arise during the rental process are resolved smoothly.

You should not, however, agree to assume responsibility for the entire rental process, like maintaining the advertising and arranging the showings yourself. I’ve heard too many stories in which tenants have done all the work to rent a unit only to find that the landlord refuses each and every one of the applicants and demands rent for another month.

Some landlords will see this as an opportunity to collect rent without putting up with pesky tenants. If you give notice to vacate, that’s exactly what you should do. Despite any threats from the landlord, do not cave into the suggestion that you continue to pay rent after you’ve moved.

If you give a landlord a chance to sit on his ass, nine times out of ten, that’s exactly what he will do despite the fact that the neighborhood’s too dangerous.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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Do I Have to Use The Crappy Furniture That Came With My Apartment?

Do I Have to Use The Crappy Furniture That Came With My Apartment?

Do I Have to Use The Crappy Furniture That Came With My Apartment?

Crappy furniture.

I am a tenant in lower Nob Hill, building is more than 50 years old.  I live in a studio apartment that I signed a 6 month lease for in July of 2011.  The apartment came sparsely furnished with a futon bed (now removed because it was broken), a T.V./bookcase wooden thing, that probably dates back to the 70’s and a small table that is filthy, stained and ewwwwww.  

I want to remove the furniture and move my own in.  I wasn’t sure about how long I would be here, so the sorta furnished deal was appealing at the time I moved in.  Now that I know I will be here a few more years, I’d like to bring my stuff up from down south.  

The furniture is not worth anything and Goodwill and DAV will not take it because it is in too rough of shape.  

The landlord has threatened me with lawsuits and eviction stating to move furniture out would be a “serious crime”.  I have assured him that I will leave the apartment in better condition than what it was rented to me, but I was set on getting rid of the useless furniture.  

I have searched high and low for some kind of law or statute about this and I cannot find one.  I don’t mind giving up my deposit, which was 600 bucks.

The best solution to this problem would be to stash the furniture in a closet until you move. I’m guessing that may not be an option for you because the apartment is a studio. I also get that the cost of storing worthless furniture is a waste of money.

The first place to look to resolve, or at least understand how to deal with issues like this, is your lease. Check it carefully to see if it defines your obligations with respect to the firewood in your apartment. Look for specific clauses regarding the furnishings. Then read more general clauses that limit or prohibit alterations and repairs to the unit.

Read the lease as broadly as possible to see if any language that could be applied to removing the furniture could be used to evict you for breach of contract. Given his absurd claim that removing the furniture would be a serious crime, your landlord (or his lawyer) will be reading the lease the same way. Make sure the landlord cannot evict you for breach of the lease.

Next, make sure that the table isn’t a Federal inlay mahogany card table made by John and Thomas Seymour for which the landlord paid $30.00 now valued at $400,000 or that the T.V. bookcase thing isn’t an original Stickley.

As you already guessed, if you aren’t in breach of an obligation under the lease, removing the furniture is a security deposit issue. California Civil Code section 1950.5(b)(4) states that a deposit may be used by the landlord “to remedy future defaults by the tenant in any obligation under the rental agreement to restore, replace, or return personal property or appurtenances, exclusive of ordinary wear and tear, if the security deposit is authorized to be applied thereto by the rental agreement.”

You need to remind your landlord that you’re not committing any crime, he cannot evict you, and if he sues you in small claims court he will lose because he can’t prove any damages if the furniture has no value.

You can also tell him that he can use the deposit to replace the furniture in case he still wants to rent the apartment as furnished. Point out that this is a good deal for him because he can find replacement furniture on the street, just like he did the first time.

Then take lots of photos of the furniture before you toss it. The photos should be so detailed that one can smell the 70s. Ewwwwww!

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

Does My Unusual Lease Mean My Landlord Can Hang Out In My Apartment?

Does My Unusual Lease Mean My Landlord Can Hang Out In My Apartment?

Does My Unusual Lease Mean My Landlord Can Hang Out In My Apartment?

I have an interesting one for you.

I recently moved into a classic Victorian house with 4 other roommates in SF. We all have separate rental leases with the landlord, which I considered to be a plus until recently.

After a month of living there, I realized the landlord shows up about once or twice a week, without any real notice in the middle of day to do “upkeep” around the property. None of us feel comfortable with this, and I gently mentioned this to him the last time he did one such drop-by. He responded that since we rent each our rooms separately from him (ie: my actual room is unit #3), he does not need to give the necessary 24 hour advance notice. The kitchen, hallway and living room fall within a public domain that he can access without any prior heads-up.

Is this a loophole that he’s found? Or is does the 24 hour notice clause still apply to this unique situation?

Believe it or not, this is a relatively common issue. I just don’t get it. Doesn’t the landlord have anything better to do? Why isn’t he simply satisfied with collecting his exorbitant rent? Why does he need to putter around your place instead of, say, going to a Giants game or taking a vacation?

There I go again, thinking like a tenant. Landlords don’t think like us. Some landlords become obsessed with their properties, and the inherent control and power bestowed upon them by their position. When the greed gets psychotic, the psychotics torment their tenants.

Your landlord is running a boarding house, a small residential hotel. He admitted as much when he described the nature of your tenancy. He thinks he can, as the proprietor, the jolly innkeeper, come and go as he pleases.

But, as is usual with these penurious pinheads, he’s wrong.

The landlord does not live in the premises. He does not have a license to run a hotel. He isn’t paying the hotel tax. As a group of roommates, because that’s what you are, you have the right to exclusive possession of the house. The landlord must provide the requisite 24-hour, written notice to enter pursuant to California Civil Code §1954. Read the law. As you can see, there are only specific instances when the landlord can enter. All of them, except for emergencies, require a 24-hour notice. Reread my post, “Even Dracula Had to Have an Invite Before He Could Enter” and J. Wallace Oman’s piece, “The Unnecessary Conflict in Landlord Entries.”

In my article, I recommend calling the police when the landlord persists with illegal entries. In your case, the roommates should ban together and write the landlord a letter emphatically asserting your rights to proper notice. Tell the landlord you will file a petition at the Rent Board alleging a substantial decrease in services. The right to “quiet enjoyment” is a housing service. File the petition if he refuses to comply.

Unfortunately, San Francisco Housing Code §401 defines lodging house “as any building or portion thereof, containing not more than five guest rooms where rent is paid in money, goods, labor or otherwise.” The San Francisco Building Inspection Department will not violate a boarding house that comprises 5 rooms or less. I think you should call a housing inspector to file a complaint anyway. Because the landlord’s puttering is more about snooping than fixing anything, I’m guessing that you may have some violations of the warranty of habitability.

Mention the boarding house issue to the housing inspector, just to see if he or she will do anything about it. Then point out all of the areas where the landlord used bubble gum and duct tape to fix leaky pipes, holes in the walls, etc.

You’re right, this is interesting. I’m assuming that you live in a house, a single family dwelling. If the landlord rented the house as a whole, in this market, he could likely rent it for about the same amount as get gets from all of the tenants. He could also increase the rent more or less as he pleases, whereas renting individual rooms (rent controlled) doesn’t allow him that luxury. Thus my conclusion that your landlord’s hobby is tormenting his tenants.

Even if you prevail at the Rent Board or force the landlord to repair defective conditions in the building, you should move. Get out! This guy ain’t gonna change.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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Why Won’t My Landlord Discuss My New Lease With Me?

Why Won’t My Landlord Discuss My New Lease With Me?

Why Won’t My Landlord Discuss My New Lease With Me?

My roommate (master tenant) is moving out of our apartment on July 31st. She’s had rent control since 2007 and we are paying far under market value. I’m interested in trying to stay in the apartment and have expressed as much to our landlord.

I know that I’m a subtenant and so will have to sign a new lease that is more in line with market value. My problem is that my landlord is stating that he can’t even have a conversation with me about it or about a new lease until the master tenant has vacated the premises. Could this be true? I want to get my ducks in a row and find out what the new rent will be so I know if I can afford it or if I need to move. Is there a legal reason that he wouldn’t be able to talk to me about a new lease before then? He’s looking for something in writing that says he can, and I’m not sure where to turn…

I wrote a column a few weeks ago that dealt with a similar issue, “Tenant Troubles: How Do I Get My Former Landlord’s Dead Hand Off Me?” In that case, the landlord was attempting to assign liability to a tenant who had moved out of her apartment. I ran through the reasons why the landlord’s attempt to control the former tenant was silly and logically impossible.

Like everyone, landlords can be silly and illogical. The last time I checked, but of course that could have changed by the time you read this, one doesn’t have to find a law that allows one to speak to another person. I’m assuming that you don’t have some sort of restraining order against the landlord that prevents him from having a conversation with you. If you do, it’s probably time to move anyway.

No, there is no legal reason that the landlord couldn’t negotiate a new lease with you that could be signed upon your roommate’s departure.

But there is a psychological barrier that prevents your landlord from discussing a new lease with you–passive aggressive behavior.

Passive aggressive behaviour takes many forms but can generally be described as a non-verbal aggression that manifests in negative behavior. It is where you are angry with someone but do not or cannot tell them. Instead of communicating honestly when you feel upset, annoyed, irritated or disappointed you may instead bottle the feelings up, shut off verbally, give angry looks, make obvious changes in behaviour, be obstructive, sulky or put up a stone wall. It may also involve indirectly resisting requests from others by evading or creating confusion around the issue. Not going along with things. It can either be covert (concealed and hidden) or overt (blatant and obvious). “What is Passive Aggressive Behaviour?”, by Andrea Harrn, MA, Counsellor/Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist

(Please note that this is a British article. We spell behavior without a “u” and counselor without the extra “l”. We also drive on the right side of the road instead of the left. Is this a passive aggressive manifestation of the American revolution?)

Here’s the problem: Your landlord doesn’t really want to rent the apartment to you. The more you deal with him, the more human you become. That makes him uncomfortable. He knows, at least subconsciously, that he did nothing to deserve or merit the rent increase he’s requesting and he knows you know that as well. He’d rather rent the apartment to a new set of tenants who don’t know or care that just last month the rent was $2,000.00 and, magically, unjustifiably, the rent is now $3,000.00.

Like Bill in the kooky HBO series, “True Blood,” your landlord is a vampire with a conscience. He cannot justify sucking the blood of his friends and acquaintances, but he can rationalize the murder of those he does not know. He’s gotta eat fer Christsakes!

In classic passive aggressive fashion, your landlord would rather make up excuses to avoid you. He would rather see you disappear. If you won’t disappear on your own, he’ll make you disappear by 1) By suggesting a rent increase that is greater than he’ll ask on the open “market” or, 2) By informing you belatedly that he’s decided to “go in another direction.”

If you protest, or decide to assert any rights you have, beware, that’s when the fangs come out.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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How Do I Get My Former Landlord’s Dead Hand Off Me?

How Do I Get My Former Landlord’s Dead Hand Off Me?

How Do I Get My Former Landlord’s Dead Hand Off Me?

Landlord’s dead hand.

My sister and I are original tenants for an apartment in a San Francisco 13-unit building built in the 1920’s. Our lease is now month to month. I’m moving out, she’s staying, and her boyfriend is moving in. She received approval from our landlord for a replacement roommate per your previous posts recommendations. Included in the approval email the landlord wrote: 

“The replacement tenant will not be recognized as an Original Tenant (persons named on the lease agreement).  Also, rent and all liabilities (including any damages tenants are responsible for, etc.) will remain the liability of the Original Tenants and we will not accept rent from anyone except the Original Tenants.  No amount of your security deposits will be returned during this transition.  Essentially, Jessica is still a responsible party to the apartment.”

I’m interested in the last sentence. Why am I still a responsible party to the rent and all liabilities to the apartment when I can’t move back in at some later time and retain my Original Tenant privileges as noted in the post?

In law school we study wills and trusts. We read about rich assholes who create trusts and wills that disburse assets generations later, for example: I leave one million dollars to my granddaughter’s first daughter on the condition that she marry a goat on a summer solstice that occurs on the date of a full moon. This is called dead hand control–the dead hand of the ancestor reaching out of the grave to control the living heirs years into the future.

As I have written many times, landlords like to control tenants. This is a silly example of a landlord who cannot cut the puppet-master strings. He (or his lawyer) is so concerned about collecting every future dime that he thinks he can assign you future liability even when he knows you completely severed your contractual relationship with him. Impossible.

What if your sister stops paying the rent? She and her BF can certainly be evicted, but the landlord cannot name you in an unlawful detainer lawsuit, because he knows you’ve already moved out. Remember, an unlawful detainer is filed only to seek repossession of a unit. If the landlord names you he will be liable for malicious prosecution.

Are you liable for rent? The landlord knows you moved out. How can he charge you for services which he never provided to you? If he sues you, you cross-complain for malicious prosecution.

Are you liable for damages to the unit? Technically, your part of the security deposit could be at stake, but you probably already arranged for reimbursement of your portion of the deposit from your sister.

Will you be liable for intentional damage to the unit? Only if the landlord can prove that you carved the six-foot diameter goat’s head and pentagram in the hardwood floor under the bed. (I’m keeping with the theme above.)

Write the landlord and tell him that you are not responsible for the tenancy in any way because you’ve moved out. If you want to avoid an accusation of intentional damage in the future, invite the landlord to inspect and note the condition of the unit now.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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Can Someone Be A Subtenant If They Aren’t Paying Rent?

Can Someone Be A Subtenant If They Aren’t Paying Rent?

Can Someone Be A Subtenant If They Aren’t Paying Rent?

I like your column, you appear to be on the slightly radical side of liberal. 🙂

Last August you wrote: 

“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.”

What if no money changes hands? What if the person living there is just feeding the cat and taking care of the place until the renter returns from vacation, skilled nursing facility, etc? Does this still legally constitute a “sublet”, or a renter?

I’ll be happy to elaborate on the context if you’d like, it’s basically about my Mother’s situation.

She’s been fighting for her life in a skilled nursing facility for a few months with a live-in watching her place (and cat) until she returns. Getting a lot of heat from her landlord – in spite of the fact her caretaker is registered as a tenant with same landlord. The caretaker is staying there for the consideration of providing care. No money involved in the exchange.

Going to make a few assumptions here, because your question does not provide quite enough details. I’m going to assume that your mother lives in San Francisco and has a rent-controlled tenancy. Based on your representation that the caretaker is a registered tenant, I’m going to assume that the landlord somehow accepted the caretaker as a roommate; or at least knows about your mother’s condition and that the caretaker is house-sitting.

As I stated in my August article, sharing the rent with a roommate also falls within the definition of subletting. The classic definition of subletting is the payment of consideration to a leaseholder for an exclusive right to all or part of the leaseholder’s interest in the lease. The subtenant has a contract with the leaseholder (master tenant) but not with the landlord. In a roommate scenario, the subtenant usually pays rent or other consideration to the master tenant to exclusively occupy a bedroom in the apartment. Most residential leases provide for a landlord’s written consent to sublet.

In your case, the landlord could argue that the caretaker is subletting because she is providing consideration, i.e., cat care and security for a free place to stay. But the analysis does not end there. A court would also inquire if the caretaker had exclusive possession. In other words, if your mother comes back does the caretaker still have a right to occupy all or part of the apartment?

Procedurally, the landlord is required to serve a three-day notice to cure or quit. If the caretaker moved out, that should nip the argument in the bud.

I think it is unlikely that a San Francisco jury would find that the caretaker was a subletter. Nevertheless your mother could be vulnerable to defending an unlawful detainer (eviction) action. Of course, if she can prove that the landlord has accepted the caretaker as a subtenant, case over.

Before serving a notice to cure or quit and filing an unlawful detainer, a prudent San Francisco landlord should file a “1.21 petition” at the San Francisco Rent Board. If the Board ruled that the apartment was not your mother’s primary place of residence, the landlord could raise the rent to market rate without evicting her.

That’s what it’s all about anyway, landlords rarely give a rat’s ass about who lives in an apartment as long as the rent is paid. They only care about subletters when and if they think the rent is too low.

Readers: when you submit a question, you should provide as many details as possible. They don’t have to be confidential details, but I need to understand the basics that I outlined in Tenant Troubles: How To Help Dave Help You. That way I can give you a complete answer based upon the the facts of your specific issue. If you eventually need to seek the advice of a tenant attorney, you will need to provide these initial details, so it’s a good idea to have them on hand.

BTW, the best way to piss me off is to call me a liberal. Mush-headed liberals think the system can be fixed. I have to be balanced, unbiased when I try to explain how the law works. 😉  That doesn’t mean that landlord tenant law is either fair, just or reparable. Ask your mother about that.

Call the Tenant Lawyers now for a free consultation.
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