What Rules Govern Master Tenants?

by | Nov 4, 2009 | Roommates

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 ยง 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.

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