Why An Absentee Master Tenant Is A Bad Idea

by | Jun 24, 2010 | Tenant Law

Our issue is this: we have a ‘new’ housemate that just is not working out well. She’s constantly being a nuisance despite many verbal and written requests to change her behavior and has a habit of damaging other housemates property as well as the unit itself. We would like to have her out but don’t know if it is legal for us to ask her to move or do we ask the master tenant to evict her?

She’s been living here 8 months and there has been some issue each month that causes us utter consternation at her lack of respect of property and forgetfulness as to the written house rules (despite the verbal and written reminders). If nothing else, due that I cannot keep my property from being damaged (I’m not talking normal wear and tear), I have to now keep furniture/appliances/etc… in my room and have lost space in the house–would this constitute a loss in services and may I reasonably ask for a rent reduction because of it?

When I received this question, my first inclination was not to answer it at all. Why? Because you are asking me a question, in your capacity as a landlord, for advice on how to evict a tenant. I don’t give eviction advice to landlords, period. But, as you can see, I think your issues need to be addressed because they are, after all, very common.

What you have here is a personality conflict. The San Francisco Rent Ordinance does not articulate a just cause to evict someone because of a personality conflict. Your facts, as you state them, do not indicate that your roommate is at all a nuisance in the legal sense. So, based on your question, I don’t believe it would be legal for either the household or the master tenant to attempt to evict your roommate. In fact, you could be liable for any damages she suffers from any “wrongful endeavor” or “harassment” to evict her.

Work out your problems with your roommate. If you need help to resolve your differences, you should try mediating the dispute with Community Boards. I don’t have any direct experience with them, but I have heard, from many sources, that they provide effective, professional and successful meditations for disputes like these.

With respect to a claim for decrease in services, I don’t see that moving your stuff into your room constitutes a substantial decrease in services. Besides, who would you name in your petition? The landlord? The so-called master tenant?

This brings me to real tenant issue implied in your question. The master tenant doesn’t live in the unit and he may not have permission to sublet.

With every complaint to the landlord you run the risk that he will begin an “inquiry” into subletting in the unit. He could claim that, despite any prior permission he gave the master tenant to sublet, he never gave permission to sublet to the current set of tenants. This happens all the time. The landlord was fine with the situation as long as there was no trouble. If he has to deal with trouble anyway, why not just get rid of all the tenants and raise the rent? The fact that the landlord lives in the same building and probably knows you and your roommates is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be spared a long and costly legal battle to save your tenancy.

Every complaint to the “master tenant” increases his desire to evict you. As I pointed out in, “Tenant Troubles: What Rules Govern Master Tenants?” many master tenants like to throw their weight around.

Let’s say the “master tenant” is a great person who isn’t profiting on his control of the unit and won’t try to evict you. (An unlikely scenario, as I point out in my blog post, “Bad Master Tenant.”) What if the landlord sells the building or dies? Do you honestly believe that your tenancy wouldn’t be jeopardized?

Tenants, it’s always a bad idea to rent a room in an apartment with an absentee master tenant. Too many things can go wrong.

Your problem, simply put, is that you have too many landlords. You’re a landlord wannabe. The master tenant is an absentee landlord. To top it off, the real landlord lives in the building. I see a shit storm in your future.

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