With rents in San Francisco among the highest in the country, rent controlled units have become a particularly precious commodity. As a result, landlords are finding new and creative ways to evict long term tenants as a means to collect higher rents. One of the ways landlords are attacking tenants is by bringing evictions based on breach of contract, or breach of the lease terms.
To protect your tenancy, I encourage anyone with a rent controlled apartment to be cautious before inviting a roommate or significant to move in.
Here are three important tips to consider before asking someone to move in.
1. Permissive v. Prohibitive Lease Language
It may seem like once you have signed your lease, your apartment/ house is yours to do what you want with. However, before you decide to rent out that extra room or ask your significant other to move in with you, be sure to review the terms of your lease. When you create a rental relationship with a new roommate, you are creating a "subtenancy." Many leases include language restricting subletting altogether. The San Francisco Rent Ordinance (SF Administrative Code, Chapter 37) dictates that landlords cannot prohibit tenants from replacing an existing roommate on a one for one basis. However, if you've never had a roommate and your lease provides for no subletting, then you better get permission before moving someone in.
The other provision seen in many leases requires that any new roommate be approved by the landlord before moving in. In these situations your landlord can insist that your prospective roommate fill out a rental application and/or meet certain requirements, up to and including requirements for income or credit score. The other thing to keep in mind is that your lease may contain language as to the number of people entitled to live in the unit. If you are increasing the total number of occupants be sure to check both your lease and the Rent Ordinance to be sure you aren't in violation, as failure to abide by the terms of the law or agreement may provide grounds for eviction.
2. Confirm with Your Landlord
After you've looked at your lease and determined whether you can sublet and/or if you need your landlord's permission, contact your landlord. The key is that you don't want to give them an excuse to come after you. If you are required to get their approval, do it. If you're afraid that your landlord won't grant your new roommate permission, don't worry, pursuant to the SF Rules and Regulations, your landlord cannot "unreasonably" withhold their consent. If your landlord requires that your new roommate fill out an application, be sure to submit one. If your landlord fails to respond to your request / to the application, they can potentially lose their right to object to the candidate altogether. However, before you up and move someone in, play it safe and check with the Tenants Union, the Rent Board, or our offices.
3. Always Get Consent in Writing
Always, always, always put it in writing. Seems simple, but all too often disaster could have been avoided by getting your landlord's consent in writing. Your lease says no roommates but your landlord says that it's okay? Great, get it in writing. Your landlord requires a rental application from your prospective roommate and approves it? Get it in writing. If it's not in writing then it's harder to prove if something goes wrong. If you don't have something in writing then it's your word against theirs. Spending a few minutes drafting an agreement or insisting that your landlord spell out their consent in a writing could end up saving you thousands of dollars and countless hours of your time.
Your tenancy is valuable. Don't give your landlord an opportunity to take it away from you.