Dave’s at the SF Appeal to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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, you 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 contactingCommunity 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. But 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.