Why Can’t My Wife Sign Our Rent Check?

Dave’s at SF Appeal to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com, here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

The weirdest thing happened today. My landlady sent me a note saying that I should be signing the rent checks (I have been doing this till now but the last check was written by my wife). We have a joint account and when I signed the lease I put my wife’s name on the lease.

I feel my landlady is bordering on harassment (there are other incidents) with these nonsensical notes she keeps leaving for me.

What is the law on this? Am I the only one who can pay her? What difference does it make, if the money is from a joint account and she can very well cash the checks?

If you are the only signatory to the lease, one could argue that you should be the one signing the rent checks. If both you and your wife are named on the lease then your landlord is just being an idiot.

Your landlord probably read some half-baked legal argument somewhere that advised her to be cautious about inadvertently accepting subsequent occupants.

If you are the only named tenant on the lease and you want to take care of this once and for all, you should read San Francisco Rent Board Rules & Regulations §6.15D. Section 6.15D outlines the process by which you can add your wife to the lease as an approved subtenant.

If you and your wife moved into the unit together and the land lord was aware of that fact, you can simply tell the landlord that your wife is a “co-tenant” entitled to all of the same rights you have. You should be familiar with San Francisco Rent Board Rules & Regulations §6.14 before you make that claim.

I’m guessing that your landlord simply doesn’t know what she’s doing as evidenced by the notes (always wonderful damning evidence if a case comes to court.) Your landlord is also too cheap to hire an attorney to advise her about how to professionally manage her building.

What difference should it make? Not a bit. Especially when the Costa Hawkins Rental housing Act, which screwed rent-controlled tenants everywhere in California and should be repealed says:

Acceptance of rent by the owner shall not operate as a waiver or otherwise prevent enforcement of a covenant prohibiting sublease or assignment or as a waiver of an owner’s rights to establish the initial rental rate […] California Civil Code §1954.53(d)(4).

I’d be willing to bet that you have lived in your unit for about five years. That’s the time  some landlords begin to exhibit their “eccentricities.” Your landlord probably thinks it’s time for you and your wife to go so she can give herself a pay raise.

Crow & Rose's legal practice emphasizes eviction defense, wrongful eviction and other landlord tenant and real property matters.

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