We’re Basically Paying Our Master Tenant’s Rent. That’s Wrong, Right?

landlord entry

I am a 26-year-old female and have been living in an old Victorian apartment in a six unit building in Nob Hill for the past 11 months, paying rent only my roommate, who is on the lease. There are a total of four of us living in the apartment (another roommate and I pay $924 for our smaller rooms and another pays $1190 for her larger room, a converted dining room).

The problem is that we know that our fourth roommate (the lease holder) pays next to nothing. Rent is $3200 a month (he does not know we know this). He pays for all utilities with the checks that we write, as well, but who knows how much utilities add up to since he discloses nothing.

I know that he is charging us “market rate” for our rooms and that he will have a ton of folks willing to pay even more than what we are now, so I don’t want him to kick me out for questioning him, but it just feels wrong! I should also mention that I have no written agreement with him. He has been unemployed for 10 months now and often travels. When he leaves he charges $1300 a month to random subleasers for his room (usually finding them on Airbnb or Craigslist). 

I love my apartment and would really like to become the master tenant or at least get added to the lease so I have some rights. Is there anyway to get him off the lease? Is there anything I can do here or should I just let it go and realize that this is what I get for living in a city with such insane housing prices?

Tenants march and demonstrate in the Mission every week. They claim that soaring rents and “development” projects destroy community. Clearly, they’re wrong.

Yours is one of many micro-communities that have evolved in response to property owner greed. Your new community comes complete with a class system ruled by a lazy, greedy landlord.

You need to look at Rent Board Rules & Regulations §6.15C(3):

Partial Sublets. In the event a Master Tenant does not sublease the entire rental unit, as anticipated in Section 37.3 (c), then the Master Tenant may charge the subtenant(s) no more than the subtenant(s) proportional share of the total current rent paid to the landlord by the Master Tenant for the housing and housing services to which the subtenant is entitled under the sub-lease. A master tenant’s violation of this section shall not constitute a basis for eviction under Section 37.9.

If you can get a copy of the original lease or can obtain some other document proving the actual amount of rent, you can file a petition at the Rent Board alleging that you’re paying a disproportionate share of the rent.

So if you want to stop subsidizing “Mr. I-Haven’t-Worked-In-Ten-Months-But-You-Can-Catch-Me-In-Bali,” file a petition to even out the rent.

There are two problems with this approach. First, you could receive a ginormous award of back rent from the Rent Board, but you won’t be able to collect it. Mr. Leisure doesn’t work and besides, he spent all your dough smoking opium in Chiang Mai.

Second, when the real landlord gets word of the strife in your unit, the landlord will kick you all out.

Why? Because these “entrepreneur” master tenants never get consent from the landlord for subletting, which is usually a violation of the lease.

There is nothing you can do to get your master tenant off the lease, and yes, this is what you get for living in a city with such insane housing prices.

This is what you get when we allow a leisure class to drain our resources, to suck your life’s blood like the vampires they are. (Had to get Halloween in here.)

This is what you get when you naively allow greed to run rampant without standing against it. Perhaps you mistakenly think that someday you could be a landlord (but a good one). You think (like your master tenant) that it’s somehow justifiable to seize every opportunity to profit, despite the pain and suffering you may cause.

This is what you get when you don’t truly understand that rent is simply an outrageous tax you pay to a lord to live on his land–a tax, nothing more, that subsidizes a lazy, unproductive aristocracy.

Didn’t we already have a revolution about that?

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

2 Responses to We’re Basically Paying Our Master Tenant’s Rent. That’s Wrong, Right?

  1. What happens to the master tenant if he/she gets caught subletting rooms for more than they cost? Is it only an eviction or is legal action taken on behalf of the landlord?

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