Tenant Troubles: Why Won’t My Landlords Take A Rent Check From My Husband-To-Be?

I moved into my apartment in February 1, 1995 with my partner. At the time the building was co-owned by two families, The Os and the Cs, who also owned a construction company.

My partner was not with me the day I signed the lease, but I told Mrs. O, who managed the building, that I would have a “roommate” move in with me; she said that would be fine as it was a one bedroom so there was plenty of room for two. Mrs. O met my partner shortly after we moved in and she seemed to like him. She also accepted rent checks from him.

As Mrs. O grew older, the daughter-in-laws took over the day-to-day running of the business. They and the Cs did not get along at all. The Cs bought the O’s interest in the building so that they had complete control. Even though the Cs had copies of his rent checks that had been cancelled in the past, they refused to take a check from my partner.

We live in San Francisco. We are getting married this coming week. The rent board here gave us conflicting answers. One senior person working there took my partner back to his office and said that once we were married that any surviving partner would have full rights and benefits of being an original tenant, which he was, but we are having trouble coming up with “proof” of him moving in in 1995. Many former tenants who might be willing to testify have moved away or, sadly, passed away. When I called the Rent Board’s call in line, they told me my partner would be able to continue to live here, but that the landlords could charge him market rate, if I die or move out.

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Dave’s here 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.

It’s already clear that your partner has been accepted as a subtenant. When the building changed hands the Cs knew the your partner lived in the unit and knew that the Os had accepted him as a tenant, despite any language in the lease that may have prohibited or limited subletting.

You have correctly surmised that the Cs refusal to continue to cash your partner’s checks indicates that some day in the future they will want to claim that he is a subsequent occupant who moved in after 1995.

The year 1995 is important because the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act only affected tenancies established after its enactment in 1995. Costa Hawkins is a big green loogie the California state legislators hocked in the faces of those who would assert necessary local control over their housing markets.

In effect, our representatives said, “Fuck you San Francisco! Fuck you Los Angeles! Fuck you Oakland! Fuck you Berkeley! Fuck you Santa Monica! Fuck all you all. No, you don’t get to govern yourself. You didn’t elect us anyway, the real estate industry did.”

I don’t think your upcoming marriage will have any impact upon your partner’s (spouse’s) rights as a co-tenant. For example, I don’t think your marriage would confer any tenancy inheritance rights for your partner if he was a subsequent occupant after 1995.

You need to gather evidence that your partner moved into the unit at the same time you did, despite not being named on the lease.

Luckily, you may have some allies in the former landlords. You mention that the Os may have had some ill will for the Cs. Here’s a chance to exploit that animosity. Ask the Mrs. O (if she is still alive) or the daughters-in-law for a written statement acknowledging that your partner moved in with you. Ask them for copies of any check he wrote for rent. Ask them for any other relevant evidence they may have.

You should also compile and save any records that you have–copies of checks, bank statements, letters to the landlords–anything that can establish that your partner moved into the unit in 1995.

It is no exaggeration to say that your landlords are eagerly awaiting the day that you die or depart to jack up the rent on your apartment. It’s probably the subject of Thanksgiving dinner conversation.

Do your best to create a record that you partner moved in with you. File it away and get married. And live happily ever after–for a hundred years or so.

the author

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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  • Haggie

    I can confirm this. I moved into a sublet in SF. The landlord took my checks for half the rent. Years later, a new owner refused to accept my checks and threatened to evict me when my roommate moved out. I retained an attorney the specialized in rental law. He sent a certified letter to the landlord detailing the penalties for wrongful eviction. The landlord apologized to me in person the next day. The attorney only charged me $250 to send the letter. Since my apartment is now about 1/3 the market rate, it was the best $250 I ever spent.

    • Ben Bauman

      Be it LL or tenant, we are all greedy and do not want to spend $$ even if LL is in his rights or tenant is in his/her right. Just remember, taxation and also taking of private property is illegal.

  • Tim Bracken

    “It is no exaggeration to say that your landlords are eagerly awaiting
    the day that you die or depart to jack up the rent on your apartment.
    It’s probably the subject of Thanksgiving dinner conversation.”

    It’s easy to depict a sinister cabal of greedy owners eager to force the writer’s poor widower out into the cold the day she dies. Since I don’t know these particular landlords, I can’t say for sure that they’re not like that. But rent control is not always so one-sided. Consider the following nuances that complicate the rent-control story:

    (1) The owners of a rent-controlled unit may not be rich. The property may be their biggest source of income, and denying them market-rate rent for decades could put them in a precarious financial situation. And, since other owners get to charge market-rate rent, that creates an uneven playing field among owners. Maybe the millionaire owner without a rent-controlled tenant gets to charge $4,000/month in rent, while the middle-class owner who is using the rental income to put her kid through college or to pay for her mother’s nursing home, can charge no more than $1,200/month for an identical apartment. That scenario seems manifestly unfair, but rent-control advocates don’t seem to care about it, and the laws don’t take it into account.

    (2) The tenant in a rent-controlled unit could be extremely wealthy. Maybe he rented the apartment years ago during law school, back when rents were lower, and now he’s a partner at a law firm making $1,000,000/year. Why does he get to sit on his $1,200/month rent for decades while the middle-class owner I described above is powerless to charge a fair-market rent?

    I’m not saying rent control serves no legitimate purpose. Clearly it often does. But the way it plays out is not always so black and white. A system that took into account the income of the tenant and/or the assets of the landlord would be a more fair and common-sense approach.