Revenge of the Subtenant – Rent Board Requires Master Tenant to Refund $10,800

Here’s the thing – if you’re renting a place in San Francisco and you’re paying your monthly rent to your roommate, chances are that you could be considered a subtenant and your roomy the “Master Tenant.”* Particularly when the rent for your unit is way undermarket, due to rent control let’s say, you might end up spending more for your space than the Master pays for the Master’s part of the apartment.

So if you’re paying $900 a month for your half of  a two-bedroom and your Master Tenant in the other room is only kicking in $100 (to pay $1000 total to the landlord for the whole place), then you can take steps to get some of that money back and lower your rent to boot.

“A subtenant who believes he or she is paying more than a proportional share of the total rent may file a Tenant Petition against the master tenant on that basis. If the subtenant prevails, the Administrative Law Judge will adjust the rent to the proportional share and order the master tenant to refund any rent overpayments.”

Is this a perfect system? No, but it’s what you end up with when your city has rent control.

Your San Francisco Rent Board just dealt with a subtenant/Master Tenant proportionality case. The names of the people involved aren’t important, but the situation is noteworthy, IMO. Let’s check it out.

Now, if you don’t like how the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) dealt with your case with your roomie, you can appeal to the board. As here, from the meeting of August 4, 2009:

The subtenant’s petition alleging that he paid a disproportional share of the rent pursuant to Rules ß6.15C(3) was granted and the Master Tenant was found liable to the subtenant in the amount of $10,800.00. On appeal, the Master Tenant alleges that he was unaware of the requirement that the amount of rent paid must be proportional; that the decision will present him with a financial hardship; and that the subtenant is going to be evicted due to his uncooperative behavior. 

MSC: To deny the appeal on substantive grounds but remand the case for a hearing on the Master Tenant’s claim of financial hardship. (Gruber/Crow: 5-0)”

See? The sub won big-time, to the tune of five figures because the rent split determined by the Master Tenant wasn’t proportional according to a judge and the full board.

But the master came back to say the ruling would be a hardship for him. From the meeting of November 17, 2009:

The subtenant’s petition alleging that he paid a disproportionate share of the rent was granted and the Master Tenant was found liable to the subtenant in the amount of $10,800.00.  The Master Tenant’s hardship appeal was granted and remanded for hearing.  In the remand decision, the ALJ finds sufficient hardship to order a repayment plan in the amount of $150.00 per month.  The Master Tenant again appeals, claiming that even the reduced amount will cause him severe hardship and possibly result in both tenants’ eviction from the premises.

MSC: To deny the appeal.  (Mosbrucker/Gruber:  5-0)”

Is this what you might call a Phyric victory? Maybe. It’s probably too early to tell. Oh well.  

Check the San Francisco Rent Board website for deets on the rules, or see you after the jump.

*The County of Los Angeles doesn’t want to buy equipment that has the term “master” written anywhere on it, like on a hard drive, a DVD burner or a brake cylinder. But in San Francisco, we freely label people “Master Tenants.” It’s our thing. 

Topic No. 154: Limits on Rent Charged By Master Tenants

A master tenant may not charge a subtenant more rent upon initial occupancy of the subtenant than that rent which the master tenant is currently paying to the landlord. For tenancies that commenced after May 24, 1998, the master tenant is required to provide each subtenant a written disclosure of the amount of rent the master tenant is obligated to pay the landlord, prior to commencement of the subtenancy. If a subtenant believes that the initial rent paid to the master tenant, either individually or in combination with other subtenants, is more than the master tenant is paying to the landlord, he or she may file a Tenant Petition against the master tenant alleging rent overcharges with the Rent Board.

In addition, effective August 21, 2001, a master tenant who shares a rental unit with one or more subtenants cannot charge any subtenant more than a proportional share of the total rent the master tenant pays to the landlord. The allowable proportional share of total rent may be calculated based on equal division among occupants, or the square footage shared with and/or occupied exclusively by the subtenant, or any other method that allocates the rent such that the subtenant pays no more to the master tenant than the master tenant pays to the landlord for the subtenant’s housing and housing services. In determining the proper base rent, additional housing services provided by the master tenant (such as furnishings or utilities) and/or any special obligations of the master tenant and/or evidence of the relative amenities or value of rooms, may be considered.

If the total rent paid by the master tenant to the landlord increases due to a lawful rent increase or passthrough, the subtenant’s share of the rent may be proportionately increased without regard to the subtenant’s anniversary date. Similarly, if the total rent owed to the landlord by the master tenant decreases, the subtenant’s proportional share of rent should be decreased accordingly.

A subtenant who believes he or she is paying more than a proportional share of the total rent may file a Tenant Petition against the master tenant on that basis. If the subtenant prevails, the Administrative Law Judge will adjust the rent to the proportional share and order the master tenant to refund any rent overpayments.

To receive a copy of the Tenant Petition form, you can fax it to yourself through our Fax Back system by calling 252-4660 or visit our website at www.sfgov.org/rentboard. The form is also available at our office.

June 2006

 

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One Response to “Revenge of the Subtenant – Rent Board Requires Master Tenant to Refund $10,800”

  1. sara says:

    Oh wow, thank you for this! Just got out of a bad situation where I was being charged over double what the master tenant was paying, for the smaller room even. I’ve been fuming about getting ripped off so bad.