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Master tenants are the real landlords of San Francisco

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San Francisco has all sorts of unique rental conditions.from Bunk bed pod To Bed down from the ceilingLiving in one of the most expensive cities in the country, people need to be creative in finding affordable homes. And one of the best ways to get a deal is to bring your luck into a room in a San Francisco apartment that has been rented for years.

But when you sign up to live with someone who pays well below the market price, they not only become your roommates, but also your landlord. As is well known, “master tenants” can determine your rent. You will probably check them directly and even request a funnel repair in their way. This situation is at stake because one person is significantly more powerful than the other tenants. But it’s not a perfect deal for the de facto landlord either. They often have even more power than they negotiated.

To understand the “master tenant” situation, it is important to start with rent management and all the rules that go with it. Over 60% of San Francisco rental units are subject to rental management. Specifically, rental units for buildings built before June 13, 1979 are eligible. Under the San Francisco Rental Board, people living in rental-managed apartments are entitled to special protection for rent increases and evictions. Their apartments are probably cheaper than the market price and you can raise your rent by a certain amount each year.

The San Francisco Leasing Commission sets an annual percentage for 12 months based on the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Consumer Price Index. The permissible annual increase from March 2021 to February 28, 2022 was 0.7%. This year, the permissible increase has risen to 2.3%. If you move to your current two-bedroom apartment in 2010 and pay $ 2,800 per month, your current maximum rent is $ 3,339. According to Zumper’s latest rent estimates, this is about 15% below the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

Scott Weaver, a lawyer and volunteer at the San Francisco Tenant Union, said: “It’s a shame because in this tight housing market, I want to be able to be aware of who I am as a master tenant.”

There is a “rental” sign outside the San Francisco apartment.

Douglas Zimmerman / SFGATE

However, becoming a master tenant often happens by accident. “There is no signed document that allows anyone to become a master tenant,” said tenant rights attorney Joseph Tobener. “It depends on the situation. People enter the situation of these roommates to survive …. Roommates are the way to achieve their goals.”

If you search for “master tenant” on Twitter, you will find many horror stories. General dissatisfaction? The master tenant charges the sub-tenants more than the actual rent so that they can maintain their profits. Adam, who didn’t reveal the name of his family, found a two-bedroom apartment in Nob Hill when he first moved to San Francisco. However, the master tenant later rented his room to another tenant, which was so cluttered that he eventually stopped paying rent altogether. One day Adam went home and found a note taped to the front door showing the full rent of the apartment. This was much lower than the “half” he was paying for his room. The total rent for the apartment was $ 2,150 and the rent for the small bedroom was $ 1,500.

Master tenants moving out of an apartment happen more than you think, regardless of whether they plan to return.

Some San Franciscans reserve rooms in apartments run by master tenants, even though the master tenants are dangerous, abusive, or simply terrible roommates.

One SFGATE staff said he suffered from a terrible master tenant situation for eight years because the rent for his apartment in Russian Hill was significantly lower than the market priced unit. The master tenant has been there for over 10 years already, was messy and loved late night parties. But in the end, the Master Tenant’s challenge was to allow SFGATE staff to save enough money to buy a Bay Area location.


If you want to rent a room from a master tenant, be sure to watch out for danger signs, Weaver said. “You want to be attentive to your master tenant. You have to rely on your instincts. If you have a lot of sales, it could be a warning sign.”

Weaver also warns against borrowing from someone who seems to enjoy the amount of their power and the fact that they can make rules.

Master tenants appear to be omnipotent, but in reality they have more responsibilities than they often think. “Since the master tenant is a landlord under the Rent Ordinance, all laws that apply to the landlord apply to the master tenant,” says Tobener.

This means that master tenants can be sued if repairs are not done in a timely manner or if the apartment cannot be kept safe in the event of a fire. They can also be sued if they are found to be charging sub-tenants more than the total cost of rent or a strange percentage of their share.

Even if you become a master tenant, we recommend that you take out tenant insurance to protect yourself. “If you are a master tenant and you have to run it like a business, or if it bites your ass, you are in the landowner’s business,” Tobener said. “And most people don’t. Most people think of it as a roommate’s situation. [where you’re] A person who writes a check. “

Also, the actual landlord usually only works with the master tenant when collecting rent or requesting repairs. If the landlord has a relationship with another tenant, it is not always possible to raise the rent. When the master tenant finally moves out. In addition, it is easier to deal with alone.

San Francisco’s rental prices are still the second highest in the country, so Weaver said he believes this situation will always occur. And he said that most of the time they think they will work. “It would be great if people could get along,” Weaver said.

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