When a Tenant Moves In His Girlfriend

My tenant asked me, via email, if his girlfriend can move in. If I say yes, does that waive my right to raise the rate to market rent if he eventually moves out and she stays? How should I respond to his email?

If you have no objection with the girlfriend moving in, or there is no lease prohibition against subletting, or the girlfriend is a replacement roommate, you should take the following precautions when responding to the tenant so as to preserve your right to raise rent under the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act should the tenant eventually vacate and the girlfriend decides to remain behind. First, do not put the girlfriend on the lease. The lease should continue unmodified. Secondly, rent should never be accepted in whole or in part from the girlfriend. Rent must only be paid by the tenant. Third, do not address the girlfriend in any communications. All correspondence, including rent increase notices, should be directed solely to the tenant. In addition, all non-emergency repair and maintenance requests should only be processed via the tenant.

Should the tenant vacate and leave the girlfriend behind, please consult an attorney immediately so that the proper Costa Hawkins rent increase notice can be prepared and delivered to the rental unit. Do not negotiate new terms of the tenancy with the girlfriend until this rent increase notice has been served. In essence, until a new rent has been established under Costa Hawkins, the girlfriend should remain a stranger to the tenancy.

If the lease prohibits subletting and the girlfriend is not a replacement roommate or does not become a spouse or domestic partner, you may be within your rights to deny the move-in request. If the move-in happens despite your denial, you must have an attorney prepare and serve a three-day notice to cure the breach of lease covenant immediately; otherwise, you risk permanently waiving, or forfeiting, your ability to restrict subletting.

In sum, you need not be rude but you should be clear. If the move-in is acceptable, let your tenant know that the girlfriend is his tenant, not yours. You will not run credit checks or otherwise involve yourself in the application process. She will not be added to the rental agreement, and other than polite “hellos,” there will be no acknowledgment by you of the tenant’s new subtenant. Instead, the girlfriend’s landlord-tenant relationship will be between herself as subtenant and her boyfriend as the master tenant, or landlord. You, as the tenant’s landlord, will not be involved in the subtenancy.

DW

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