When My Tenant Wants Her Dog Sitter to Move In

My tenant is going to travel for several months and wants a friend to move in as a “dog sitter” while he is gone. What should I do?

Tenant must obtain the prior written approval of Owner if an invitee or guest of Tenant will be present at the Premises for more than fifteen (15) consecutive days or thirty (30) days in a calendar year. Violation of the provisions of this section shall be deemed a substantial and material breach of this Agreement and is agreed to be a just cause for eviction.

Thus, if the tenant had signed an SFAA agreement, or something similar, you could apprise your tenant that the request for a several month stay is denied, and that if you discovered a dog sitter to be in residence for over 15 consecutive days or 30 days in a calendar year, then a “three-day notice to perform covenant of quit” will be issued.

There is another question raised here, and that is whether or not this dog sitter is in fact a subtenant as opposed to a guest. A subtenant is defined as someone who leases all or part of the rented premises from the original master tenant. Presumably the subtenant is paying the master tenant some form of rent for this privilege. While the master tenant is not advertising the friend as a subtenant, in reality the dog sitter might be paying the tenant to stay in your unit while he is traveling. The truth could be difficult to ascertain, but if you have legitimate reasons to suspect that the alleged dog sitter is, in reality, a subtenant, and the lease restricts or prohibits subletting without the owner’s consent, you would also issue the appropriate three-day notice to cure or quit if this new person is living there for an extended period of time and is seemingly a subtenant.

What you should never do is accept rent from the dog sitter, enter into any agreement with the dog sitter, or otherwise address/acknowledge the dog sitter on any communication. If you believe that your tenant no longer permanently resides in the unit and that the dog sitter is in fact a subtenant, and you are weary of starting an eviction action by serving a three-day notice, you at least want to preserve your rights under the Costa Hawkins Rental Act to raise rent beyond rent control limitations. If you have any type of relationship with a subtenant prior to issuing this unlimited rent raise, your ability to impose it may be hindered.

Finally, your tenant, if he does in fact leave the dog sitter behind without your knowledge (or you simply decide not to take action), may be in for a rude awakening upon his return or attempted return to the apartment. There have been countless instances in the recent past where a master tenant decides to sublease the unit while globetrotting, only to come home and fine that the subtenant will not leave, and/or the subtenant now considers himself to be the new master tenant and refuses to allow your tenant to move back in. Indeed, if the dog sitter is a subtenant, the rent law rent laws affords him protection from being summarily evicted. In 2001, the rent law was amended to grant master tenants the ability to evict their subtenants without legal just cause provided certain written disclosures to this effect appear in the sub-tenancy agreement, but many tenants are unaware of this requirement, and arguably the traveler would lose this right at the time he vacated the unit.

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