Tenant Troubles: How do I get my roommate to leave?

It's not easy -- and it shouldn't be. Hiring a lawyer and doing an eviction is expensive and ugly, so look for other options

Dave: How am I able to have my roommate, who was once was my domestic partner, to get him to leave my apartment?  He continues to possess the same type of behavior is most common when relations aren’t working out — paying rent late, having friends over during hours when everyone is sleeping at 3am, being loud, skipping out on doing dishes, etc.  My roommate and I didn’t sign any agreements or conditions of him living here, nor did he provide any security deposit initially during the time of move-in.  I feel I am not able to find a rational reason to evict him even after talking to him that it’s best that he finds other living arrangements.  He says he’s not budging, but integrates all of these passive-aggressive tactics so that I no longer want to be living with him.  Any options you may have aside from hiring a lawyer?

Is this what you come home to? Mediation may be a better answer than trying to throw your roommate out

DETAILS:

For 22 years, I rent a one-bedroom apartment in the City of West Hollywood, CA.  The apartment is regulated by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). There must be a Just Cause from the Property Management to reasonably evict a tenant.  The 16-unit apartment was built in 1950. I am a 49-year-old male that is not disabled and currently live with my roommate who was at some point my domestic partner. We recently have drifted apart and only use the domestic document to  for him to live with me as a family member.  I am the solely responsible for the terms of my lease.

I just would like to take the time to applaud you for the information you provide to the readers of your site.  What stands out to me are your detailed responses that empower a renter and their tenancy.

Thank you for your kind remarks. I receive calls from all over the nation and, to the extent I can, I try to provide tenants with local resources to help them deal with their local laws. I enjoy writing this column and responding to readers because it keeps me on my toes. So it’s good to hear from you in West Hollywood, where you have an extensive rent ordinance that’s easily accessible online.

As you know, The West Hollywood Rent Ordinance requires that a tenant be evicted for a just cause:

  • Nonpayment of rent;
  • Creating a nuisance or using a rental unit for illegal purposes;
  • Subleasing without the landlord’s permission;
  • Failure to provide the landlord with reasonable access;
  • Violating written terms of tenancy with certain exceptions under the Ordinance (see below);
  • Failure to renew a lease if given proper notice to renew before the lease-term expires and the lease has gone month-to-month.
  • Termination of employment for an on-site manager or other employee who was given the unit as part of his or her employment and was not a tenant on the same property prior to employment.

The site also contains an information page called Having a Roommate, which states in part:

“When a tenant accepts rent from a roommate in West Hollywood, the roommate is the tenant’s subtenant and has a right to the protections under the Ordinance that a tenant has. Thus, a tenant may not:

  1. ask a subtenant to leave the unit without having cause under the Ordinance and without following the procedures for evicting a tenant;
  2. ask a subtenant to pay more than the Maximum Allowable Rent on a unit;
  3. increase a subtenant’s rent by more than the annual general adjustment each year and not above the tenant’s MAR in any case;
  4. increase the security deposit after a subtenant’s move-in or charge fees not allowed under the Ordinance.”

We have a similar requirement in San Francisco, except that a Master Tenant may evict a roommate without just cause only if, prior to commencement of the tenancy, the Master Tenant informs the roommate in writing that the tenancy is not subject to the just cause provisions of the Rent Ordinance. Rent Board Rules and Regulations § 6.15C.

As a long-time tenant, I understand your conundrum and I empathize with you, but as you may know, I’ve taken the blood oath to neverrepresent master tenants seeking to evict their roommates. And that includes giving advice on the subject.

It sounds to me like you have tried to be rational with him, to no avail. I note that West Hollywood Legal Services Division does provide mediation services for landlords and tenants. You may want to give them a call to see if they will provide mediation for a master tenant and roommate. While I’m not aware of them, there may be other community organizations that provide mediation services as well.

If you find a lawyer, it’s likely you’ll end up with a landlord lawyer who will encourage you to cook up a just cause eviction like, maybe, nuisance because your roommate parities with his friends until 3:00am. Let me tell you, that can get real sleazy, real fast, not to mention, costly. I would not advise you to try to go to the owner or property manager because they will see your complaint as an opportunity to get rid of you both.

I’m fairly certain you don’t want to move, given the length of you rent-controlled tenancy. However, it may be time to consider the psychological cost of living in your current situation. Place a dollar amount on that cost, if you can, and ask yourself, “Can I find another, similar place for the rent I’m paying plus that cost?”

Of course, you can also use that same methodology to figure out how much to offer your roommate to move out, adding what it would cost you to hire a lawyer. As Tom Gray of the Brains said before Cyndi Lauper, “Money changes everything.”

She said I’m sorry baby I’m leaving you tonight


I found someone new he’s waitin’ in the car outside


Ah honey how could you do it


We swore each other everlasting love


She said well yeah I know but when


We did; there was one thing we weren’t


Really thinking of and that’s money

If your roommate accepts your offer, get a general release of all claims from him in writing.

How to Help Dave Crow Help You

Dear Readers:

Every once and awhile I will have to guess at a detail or two when I attempt to answer your questions. For example, I will often assume that a building was built before 1979, given the context of a question. When I make that assumption, it’s highly likely that I will assume that you live in a rent-controlled unit and answer your question using the standard of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. That could be a problem for two reasons. If your building was built after 1979, it is not covered by the Rent Ordinance. Worse, what if you don’t live in San Francisco?

So, I thought it might be a good idea to give you a short list of details to consider and/or include when you write me.

When was your building constructed?

If you don’t know, you can find out by using the SF Assessor-Recorder’s website to find out. If that site is being funky (not unusual) ask around. Finally, take a look at your building. Victorian? That’s easy. The difficult ones are buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s, the big square ugly boxes reminiscent of the shit they’re building these days.

How many units are in your building?

That seems like a no-brainer. But it’s not so easy if you live in a single-family dwelling in which the landlord rents rooms. The Rent Board might consider each room as a unit depending on the facts. The other common scenario is the single-family house with an illegal in-law. Rent controlled? (By that I mean, subject to annual allowable increases?) Yes. This is a two-unit building because Illegal units are covered by the Rent Ordinance.

Do you live in a house?

If the house was built before 1979, it is subject only to the just cause eviction provisions of the Rent Ordinance and the landlord can increase the rent as much as he likes…within reason. However, if your tenancy started before 1996, the house is subject to the price control provisions of the ordinance.

Do you live in a condominium?

This can be difficult to ascertain if you live in a converted building. Ask the landlord or check the Assessor-Recorder site above. Condos are legal single-family dwellings, usually only subject to the just cause eviction provisions of the Ordinance. There is an exception, see Tenant Troubles: Are The Buyout Terms My Landlord’s Offering Acceptable?

How old are you? Are you disabled?

This may be applicable if you are a protected tenant under the Rent Ordinance.

How long have you lived in your unit?

This could be important to determine if you have a protected status or, as in the example above, if your tenancy in a house or condo is subject to price control.

How much is your rent?

Often this is the most important detail because it usually points to the underlying motive of the landlord for taking whatever action he is taking–he thinks you’re not paying enough rent.

What does your lease say about it?

The lease controls the terms of your tenancy. It is always helpful to me to understand how to apply the law to your problem when I know if there is an applicable term in your lease. For example, if you are having a problem adding a new roommate, I need to know if the lease absolutely prohibits subleasing or if subleasing is subject to the landlord’s written consent. The ordinance is different for each scenario.

Details, details, details.

If the landlord is harassing you, I want to know how. Does the landlord like to watch you sleep? It’s important to understand if your lease has a clause prohibiting pets and you just adopted a baby gorilla. It’s also important to know about the gorilla because other laws may apply. Sometimes little details can shed light on an issue you may not know you have.

Obviously, this format has its limits. If you know your unit is rent controlled you can just say so. I want the gory details that make your case unique. They help make this column more interesting and fun.

Oh yeah, if you live in Oakland, I need to know that, because they have a different Rent Ordinance. If you live in Daly City, I also need to know that, because they don’t have jack to protect tenants except feudal (California) law.

I’m at 48 Hills to answer your landlord-tenant questions every Wednesday, so send them to me at [email protected]

The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not constitute legal advice. The information provided is general in nature. Seek the advice of a tenant attorney for any specific problem or issue. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or Crow & Rose, Attorneys at Law unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.