Roommates and subletting

September 18, 2023

Roommate issues can be complicated. If you need help you can speak with a Rent Board counselor at (415) 252-4600. It may be appropriate for a hearing or an issue that can be mediated with a local nonprofit.

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Replacing roommates

In general, tenants in San Francisco can replace roommates or add roommates to the unit. They can do this even if the lease does not allow it. But, they must follow procedures under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance.

Learn more about replacing roommates.

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Charging for additional occupants is not allowed

Landlords in San Francisco cannot charge more rent simply because a new roommate (or several) has moved into a unit. This is illegal, no matter what the lease itself says.

Any agreement to pay more rent is void and unenforceable by the landlord.

If your landlord charges you more rent for new roommates, you may file a Tenant Petition for Unlawful Rent Increase.

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Section 6.14 and Costa-Hawkins

Landlords can increase the rent to market rate in some situations when the original tenants have moved out. Learn more about these laws.

Since this can be complicated, landlords and tenants should get legal advice regarding these types of cases. You can find help through our Rent Board Referral Listing.

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Rent charged by master tenants

In general, a master tenant is a tenant who takes a roommate whose name is not on the lease. That roommate is called a subtenant. A master tenant acts as the landlord to that subtenant.

In general, a subtenant:

  • Pays rent to the master tenant
  • Does not have their name on the lease
  • Is a roommate of the original  (or "master")  tenant
  • In some cases, rents the unit during the master tenant's absence
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Limits on rent charged by master tenants

A master tenant cannot charge any subtenant more than a proportional share of the total rent the master tenant pays to the owner.

A master tenant subletting the entire unit may not charge a subtenant more than the rent owed to the landlord. There may be exceptions, such as if a master tenant provides furnishings or incurs out-of-pocket expenses (for example, payment of utilities or housekeeping services) not paid by the owner.

If the total rent paid by the master tenant to the owner increases due to a lawful rent increase or passthrough, the subtenant's share of the rent may be increased. This is allowed even if it has been less than 12 months since the last rent increase. However, the subtenant’s share must remain proportional.

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Proportional share of total rent

The proportional share of the total rent may be based on several things:

  • Equal division by the number of occupants or bedrooms
  • The square footage of exclusively occupied space
  • The reasonable value of housing services (furnishings, utilities, parking, etc.) provided by the master tenant.

If a subtenant believes they are paying more than a proportional share then they may file a Subtenant Petition with the Rent Board.

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Evictions of roommates and subtenants

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Master tenants

In some circumstances a master tenant, who lives in the same rental unit with their subtenant, may evict the subtenant without one of the "just cause" reasons typically required for an eviction. If the subtenancy began on or after May 25, 1998:

  • The master tenant must disclose in writing to the subtenant that the tenancy is not subject to the just cause eviction provisions of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance
  • This must be done before the subtenancy began

Only landlords can evict their tenants. Landlords must follow the law if they perform an eviction. A master tenant is considered a landlord in relation to their subtenant. This means that a master tenant:

  • Cannot remove or lock out a subtenant
  • Cannot take a subtenant's belongings to force them to move
  • Must follow all relevant laws and procedures to evict a subtenant

If you are a master tenant, it is recommended that you speak with an attorney before attempting an eviction. You can find help through our Rent Board Referral Listing.

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Subtenants and roommates

  • Subtenants do not have the right to evict their master tenant 
  • Roommates cannot evict their fellow co-tenants


Tags: Topic 150; Topic 152

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