Topic No. 151: Subletting and Replacement of Roommates
Recent amendments to the Rent Ordinance, effective November 9, 2015, may have changed some of the information provided here. The Rent Board is currently considering amendments to its Rules and Regulations that may also affect the accuracy of the information provided here. This information will be updated in the near future. You may contact the Rent Board at (415)252-4602 or visit the office at 25 Van Ness Avenue, Room 320 in San Francisco if you have questions about this topic.
In general, a tenant's right to sublet all or a part of a rental unit (which includes getting a new roommate) depends on whether the lease or rental agreement permits it. If the agreement is silent on the issue, then subletting is generally permitted. Many leases or rental agreements contain a "consent clause," which requires that the landlord approve a new roommate or subtenant. Even where a lease absolutely forbids subletting, the San Francisco Rent Ordinance and Rules and Regulations allow tenants to replace departing roommates on a one-for-one basis, as long as the replacement roommate meets the landlord's regular, reasonable application standards and the tenant is not subletting the entire unit, but only replacing a roommate.
For tenancies covered by the Rent Ordinance, the right to have a specific number of roommates, whether express or implied, is included in the definition of "Housing Services" under the Ordinance. This means that the landlord's unreasonable withholding of consent to a replacement roommate can be the basis of a Tenant Petition for a rent reduction based on a substantial decrease in housing services. The amount of the rent reduction would be the proportional share of the rent that the departing roommate paid.
The Rules and Regulations set forth procedures that a tenant must follow in order to obtain the landlord's consent to sublet. The procedures contain specific time limits that must be followed by landlords and tenants. Section 6.15A contains the procedures for situations where the rental agreement includes an absolute prohibition against subletting. Section 6.15B governs situations where the subletting provision contains a "consent clause." To receive a copy of Section 6.15A or 6.15B, you can fax it to yourself through our Fax Back system by calling (415)252-4660 or visit our website at www.sfrb.org.
A tenant may not be evicted for violating a no-subletting clause if the landlord unreasonably withheld consent to a replacement roommate. Furthermore, for agreements entered into on or after May 28, 1998, a tenant may not be evicted for violating a no-subletting clause unless the prohibition against subletting was adequately disclosed in writing and agreed to by the tenant at the commencement of the tenancy.
The tenant may request the landlord to consent to a new replacement roommate only one time per existing tenant residing in the unit in any 12 month period, absent good cause for additional requests.
The landlord may serve any new roommate with a written notice under Section 6.14 stating that the new roommate is not an "original tenant" and that when the last of the original tenants vacates the premises, the landlord may impose an unlimited rent increase on the remaining occupants.