Master Tenant: The Basics

What does it mean to be a master tenant? We’re glad you asked. It’s a job not to be taken lightly….

A master tenant’s job can take many different forms. Essentially, the master tenant is the “head of household” for a particular rental arrangement, either by taking on that responsibility or because all other original lease signers have moved out.

What comes with being a master tenant (keep in mind that these are general—each city may have their own legal definitions, and each arrangement with the landlord may vary slightly):

-Paying rent

Master tenants collect rent from sub-tenants; they either have rent paid directly to them, and then write one big check to the landlord, or in some cases they collect a number of checks to pass off.

-Finding new sub-tenants

It usually falls to the master tenant to replace other tenants as they leave. True, this is a big job; depending on the housing market, there may be loads of different people to screen and decide between. On the other hand, it means that one original leaser has control over who moves in, and who doesn’t.

-Evicting problem sub-tenants

Although the legal ability to evict tenants may not lie with a master tenant, it’s not unusual for her to decide when someone needs to leave, and to inform that person. The usual documentation justifying eviction still applies in this case.

Another advantage of staying on as master tenant is that, if she stays long enough, her apartment becomes rent controlled. As long as one original member of the lease still lives in the apartment, rent can’t rise significantly (again, depending on local laws). Until recently in San Francisco, a master tenant could charge market rates for a rent controlled place, and actually make a profit.

Have you ever been a master tenant? Share your experiences here or on Facebook!

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