The legalities of moving in a romantic partner

What are housing providers to do when a tenant wants to give the keys to a domestic partner who is an unfamiliar face to the landlord? This is one of the questions posed to Daniel in a recent online meetup and his response follows.


If the tenant is moving in their partner, what is the best thing we should do to ensure that the same rules apply to this new person and that they abide by the lease agreement?


This is an excellent question and it depends on what jurisdiction you are in and what type of property it is. If you have a single-family home or a condominium unit where you’re not subject to rent regulations, I would add the person to the lease if you want them on the lease because you’re always free to raise the rent after the fixed term of the lease.

Adding the person to the lease further documents that they're jointly and civilly liable for all obligations arising from the lease agreement.

However, if it’s a multi-unit property, you have to be careful when you add a partner to the lease and the property is subject to rent regulations. You’ve given that other person - the new boyfriend or girlfriend - the benefit of being under rent control and now is locked into below-market rent.

So you come to me and say, “I know of a boyfriend who’s moved in without my permission.” The first thing I’m going to ask is “Where is the property located?” The next question is whether it is a multi-unit property, a single-family home, or a condominium unit. Then, I will give advice.

I want you to generally know, however, that whenever there is a written lease, and there’s an occupant who’s inside that unit, even if they don’t sign the agreement, he or she is still obligated to comply with those terms under that written lease agreement.

The legal term for this is called privity of estate. They are inside the rental unit and there’s a contract existing for the operation of that landlord-tenant relationship. So you need not fear that someone’s inside the unit and they’re not on the lease.

Yet, there are circumstances when it’s better to have them on the lease. Please contact me and I can advise. These are classic sublet situations and classic roommate situations, and it’s a cat-and-mouse game out there. It depends on the circumstances and then I can impart advice.


As a follow-up question, can I run the credit report of the tenant’s partner and refuse that new person if it’s not good?

It depends. In some jurisdictions, people are allowed to have another person inside the unit. Also, let’s say the tenant says it’s not my boyfriend, but it’s my fiancé... We’re getting married in September.

First, it may be bad optics to preclude that person from joining their partner, and is difficult to enforce.

Second, if the master tenant is supposed to pay you the full rent and you’re not accepting rent from the boyfriend, why do you care if the boyfriend has blemishes on his credit or a spotty rental history?

If the master tenant doesn’t pay the rent, you’re going to serve a 3-day notice to pay rent or quit on both of them. I would admonish you at that point not to accept rent from either the tenant or the boyfriend because this inadvertently creates a tenancy with the boyfriend. At all times, only accept rent from the person you signed the lease with.

If the boyfriend wants to contribute to the rent, that’s fine. But it would be the tenant’s role to collect rent from the boyfriend. The tenant brought this person into the relationship and also brought the person into your property.

Now, there is a real concern that if this boyfriend is a criminal and you’ve just brought him into your community and he poses a threat to neighboring residents, what to do? In this situation, I would want to learn a little bit more about that person before I welcome him in. In that situation, I would do a bit of a background search. But when something like that happens, I suggest you make a call to Bornstein Law, because we have to proceed cautiously.

We don’t want to elevate that person to co-tenancy status and pass the baton of a below-market rate unit because the tenant can leave in six months and now you are stuck with this underperforming unit because only the boyfriend would now enjoy the benefit of rent regulations.

If you manage this relationship correctly and the tenant leaves, you may be able to raise the rent to market rate for a property located in a rent-controlled jurisdiction. So it gets tricky, but our office is happy to assist.