Friday, February 12, 2016

3 years, a domestic partnership, and the law

In sharing the saga of my time spent with my roommate of three years, some of my friends suggested that I write a post about it. With their prompting, below is my experience.

Brief synopsis: lived with a guy for three years, he tried to add his boyfriend to the lease without my knowledge, I said no, landlord sided with me, they moved out.

For the full story:
After moving back to California, I lived at home with my parents for a few months while I coached the high school water polo team. After the season when I had more time to look for a place and had saved a little bit of money, I put an ad out on Craigslist looking for a roommate. Quite conveniently, someone I knew found me. Dave (name changed) was the manager at the pool where I coached the team, and was also in need of a roommate. Through a quick exchange of emails, we agreed to look together.

We checked out a few places, and then found a place that was five minutes from both of our workplaces. We walked in with the deposit checks and first month's rent in hand, and signed the papers that day. And despite the warnings of living with someone you met on craigslist, things worked out.

As I had been a nomad up to this point, moving every year from house to house, I didn't own any furniture (or silverware, or really anything besides clothes, books, plateware, and bikes). Fortunately for me, Dave had everything- tv stands, couches, tables. I guess that is what being a real adult is all about. We moved in together, and life was good.

Well, things worked out for almost three years. About halfway through the third year, he started dating somebody, and his boyfriend (fictional name of Scott) started spending more and more time at the apartment. At first, I didn't have a problem with it, but it slowly progressed to Scott living in the apartment-he moved clothes and other possessions into the apartment, Dave gave Scott a key, and access to the parking spot.

An image search for "roommate from hell" brings up an image of Buffy. If I was a vampire, then yes, she would definitely be a roommate from hell.

I didn't say anything until Christmas, when they received a card addressed to both of them at the apartment. While I had been a push over up until this point, the arrival of the card with both of their names on it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. I sent Dave an email saying that his boyfriend couldn't live there any more, and we would need to discuss living arrangements if he anticipated Scott staying over.

Dave and Scott were out of town celebrating the holiday together, so Dave replied that we would talk when he got back. Not a problem- I was heading out of town too, so it would be about a week. All texts/emails up to this point were cordial.

While out of town, I tried to set up my DVR on my phone to record the bowl games and Warriors games, because it was expected that my attention be elsewhere while on vacation with my girlfriend.

After attempting to a few times to set up the recordings, I realized that my roommate had canceled the cable in retaliation (cable and internet was in his name)! AH I WAS SO ANGRY. Not really, but I was displeased. It meant that I could not waste 10-15 hours on the couch watching the games that I already knew the results of!
How I wanted to spend the following days after vacation. Without a functioning DVR, how was I going waste so much time on the couch!

When we both returned from our respective vacations, Dave and I sat down, and I asked some questions- what is Scott's living situation? Is he or has he been paying rent?
On the inside, I was fuming about the cancellation of cable and the other issues outlined above, but I forced myself to put on a calm face and be cordial. 

Dave avoided the questions, and said that he and Scott had entered a domestic partnership, and had contacted the landlord, who had approved an addition to the lease, so Scott's name was going to be added to lease. I congratulated him on the partnership, but in my mind, the wheels started turning about what to do. The conversation ended with Dave agreeing to ask Scott to pay rent, and then a further discussion would take place.

After we talked, I emailed the landlord, and then my legal counsel (my parents). My parents gave me more advice (both legal and otherwise) than I knew what to do with. Apparently Dave and Scott may have broken the law by having the landlord change the lease without my permission. A lease is a legally binding document, and can't be altered without permission of all parties. Terms like "intentional interference with contractual relations", "failure to act in good faith", and "liability for future damages" got thrown around, and various tracks to pursue were discussed.

Before pursuing some of the messier tracks, emails were exchanged between Dave, the landlord, and myself. Through emails with the landlord, he was under the impression that I had moved out since I wasn't cc'd on any of the emails asking for the addition to the lease, and for this reason, had approved of the subtenancy of Scott. When the landlord found out that I was still living there, he said he would not approve the change. Dave, when he got wind of this, countered with he was in a domestic partnership with Scott, so the landlord must approve the changes to the lease. The landlord initially capitulated, but when I prompted him to provide the legal reasoning for the change, the landlord came back with this:
Your lease calls for 2 people. But marriage and partnership is a state law that supersedes the lease

Only SF has adopted an ordinance to allow for more than those named on the lease to become sub occupants. Oakland still upholds the lease as the deciding factor in "occupancy". 
Boom. Winner winner chicken dinner. In the absence of any ordinance allowing for the change of the lease, the only people allowed to live in the apartment are those named on the lease, namely (pun intended) Dave and I. While I had enjoyed living with Dave, and Scott for that matter, I did not sign up to live with both of them. I wasn't going to move out because I couldn't afford to move out. If you haven't heard, rents are stupidly expensive in the bay area, but the apartment is locked in at the rate at which we moved in. The rent controlled apartment is an asset that both Dave and I wanted, and without being able to add Scott to the lease, Dave had one less piece to try to push me out.

I let Dave know that I had no intention of moving out, and that Scott couldn't be living in the apartment. Within three weeks, Dave told me he was moving out with Scott.
WOOOO! I had the place to myself! So much room for activities! Especially since I don't own any furniture!

Over this whole saga, I learned a lot- what the law states about domestic partnership (there are two different types in California), tenancy law, and human behavior. The biggest takeaways were:

  1. If possible, have the lease only be in your name- it allows you to control the apartment. If one of the roommates starts to be annoying, you can kick them out. This can be complicated for a variety of reasons, and may harm your roommates if you move out and the lease is under rent control.
  2. If you have to live with someone else, have everything be in your name. It gives you leverage and control over the situation, and allows you to stake a claim to the place.
  3. Always know what your nuclear option is, and make sure you understand all the cards that you have to play. If you go into an argument and you don't know your breaking point, you can get dragged out. But if you are aware of how hard you are willing to push, it makes things easier. I never had to reach that point here, but from advice from my counsel and friends, I had a plan.

While annoyed, I came out in a better situation, and now Dave and Scott can live together without being bothered by a spandex wearing beer drinking sports watching couch sitter.

Now, I have the place to myself, and an empty apartment with no furniture that I am in the process of acquiring. More on that in a future blog post.

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