What do you think I should do?
September 17, 2008 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Messy housing situation, tenant is manipulating landlord's poor English skills and profiting.

Landlord has poor English-language comprehension. Tenant wrote one-page contract (with a LOT of grey area) he and landlord signed. Tenant is now stuffing the two-bedroom one-bathroom house with four subtenants, each of whom is paying an exorbitant sum for their room. Tenant actively seeks these subtenants from Craigslist and collects the difference.

I am one of the subtenants. I have cancelled my first rent + deposit check. He still has my $200 cash downpayment (which I don't think I'll ever see again). Tenant visits about once a week and does not know I cancelled yet. Spoke with landlord, she is eager to evict but speaks poor English and does not know how to go about it. She has offered me a room temporarily in her own house while I find a new place.

I signed a lease with tenant, but I am unsure as to its legality. He referred to himself as the owner of the house when I signed it, but orally, not in writing (as I now examine the contract more closely). He is authorized to rent out the rooms of the lease, but the problem here is that he is authorized to do so by the contract with the landlord that he himself wrote.

I want some sort of middle ground between getting the hell out and getting involved too deep. Advice would be appreciated.

I'm 22 by the way. Email exegesisofsqualor@gmail.com if you'd like a reply.

In summary:

-What can I do (if I should do anything?)
-Who can I contact about this?
-What makes a tenancy agreement legally binding?
-Is there some Spanish-language information resource I could refer my landlord to about eviction procedures in the state of California?

(No rent control involved in this situation)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He is authorized to rent out the rooms of the lease, but the problem here is that he is authorized to do so by the contract with the landlord that he himself wrote.

To a large extent, this is her own problem. I know I would never sign a legal document written in a language I didn't understand very well without having it looked over pretty carefully by someone else.

I feel for the woman -- I know how hard it is to be a landlord -- but she's got to protect herself better in the future.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:43 PM on September 17, 2008

You've asked multiple questions, but the threshold question is in your title. Answer: You should do nothing. It's no longer your problem. You're out. (Unless the "bedroom in landlady's house" is more than you're letting on.)
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:59 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

After failure-to-preview, I'll add that this assumes Tenant has better things to do than track you down after you've decamped, when he can easily find a new subtenant and get on with his life.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:06 PM on September 17, 2008

I wouldn't fight her battle for her perhaps, but I think it's cool that you're trying to help. Even if it is her problem. What's wrong with helping your fellow man when it's clear they're being screwed? What are ya, the Catholic Church?

There are a lot of websites out there with information for both tenants and landlords. I can't seem to get google to give me results that aren't British, but there are plenty with translations in Spanish. Sorry I can't be more specific, but I think it's cool you are trying to do something right. Just don't get in too deep.
posted by mooza at 3:19 PM on September 17, 2008

Is there some Spanish-language information resource

This is a California information site in Spanish.

What makes a tenancy agreement legally binding?

If the original lease (which you call a contract, but it's a specific type covered by its own legal umbrella) is legal under CA law, from what I can tell, and the subleases are proper, then it can certainly be binding. Things like eviction law can even play into informal living arrangements, so the law may well err on one side or the other depending on circumstance. This is why most landlords use a standard lease form that complies with state law. It's not illegal to write your own, but it introduces many more gray areas. Tenants may well have rights even if the lease specifically denies them, because state law could protect those rights and abrogate the entire lease if any part of it is out of compliance (this is true in Wisconsin, frex).

Who can I contact about this?

The nice landlady may need a lawyer. At the very least she should be getting advice from a professional source. This is that far off the rails.

What can I do (if I should do anything?)

Not much. Get the heck out of Dodge. It's not a situation of your making and you recognized the problem quickly enough that you have little invested.
posted by dhartung at 3:34 PM on September 17, 2008

Even beyond the language barrier, immigrants are often intimidated by the legal process. Help her find a bilingual lawyer, and let the lawyer take it from there.

You may also have grounds to recover your $200 in small claims court, seeing as how evil tenant misrepresented himself as the owner (even oral statements have some standing, I think, though IANAL)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:51 PM on September 17, 2008

In the event that after some kind of messy legal battle the contract is found legal, does that not also mean you're on the hook for damages after breaking your lease? If so, perhaps you wouldn't want to be standing at the landlord's side cheering her on when that decision is made...
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:35 PM on September 17, 2008

What's your problem?? She gets her rent right? The four tenants have not been mislead? Meaning they knowingly signed up for 2 bedroom 1 bathroom with 4 tenants @ $X/wk. I understand she's pissed because clearly she could've been charging a whole lot more for the place and been a slumlord herself. And I get that you're pissed because the owner wasn't a slumlord and if you'd have been on the ball you would've got the same place but cheaper and likely less people living there too. But you must've been desperate, otherwise if it was that expensive why would you move in??

But since you're not paying your rent you should probably move out.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:29 AM on September 18, 2008

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