Bay Area Rental Filter: How to handle references from landlord
July 2, 2016 11:09 AM   Subscribe

I’m getting ready to move to a different apartment in the Bay Area from my flat in San Francisco and am not sure how to address requests from potential new landlords re: references from my current landlord, since I am not on the lease. How should I approach this on lease applications?

For the past several years I’ve shared a large flat in San Francisco with two other people, one of whom is the master tenant and has been for the past 20 years. Per the lease agreement, she was not required to put other renters on the lease. I know the landlord reasonably well since until a couple of years ago he and his family occupied the flat below us. I could ask him for a reference if I absolutely had to, but the rental situation being what it is in the Bay Area these days, I’d hate to do anything at all that might be a loophole for him to evict the master tenant (and my other flatmate). It doesn’t seem likely, since, again, from my understanding the lease does not specify that additional roommates must be listed on the lease. But I don’t want to rock the boat in any way if I can at all help it.

Complicating factor: the landlord I know (I'll call him "S") is actually the son of the original landlord, who passed away a few years ago. S inherited this building and while I would expect he'd have some familiarity re: the terms of the various tenant agreements so he should've been aware I lived in the unit and was not on the lease, he's also a huge slacker stoner and I could easily see him not caring about it since the rent was always paid on time. Additional complicating factor: the original master tenant doesn't know where the original lease documents are so can't double/triple verify the terms.

Has anyone else in the Bay Area been in this situation and if so, how did you handle it?
posted by hapax_legomenon to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Best answer: It sounds to me like you are subleasing from the master tenant (whether you have signed documents to that effect or not), so she could serve as your landlord for the purpose of references.
posted by brainmouse at 11:14 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The master tenant is your landlord in this situation. There is no need to alert the owner or involve them; just get a reference from your master tenant, possibly explaining the terms of your tenancy and how great you are. "Hapax_legomenon paid $x per month for the northwestern bedroom and use of the premises in my apartment, of which I am the letter, was consistently on time with rent, and caused no damages. I enjoyed living together and would rent to them again."
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:10 PM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: So you guys are saying I'm overthinking this, huh. Me? Never! ;) Thanks for your help!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 1:02 PM on July 2, 2016

Best answer: In addition to the advice above - in my experience* as a renter in the SF Bay Area, landlord references are not like employment references; they are not an essential, make-or-break part of renting. When I was renting, income and credit were more important. For my last rental, I put down a landlord reference but I do not think they even called the former landlord.

Unless you were a nightmare tenant - you were evicted, habitually late with rent, been the subject of police reports, or really trashed your rental - chances are there is no such thing as a bad landlord reference. I've never heard of prospective landlords grilling references and giving them the fine-tooth-comb treatment the way employers often do.

*I've been a homeowner for the past five years, and stayed in one rental for six years before that. Given the state of the rental market here, things may have changed.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:16 PM on July 2, 2016

Best answer: Yes! I had three landlords in SF and none of them called each other or any other previous landlords. Of much more concern was my financial situation. Showing up on time with a credit report, pay stubs, last year's taxes/offer letter, and proof that you paid rent in your last place (I print out a year's worth of check images from my online banking) is much more important.
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:15 PM on July 3, 2016

Best answer: I was a rental agent for 7 years and didn't put much weight on landlord references. Many landlords will give a terrible tenant a great reference to get rid if them! I would much rather have the financial info.
posted by Melsky at 11:03 AM on July 4, 2016

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