Irritated multiracial women fighting in apartment

Avoiding The Roommate Minefield

Last Updated: April 30, 2024By

It’s Common Practice to consider several potential tenant candidates for a Rental Unit. In other words, a roommate. It is a rite of passage to share our units with friends and classmates while we attended College. We lived in the dormitories, sorority or fraternity Houses, and off campus apartments.

Ideally, a roommate is considerate, thoughtful, generous and willing to share the Costs of Rent, utilities and other expenses. Over time, the roommate situation presents problems and difficulties, or, as we Mature, and life’s circumstances change, we usually transition into our own rental and live alone or with a partner.

However, there are certain scenarios which can be difficult and challenging to LANDLORDS.

This article is not intended as a comprehensive legal Law Review of the different legal issues, but merely an overview of problems that need be addressed.

Santa Monica has special rules.

For example, automatic roommates: The Tenant’s spouse, children, or domestic partner.

Even though the rental unit is initially offered to a single Tenant, the Tenant’s spouse, children, or domestic partner can be considered lawful Tenants or roommates without the consent or approval of the Owner.

If a spouse, child or domestic partner who lives at the premises for over a year, and the original Tenant either passes on or becomes disabled and leaves, the Tenant/children/spouse and/or domestic partner may assert a right to remain as a Tenant. Under the Santa Monica Charter, they may not be removed or evicted.

Since they are NOT THE ORIGINAL TENANT, as contemplated by the 1995 Costa/Hawkins Fair Housing Act, it may be reasonable to notify the original Tenant that this “automatic tenant,” who may enjoy the right of possession.

If the original Tenant surrenders the unit, the surviving occupant will be paying market rate rent.

Call a realtor, investigate the market rate rent, and install that in your notice, but be prepared…outrageously high rent may be considered tenant harassment under the many new ordinances adopted during the Corona virus or thereafter.


Let’s say the original rental arrangement allowed for two occupants. For whatever reason, one of the occupants elects to surrender the unit, and leave. The remaining Tenant, who was the original official Tenant, continues to reside in the rental unit; and thereafter makes a demand upon the Owner to allow a substitute tenant. Generally, the Owner is given 14 days to respond, and if the owner ignores and neglects the REQUEST, then the new Tenant is automatically installed. This arrangement in Santa Monica is a one-on-one basis only. If one Tenant leaves, you cannot bring in three other Tenants.

The Maximum Allowable Rent may not be increased. In fact, where a Tenant or Sub-Tenant tries to increase the rent over the MAR, it is unlawful under the Santa Monica Charter Amendment, as well as Assembly Bill 1482.


Sometimes the Tenant appears with a romantic component; however, the romantic partner is without a job, has a bad history, and a very poor FICO score. They do not qualify as a Tenant. You could rent it to the Tenant applicant with good credit; and allow the romantic counterpart to merely be a houseguest of the Tenant, and when the original Tenant surrenders the unit, then the houseguest must go.

I do not favor or promote making a houseguest lawfully responsible for the rent. Some Judge is going to now elevate that person to Tenant, and we will have more problems.


HUD has a schedule where they indicate as to single, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and larger, the number of occupants which are lawful. An Owner who tries to limit the rental unit to only one person may be in violation of HUD fair accommodation arrangements.

We are all aware that when a person moves into a rental unit, and then produces a child, the original renter and child may not be evicted.


Santa Monica has separate provisions which encourage and promote the use of care givers; however, these medical providers are never elevated to the status of occupant or Tenant.

Be careful. Sometimes a care giver may fall under role of the protective classes we discussed: spouse, children, domestic partner.


Santa Monicans For Renters’ Rights Tenant advocates have long wanted to be in a position to force Owners to take roommates. During the Corona virus, of course, Santa Monica andd Los Angeles adopted a rule that unauthorized and illegal roommates could remain on the premises, and no additional rent had to be paid, as well as unauthorized and illegal pets.

It has been reported that if the Justice For Renters Act is enacted, Oakland, Berkeley, West Hollywood and Santa Monica will adopt a new regulation wherein a Tenant may have Many Roommates without any evaluation, consent or approval by the Owner. This is the direction that some of our liberal friends who are members of the Socialist/Democratic Party of America want for pets, as well.

Always consider consulting a Land Use or Eviction Attorney to review your rental agreements to make certain that the paragraph that deals with roommates and provides prohibitions against extra roommates, assignment, or subletting is very well drafted to make it clear that under no circumstances any roommate, not otherwise listed on the rental agreement without your formal written CONSENT will be allowed.

We’ve heard stories about squatters. We have heard stories about people who found roommates on craigslist, they came into the premises, and then terrorized existing Tenants so much that they all left. Now this stealth, secret tenant takes over the apartment, changes the locks, creates a phony rental agreement and then demands that the Owner provide services, but never pays the rent.

The situations are reported at ACTION MEETINGS. This type of tenant will apply to the California Tenant Relief Plan, and seek and obtain com- pensation in the area of almost $10,000, and never turn it over to the Owner.

We’ve seen schemes from this type of Tenant that when the Owner demands possession of their own unit, the fake tenant travels to the Court- house and fills out a harassment APPLICATION, and serves it on the Owner. Sometimes they will file an action for Elder abuse without any facts.

You need to consult good Lawyers; knowledgeable Eviction Attorneys; revise your rental agreement; deal with these situations promptly; post appropriate no trespassing signage; and of course, as discussed, the City of Santa Monica has a trespass arrest authorization form that must be completed, filed and notarized.

And finally, as we’ve discussed at ACTION Meetings, in Los Angeles, if a Tenant wishes to install a roommate, this is permissible, and the rent may be increased by a factor of 10%. In Los Angeles, if you observe a roommate, immediately contact the Tenant, demand an explanation, review the credit application, and install the 10%. If you take no action, then a clever Lawyer will suggest you’ve waived your rights.

Thank you for allowing me to report. Attend ACTION Meetings. Support the campaign opposing the Justice For Renters Act.

Written by Michael Millman

Michael Millman, Mar Vista; (310) 477-1201



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