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From the Forum – Landlord trying to start a boarding house – help!

by Prince Of Petworth August 25, 2015 at 2:10 pm 22 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Clif Burns

Landlord trying to start a boarding house – help!

“I live in a group house in Petworth, 3br upstairs plus a basement w/ 1 br. Previously (for at least 2+ year) this house was rented to a group and the housemates would find a tenant to fill an open spot. This past May, a tenant moved out of the basement and we began looking for someone to fill her spot. The landlord then decided that she would do some work to the basement so we stopped looking.

Now, instead of doing renovations, she is insisting on finding a tenant for the basement space herself, and keeping us out of the process. This person would share all common spaces with us. We are very concerned about a stranger moving into our home, especially since one of us is a transwoman. Everyone in the house is currently on a separate (identical) lease.

We are a collective group house with norms and collective expectations, shared food and chores etc, we are NOT a boarding house and do not wish to become such.

Has anyone else experienced something like this? Is there a legal route so that we can choose our own housemate?”

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  • shmoo

    the part about separate identical leases makes it sound like each one of you are renting a room in the house and she is trying to fill a vacant room. I think you are out of luck….

    One thing would be to rent the room from her and split the cost between you and your roommates. would make it a bit pricier tho.

    • ontarioroader

      Sounds about right – the only way to really secure the whole house as ‘yours’ would be to have the whole house leased only to you, and have others pay you rent (sublet). Reason number 493,345,878,979 why group houses can be a gamble. Had some great times living collectively in my early 20’s in Mt P group houses, but it definitely wasn’t without drama similar to this.

    • dunning-kruger

      This. OP is already in a boarding house. The landlord seemed to be willing to gamble and let the people in the house determine the next lessee but that is a really terrible idea which she may have learned the hard way.
      I’ve dealt with this before: you and many other group house tenants want it both ways. You want to find your own roommates but then you want separate leases so that if they don’t pay you aren’t responsible. That is nuts, think of what you are asking for.
      If you sign a joint lease you are “jointly and severally responsible” for the rent so if one person can’t pay you have to pick up the slack or you are all late and could potentially all be evicted together. By taking that risk you get to choose your own roommates since you are agreeing to make sure the rent is paid in full.
      If you each get separate leases and one person doesn’t pay the landlord can only collect from them. Would you enter a potentially lifelong contract with someone chosen by a person wholly unqualified to make such a decision who does not even have skin in the game?
      If you’re willing to take on the risks of vacancy loss, non-paying tenants, etc, ask your landlord for a joint lease and if they go along find yourself a roommate. Unless your lease is for the whole property you can not reasonably expect to control the parts that are not included in your lease.

      • Steve F

        I have lived in situations similar to this. The landlord allowed us to select a new roommate, but still did all the background/credit checks to make sure the new tenant had the ability to pay.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure I understand why you think you have more legal right to choose a tenant than the owner of the house. Your best bet is what someone else suggested: rent the room together and find someone to fill it. (Or move out. That’s always your right too.)

  • DM

    When you say the house is “rented to a group” do you mean you all have one lease as a group, for the whole house? Or are you each individually leasing a room from the landlord?

    If it’s the former (as it was back when I lived in a group house), I’d assume the landlord wouldn’t be able to do anything without your consent (since you lease the whole house.) We had to find a person whenever someone left–if the room stayed empty, everyone on the lease (including the person moving out) was still responsible for it, until we got the departing roommate officially replaced on the group lease. The landlord wouldn’t be able to move anyone else in, because we rented every inch of that house.

    But if it’s the latter (as my boyfriend’s current group house is), I wouldn’t imagine there were any legal avenues–it’s been a “boarding house” all along, even if that’s not the way you saw it and even if the landlord had been relaxed about letting you find someone.

    Regardless, I’d just talk to the landlord about your concerns. And it doesn’t hurt to look for a roommate and say something like, “We have a friend who’s interested in the room!” No landlord *wants* to go through the hassle of finding a tenant and possibly causing a rift with the existing tenants, when there’s a hassle-free option.

    • DM

      Never mind–saw you had already answered the question in the post. Ignore everything but the last two paragraphs of my post!

  • Kelly

    “We are very concerned about a stranger moving into our home”

    Thats the thing, it isn’t your home. Unless you were paying rent on the entire house (i.e. one lease), it is entirely within her right to fill the space as she likes because you already live in a Boarding scenario.

    • Wilt

      It is not their house, but it is their home.

  • also anon

    Have you tried talking to the landlord and asking her if she’s fine with you guys finding a person? I really don’t think you have any options legally unless your leases say that you are responsible for finding new tenants or that you have the right to interview/reject new tenants.

  • textdoc

    I don’t think you have any options legally (though I don’t know for sure). Could you try persuading the landlord to let you find the new tenant, and offer her “veto power” so that she feels she still has a say?
    If she says no to the idea… maybe ask her what her reservations are, and try to find some way of assuaging them? (E.g., does she think past tenants chosen by residents caused too much damage to the house? Is she worried that you’ll choose a tenant who’s going to have financial difficulties?)

    • FridayGirl

      I very much agree with textdoc. If you could ask whether it would be okay to find someone and give her veto power, it would actually save her a lot of work trying to find someone… it’s no easy task, especially if she can’t speak to the characteristics of the group house herself. (I personally would not rent a shared space from a landlord with little knowledge of the other tenants.)

      • Anon Spock

        Lots of people don’t feel that way esp. if it’s cheap. Even worse if they’re the problem child, so they’ll live anywhere and do whatever they want.

      • Nerrrrrrrrd

        My first thought was that the landlord is seeking to raise the rent and is planning to do it one lease at a time.

        • JoDa

          Given the “did some work” bit, yeah, I’d assume she’s raising the rent. She might be looking for someone more financially qualified than they’ve “selected” in the past. It’s also unclear how long the vacancies were when the tenants were selecting the new tenant, and if lengthy (more than a few weeks is lengthy when you’re talking about rent), she could be looking to put a lid on that issue.
          Many possibilities, ultimately her right to select the tenant.

  • andy

    buy a house and rent to your friends. or follow someone else’s rules.

  • owner

    oh no! But what if they stick you with a person of color! The outrage! Who knows what could happen when they are forced to obey laws about housing discrimination.
    If you want to check online I think rooming houses are designated by the BZA. But I’m pretty sure either way you’re sh*t out of luck.

    • Erin

      Did OP mention being concerned about a person of color anywhere? I don’t see it. This landlord already obeys laws about housing discrimination anyway since OP says one of the current tenants is trans. Seriously, you didn’t read this whole thing AT ALL.
      That said, I agree with everyone ELSE here: unfortunately, you have no legal recourse for this with your landlord. Talking it out and mediating is the only option for you.

  • DCRA has very clear definition of a Boarding House and a Rooming House. Both require a BBL and a C of O. Search on dc.gov. But yes, the easiest route is to start by simply talking to the landlord. Offer to advertise, screen people etc. then give her final approval.

  • Rent the whole house

    Rent the whole house. Then, rent rooms in the house to people on Craigslist. As long as you pay the full rent for the whole house, it won’t matter much to the landlord who lives there.

    Even if you pick “good people,” you’re still going to have rent payment problems and roomie abdication of responsibility for various things (upkeep of front/rear yard, repair of damage caused by roomies, trash management).

    Beats paying $2,000 to live in a crappy condo alone.

  • Commentator

    I think the disconnect here is that you say this house was rented to a group but then later you say each person is on a separate lease. That means you’re not leasing the place as a group so it pretty much already is a boarding house, regardless of how well you know and like each other. As others have mentioned, to have control over the occupants of a house you either need to own the house or rent the whole place (or have some sort of stipulation in your lease giving you that control which would be unusual). That said, it sounds like you probably have a decent relationship with your landlord and so I agree with going the route of asking whether you can produce candidates for her to approve. You don’t have any legal options if she doesn’t agree, but you’re also saving her a hassle so hopefully she might see it that way. Good luck!

  • Anon X

    Only a very special tenant will want to live in a situation where there are already ground rules and chores assigned by fiat, anyway. Is it possible that you aren’t the best tenants and the landlord is trying to break up the group house?


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