A tenant wants her boyfriend of six months to move in and asked me for another restricted access building key for him. If I permit the move-in, how do I give her the key without establishing him as a master tenant?
The rent law was amended in 2005 to allow tenants to request and receive additional key sets from the landlord. Examples of tenant reasons for receiving additional keys include, but are not limited to, admitting a service provider, delivery person, houseguest, or relative. The lawful addition of a new occupant is certainly a legitimate reason for requesting a duplicate key set. When providing a requested additional key set, the landlord may only charge the tenant for the documented cost of duplication. The landlord may not require the payment of any other cost, fee, deposit, or terms or conditions as a prerequisite to distributing the duplicate.
It is important that you, as the landlord, consummate this transaction only with the tenant. There should be no interaction with the new roommate. The request should only be considered if it comes from the tenant, and the new key set should be issued only to the tenant and not to the boyfriend. Moreover, the reimbursement payment must likewise come to you from your tenant as opposed to the new roommate.
As SFAA continuously teaches, the landlord should have no direct interaction with the new roommate. This means that rent is only accepted from the tenant, the boyfriend is not named or referenced on any communication from you, all non-emergency repair requests come solely from the tenant, and the new roommate is not added onto any rental or other agreement with the landlord. In this vein, while you are issuing a key set for the presumed use of the new roommate, the transaction occurs strictly between you and your tenant. Taking these essential precautions will help to ensure that you preserve the ability to raise rent beyond limitations imposed by the rent law once your tenant vacates and no longer uses the premises as a permanent place of residence but leaves the boyfriend behind.
The rent law does allow you to deny a request for additional keys “only for good reason” such as unlawful subletting. If you have a good reason to deny the request, you must provide the tenant a written explanation stating the specific reason for the denial, and this must be given to the tenant within fourteen days of the tenant’s written request for a duplicative key set. Thus, if the rental agreement contains a restriction against subletting, and the boyfriend is not a replacement roommate or a qualified family member, then you may want to deny permission for the move-in; if the tenant ignores this stance and still moves him in, then you should issue the appropriate 3-day notice and, concurrently, deny the request for the additional key set.
These key request disputes sometimes end up at the Rent Board, which is empowered to consider a reduction in rent for an unlawful denial of a duplication request. If you do deny the tenant’s request, make sure you have specific reasons and supporting evidence to substantiate your position that the denial is for a good reason. Lastly, make sure to respond to the tenant within a reasonable period of time. Under the rent law, you need to either provide the duplicative key set within 14 days after the tenant’s written request to you or, within that same period of time, provide the written denial of the request setting forth the good reason(s) why the request is being denied.