So here is the setup:

The protagonist has escaped an underground slave encampment in a cyberpunk dystopia. Everyone in this world is expected to be registered - the SIN (System Identification Number) from Shadowrun best describes this concept. You need this registry in order to have a job that isn't in the criminal underworld or under the table. Its also used for bank accounts and when buying certain goods. Without this registry you are effectively not a person. Of course this means that the government and megacorps can will look up any information they like about you, including your movements within the world.

My protagonist does not have such a registry. They have some money in decentralised wallet on their person that can be placed into the legit money system. So they need a room. Why would even a sketchy landlord take in a 'SINless' person?

Or would they?

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ This looks like a question about the motivations of a specific individual in a world you've already built. Such questions about the motivations of a character are off topic on this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 21:22
  • 38
    $\begingroup$ I don't think this needs a fantastical world or anything to answer...doesn't this already happen in many countries, with undocumented workers/illegal immigrants? Aren't there too many landlords who would be happy to have a tenant with no rights, who can't sue or litigate you and can be evicted at your convenience? $\endgroup$
    – Qami
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't they? medium of exchange is medium of exchange, it all spends. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ Why would even a sketchy landlord take in a 'SINless' person? uhm... money? $\endgroup$
    – Josh Part
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 16:35
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This isn't entirely dystopian - lots of countries operate something like this now. The US gives you a social-security number (SSN), every Canadian has a SIN number, every Brit has an NI (National Insurance) number, etc. These all work similarly to what you describe - you need it to take lawful work, to pay taxes, etc. Access to that data is presently quite restricted, so it deviates from the dystopia that way, but it's otherwise a critical registration you need to be a legal citizen. The real world has plenty of examples to draw from. $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 18:12

13 Answers 13


The landlord can safely exploit the "SINless"

This happens far too often with illegal immigrants in many countries. The landlord can rent out cramped accommodation with substandard heating / cooling / electrical safety / fire safety etc etc safe in the knowledge that the renter/s cannot complain to the authorities without risking being arrested and deported. In this instance, I would imagine that it's probably impossible to even lodge a complaint without a SIN, it's bound to be a mandatory field when lodging a complaint.

  • $\begingroup$ Note this can be problematic for landlords too, though—if they’ve been renting out substandard housing to illegal tenants, they can’t exactly go to court to get the tenant evicted. So the landlord needs access to paralegal enforcement services, too. $\endgroup$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 16:49
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @KRyan There'd be no penalty for evicting a SINless at the end of a shotgun. A landlord willing to shelter an illegal is probably a rough sort. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ @KRyan I think you meant extralegal, not paralegal? (I'm getting this funny picture of paralegals trying to evict someone) $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael Yes, that’s the word I was thinking of but came up with “paralegal” by comparison with “paramilitary.” Brainfart, I suppose. $\endgroup$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ ^_^ It's a valid prefix for "alongside", "beyond", or "outside", but yeah, in this case, it does come out a bit comical. Although, c.f. Eoin Colfer's The Supernaturalist and its crack team of "hit lawyer" paralegals. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 12:13

They claim to have a SIN.

Megacorps in corrupt cyberpunk dystopias won't necessarily share all information with each other. The person could claim to have a SIN as a corporate indentured worker for some far off or obscure corporation that didn't see a need to tell outsiders about their people, as is likely true.

The landlord can charge a premium.

Because the person lacks an identity the landlord can charge extra for the trouble. This lets them make more money.

The landlord has experience with other slaves.

This person isn't the first person to escape. The landlord knows of other similar people and feels some moral obligation to help.

The landlord can kick them out more easily.

If a better client comes along the landlord can easily point a shotgun at them and move them out. With no SIN they can't sue. Having them is great.


The landlord does not just own a handful of rooms. They are a big corporation managing thousands of them. Which means they are dependent on their computer system to keep track of their assets.

The protagonist is (or knows) a skilled hacker who broke into the systems of the landlord company, found a vacant room, downloaded the door code, and then deleted the room from their database. The landlord company is now no longer aware that the room even exists.

Alternatively, if you need a landlord as a real person for story purposes: Their "landlord" IS the hacker. The hacker's business is to "steal apartments" from LandlordCorp using the above process and then rent them to people who don't want to be found. When the protagonist stops paying, they again break into LandlordCorp's servers, add the room back to the database and watch what happens when they try to rent it to someone else.


Illegal Subletting

Rather than the landlord being a sketchy person as the other answers suggest, they are just a 'normal' person who has got an unused asset they want to exploit for some additional under the counter funds.

They're willing to rent to someone within a SIN, because the apartment would be unsuitable for someone with a SIN who would need to officially register it as their address. For the current occupant to sublet it would be against some rules (lease, tenancy agreement, city ordinances, etc.).

For this to work, there needs to be some kind of lock-in which means people can't or don't want to give up their apartments once they've got them, examples might be:

  • Rent control - they've been renting the same place for fifty years and pay one tenth that their neighbours pay.
  • New apartments are really hard to find, and they intend to come back someday,
  • It has sentimental value - e.g. the place they raised their kids.
  • Slightly different - they still live there, but by renting out their spare room they exceed permitted occupancy limits,

Some examples of 'normal' people who may turn to this are:

  • An elderly father who has left 'his' apartment and moved in with his daughter,
  • Two lovers have moved in together, however one doesn't want to give up their old place,
  • Someone needs to pretend they live in the city for their job, but in fact works remotely from somewhere else.
  • Someone who is in a hospital long-term and needs extra funds for bills.
  • $\begingroup$ With the way city zoning is these days in North America (i.e. gigantic "yellowbelts" devoted to single family detached housing), there's a ton of places where under the table renting like this happens as a matter of course. You can even extend this to folks who might have a second home, condo, or something they don't use, but can't really unload, so they wind up renting it -- "mom and pop" landlords are very much a thing still $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 4:02

He's not renting the room.

The landlord can't rent a room to a person without papers. Indeed, as the room was never authorized by the Planning Commission as a rental property, he is not allowed to rent the room at all. Fortunately, he is allowed to hire day laborers to clean and refinish the room, put up electronic posters of the Supreme Leader, etc. If one of those lazy employees dozes off on the job, well, that just goes to show what landlords have to deal with.


Identity theft.

SINless person is masquerading as a SIN person who is not her. The landlord is fooled. Maybe this person looks very much like the SIN person who the landlord sort of knows. Maybe she has some sort of partial papers and that is enough - the landlord is full of liquor or distracted by the game and so does not do the formal check.

Perhaps she has taken the identify of her SIN doppelganger and done away with the original. Or maybe the real person is out there somewhere also.


The whole building is off the grid.

Through a convoluted ploy involving blackmail, forgery, bribery and/or hacking, Landlord obtained physical access to an apartment building which officially does not exist. It hides in plain sight, but does not appear on any maps, in any ground registries or other official documents. It has no house number and doesn't get visited by any government stooges.

Owning such a building has lots of benefits. Like not paying tax or utilities and not having to do any annoying paperwork. But most of all, it provides anonymity. So Landlord's business is to cater to the needs of people who need access to a room within the city which can not be connected back to them and who don't want to answer any questions about what for. People like the protagonist, but also lots of other shady characters.

Landlord would not want to rent to "normal" people, because "normal" people would be neither able nor willing to put up with all the complications of living in an apartment which does not officially exist. They would do stupid stuff, like trying to register the non-existent address as their official place of residence or entering it into any other government forms. They would probably raise suspicion, get arrested and snitch even before the interrogator had time to explain his favorite torture method. And then the whole ploy would get revealed. So Landlord only rents to people who want to stay hidden and know how to shut up.


Recently dead renters give a SIN opening that the SINless can "Borrow"

The landlord has a problem - one of their previous renters was falling behind on some protection payment, and encountered repercussions on that. If an official investigation were to take place at the place of their death, it would reveal a lot of other issues with the landlord's place that are sketchy of their own way.

Normally, they would have to bribe the building inspectors on their annual checks, but this would be out of band, and involve bribing a lot more officials than they're used to.

Before they can get around to arranging those bribes though, the protagonist comes through the door, asking for a room, "No questions asked", though running into an issue when they're trying to fill out the SIN-requiring form.

With some quick thinking, the landlord fills out the "Check-out" paperwork for the now-dead renter, and then pass on the SIN information to the customer, "No questions asked". Maybe with a slight reference that they should use the name of the person who last had the SIN. I mean sure, they won't be able to access any of that person's accounts, but that person was presumably already in the red, so...if they have their own wallet of funds, they won't ask questions either.

(They might even skip the "Check-out/Check-back-in" steps and just give them the room initially, and on paying for the next days, let them in on the SIN information they need to use, again, "No questions asked".)


cyber mild mild west

in our current world , if you don't have the paperwork, you live in a verry similar situation.

To rent a room without your SIN you will need to find a shady landlord that will gladly give you a place to stay, but at a huge premium. and on top of that, you can be sure that said place will be in a much poorer stay and you won't have much recourse

or, if he is less fortunate, he will more deal will dreamseller in even more cramped condition.

let's punk that shit up

This all well and good, but if you want some more funky idea, you can, amongst many thing: let them put a device tracker on your augs for """security"""

or even better, if the wallet that collect the rent doesn't get paide on time, said aug just get straight up disabled


If being SINless is an extremely rare exception, then there wouldn't be any reason for landlords to accommodate them. However, in many cyberpunk settings, SINless people form a significant percentage of the total population. This means that if there is enough need for a certain kind of service, there will be people who will try to make money out of providing this service, even if it's of questionable legality.

Compare it to the loan sharks in the real world. If you have a stable income and a good credit score, and want a loan, you'd go to a bank instead of a loan shark, because the bank will give you better terms. However, those who would get refused by banks, will turn to loan sharks because they have no legal ways to get what they want. Loan sharks exist because if there is a niche in the market, there will be someone to fill it. If there are plenty of people without a SIN in need of an apartment, there will be landlords specialized for their needs, offering services of lower quality and/or in undesirable parts of the city, where better situated clients won't want to go anyway.


Landlord is a machine,

and a machine can be fooled or hacked. Why manually manage a building like a donkey? A building full of low-class, poor people managed fully by an automated Landlord system can actually make a bit of money! And as a plus you don't have to deal with all the drama of dirty people, crime, air quality, collecting rent, evictions and etc. No, you're too busy throwing decadent rooftop parties Downtown. In fact, you've never seen the building with your own eyes!

Perhaps there are Landlord AI's with known backdoors with a barely good enough security system so the Owner has plausible deniability in court when caught housing a SINless. Everybody happy.



No wait, let me explain.

Cyberpunk is dark and depressing, and everyone is just out for themselves. Oh sure, you have a few interesting characters who are fighting for a cause, but pretty much everyone is an ass... right?


Pretty much every CP story has at least one character who's not just a classic edgerunner or corporate sociopath. There are a lot of background characters who try to help people simply because it's the right thing to do, or because they're trying to atone, or because they lost someone, or... and so on. There are even entire groups that, while not entirely good, do good for the people they protect -the LoTeks from Johnny Mnemonic for example.

But come on, landlords?

Yeah, I know. They have a bad rep, even in the modern real world. But statistically it's unlikely that every single one of them is a money grubbing, exploitative piece of human garbage. Some of them have SINless family, a few just don't think the SIN system is particularly fair, maybe a couple are just trying to Stick It To The Man. And the underground knows which ones you can rent a room from. Hell, any street fixer worth the name knows at least one place you can rent space off the books.

And yeah, there are a bunch who are just doing it for the sake of traceless creds to line their pockets. They're operating off baser motives, but the outcome is the same. Maybe they'll pressure you into doing something more for your room and board, maybe not. Talk to other SINless in the area, they'll tell you who to avoid.


A few exemplary reasons

1. It is landlord's business model.

If there is a demand for rooms available to SINless people, there is a supply.
Landlord might run a "legit" business renting rooms to SINless for cash or maybe
untrackable goods to evade taxes (if this would work in this setting of course). Or maybe he runs a kind of criminal organization, providing a place to stay in exchange for them working as his goons. He could also force people he accommodates to work in a sweatshop of some kind, think chinese imigrants being smuggled to USA and forced to work by triads. Desperate people are easy exploit, think what criminal organizations do with desperate people, some of it could apply here.

2. SINless person is valuable

Maybe they have bounty on their head, in that case landlord just sets up a trap. They can also have valuable skills, maybe landlord lives and rents room in a
"less friendly" part of the town and could use a bodyguard or qualified
electrician and providing them with room is cheaper then hiring. Maybe landlord
wants to use the protagonist as a leverage in some situation or harvest their organs. He could be also be paid by some mysterious benefactor to rent a room to the protagonist (again, if it makes sense in your story). Maybe protagonist have something landlord wants, and they plan to steal it. Of course some of those require landlord and protagonist to be tied in some way.

3. "Obligation"

Maybe protagonist is landlord's friend or family, maybe landlord owes protagonist a favor (or someone else who demands them to rent protagonist a room) or maybe they are forced to, by protagonist or someone else.

4. They are a good person

Maybe landlord is just a good person, maybe their religion demands from them to help those in need or it's just their moral code. They could even run a free shelter for SINless people. It is as good reason as any other and it could be used in interesting ways.

5. They are a bad person

Landlord is a serial killer that targets exclusively or mainly SINless people, as it is easier to get away with murder that way. And how could he say no to prey literally coming to him. They could also conduct illegal experiments on captured SINless, reason is the same, it's easier.

Hope i helped.


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