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Roommates: Rights and Risks

Rent Stabilized and Rent Controlled Tenants:

A rent stabilized tenant has the right to take in a roommate and the roommate’s dependent children. When two or more tenants are named on the lease, the number of tenants and roommates cannot exceed the number of tenants named in the lease. In all situations, occupancy may be restricted in order to comply with municipal regulations concerning overcrowding.

In a rent stabilized apartment, the rent collected from the roommate cannot exceed their proportionate share of the apartment. For example, one tenant named on a lease can take in one roommate and the roommate can be charged no more than half of the legal rent. The roommate can be advised to file a complaint of rent overcharge with DHCR if they were charged in excess of that proportionate share.

With regard to a rent controlled apartment, a roommate may not be charged an amount of rent that is in excess of the legal rent for the apartment. Any determination of a rent overcharge is under the jurisdiction of the civil court.

Unregulated Tenants:

In unregulated apartments, the landlord does not have to permit you to have a roommate if you are the sole person on the lease. If you want to bring in a roommate, you should obtain the landlord’s consent. In any case, the landlord can always decide not to renew your lease whether you have a roommate or not since tenants in unregulated apartments have no right to an automatic lease renewal.

Tenants and Roommates Should Do Due Diligence:

Regardless of whether you are the leaseholder or the potential roommate, you should do the following; 1) Do a credit check, and even a criminal background check on the other person (you’ll need their birth date). There are online companies that can do this inexpensively (less than $30).

If after the roommate moves in, you don’t get along, and your roommate refuses to leave, you cannot simply change the locks. You will have to take your roommate to Housing Court to evict him or her. The ensuing eviction process could be both painful and expensive. Remember, until the eviction process is complete you may have to live with this person.

If you are considering joining someone as a roommate, make your decision carefully. Do the following: 1) Ask to see a copy of their lease proving that they are the legal tenant; 2) Ask to see proof they are current with their rent. You don’t want to move into an apartment, and give a deposit and two months rent only to find out the leaseholder is being evicted for non-payment. 3) During the interview process, try to find out as much as possible about the primary tenants’ plans. Ask if they are willing to ask the landlord to put you on the lease after a probationary period, if possible. If this isn’t possible, your rights are very limited and your ability to stay in the apartment may be cut short at any time.

If you join someone as a roommate (i.e. your name isn’t on the lease) another set of problems can crop up. In most instances, if your roommate (the leaseholder) leaves, you have no right to keep the apartment. The primary tenant might also decide to temporarily sublet to someone, in which case you will suddenly have a new housemate not of your choosing. This can and does happen. Negotiate an agreement up front with the leaseholder, requiring that you have a say in the process of selecting the sub-tenant in the event that the leaseholder decides to sublet his or her apartment.

This Fact Sheet was prepared by staff of the Cooper Square Committee