General Question

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Roommate/Landlord situation in NYC. What are my rights?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (5663points) January 3rd, 2014

It’s the beginning of the month and my boyfriend and I decided to amicably end our relationship. Tomorrow, he will moving out of the room we sublet from another couple and I will be staying behind for at least a few months.

When we moved to this place, we were somewhat desperate. I had good income and terrible credit and he good credit but low income at the time. It was basically impossible to find a lease in the city that would look past this so we ended up in a subpar sublet situation.

Our roommate is the leaseholder and to keep this short, he’s a shady douchebag who has definitely been screwing us on rent for the several months we’ve lived here. When we moved in, he said that while the rent for our bedroom would usually be $950 for a single, he was going to charge us $1120 as a couple. This is way above average for the neighborhood we live in but like I said, we were desperate and it was hard to find any sublet situation at the time that would accommodate a couple on a month-to-month basis.

We approached our roommate today about it and he said that even though it’s just going to be me staying from now on, he’s still going to charge me the couple rate for the month of February since we didn’t adhere to the “30 day arrangement” we had previously agreed to. I had figured that that agreement went if we left the room vacant without 30 days notice. How can this be? I’m not vacating the room. I’m staying behind and agreeing to pay the rate for a single since we’ll no longer need to offset the extra utilities, etc.

When I asked if I could speak to the landlord about this, he acted very evasive and sketchy as he has in the past whenever I’ve asked to speak to him about anything—will never give me his phone number or introduce me, etc.

I’ve heard the landlord is also a bastard and I think these two might be cut from the same cloth. Is it legal or ethical for my roommate to charge me the couple rate for a month that I’ll be occupying as a single? What recourse do I have in this situation? I really don’t want to have to pay an additional $170 at least on principle alone.

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26 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

I’m guessing that you don’t have a signed lease / sublease with the “official” tenant, and if you do, then it’s probably worthless.

I’d look to make other arrangements and move out as soon as you can physically manage that, without notice, and definitely without a forwarding address.

jca's avatar

You’re subletting, which is probably illegal, but regardless, the building landlord has nothing to do with the arrangement. You might be causing trouble for yourself by letting the landlord know you’re subletting.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@jca The landlord knows about us. But I think that what my roommate is doing in terms of financials is not completely above board.

jca's avatar

I bet according to his lease, he can’t sublet.

deni's avatar

It sounds like you just got into a shitty situation and probably aren’t going to be able to get out of it, not easily anyhow. It’s only a difference of a couple hundred dollars, I know that sucks, but when you sublet from someone I feel like stuff like this is sort of the risk you run. From your roommates perspective, even though he is a douche, I can see how if he had his sights set on paying less for the next few months, it’s not entirely fair for him to have to pay more all of a sudden without any notice, I guess? But, I sympathize with you, and hope it works out well.

Judi's avatar

I don’t know New York law specifically but I would guess that the original lease forbids sub leasing and he is subleasing behind the landlords back.

bolwerk's avatar

I’m pretty familiar with NYC landlord-tenant law, but long story short you can probably ream his ass in court and should generally ignore all advice above.

Leaseholders – legal ones anyway – have a right to a roommate in NYC, no matter what a landlord writes into a lease (@Judi @jca) He had a right to charge rent in proportion to the number of people living there. He could charge you guys less, but not more, than your proportion of the apartment (had you been married, you as a couple would have counted as one person regardless). In other words, if the rent were $1800, he could pay $600, you could pay $600, and your boyfriend could pay $600. May not be fair if you are both sharing a closet, but it’s allowed. Barring something else in writing, he does have the right to a rental period of notice if someone leaves – this is probably not on you, but your ex. He can’t punish you for it.

In any case, he can’t charge you whatever he wants. You don’t say what the lease’s rent is, but if he was charging you each more than ⅓ of the rent, you guys are both entitled to your money back plus damages.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Move next Tuesday you don’t have a legal contract with the landlord, maybe the roommate will get the “HINT”.

Judi's avatar

@bolwerk, you said that he can’t charge whatever he wants. Is that because of rent control in New York?
In most places without rent control you can charge whatever the market will bear.
If it is a rooming in sort of situation like this sounds like then I think they can charge per person, but you’re probably right about having a special “couples rate” as it might be some sort of discrimination based on familial status.
My expertise is in California though. I know that New York has a lot of tenants rights laws that are unique.
@LeavesNoTrace, can you afford an attorney or are there any tenants rights organizations you can consult with?

JLeslie's avatar

New York law in general favors the tenant, but I don’t know the specific laws. If you do want to stay there for a while, just give the guy 30 days notice, meaning pay the higher rent one more month. I don’t see the big problem. Except, on your contract that you signed it probably says nothing about the rent amount being dependent on how many people live there, so you actually are held to the higher amount if the contract is legal, but it doesn’t matter if he is willing to take the lower amount. If you want to move and it is legal to sublease under his own leasing agreement you can move out and just risk him coming after you in small claims. When does your lease end?

Maybe call 311 and see if they can give you advice?

@Judi I don’t see how rent control could apply to someone subleasing. I don’t know the laws extremely well, but it doesn’t make sense with what I know about rent stabilized and rent control.

jca's avatar

Excellent advice above to call 311 for advice on where to turn.

bolwerk's avatar

@Judi: no, rent control is not operative here. He can charge a proportional share of rent on the lease, whether it is a rent controlled unit or not. If he has one roommate, he can charge half the rent. If there are two unrelated subtenants, he can charge them ⅓ and pay ⅓ himself. I don’t think it matters if there are those people are sharing a room. If they are a married couple, they count as one person and he can charge the married couple half the rent for both instead of ⅓ for each. He can charge less, but not more than whatever her proportion of the leased rent is.

Also, rent control isn’t exactly that common here. Rent stabilization is more common, with a legal rent that can be risen a certain percentage every year. But even that isn’t effectively meaningful under many circumstances; many rent stabilized units get a preferential rent, which is lower than the stabilized amount because the market rate of rent is actually lower than the legal stabilized rate.

@LeavesNoTrace: I would talk to an a landlord-tenant attorney, but maybe you can get some advice through NYCHA or through your borough’s housing court (they have a pro se attorney on staff who fields procedural questions, but can’t give advice).

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: he can’t legally charge her more than half the rent under any circumstances. No contract can change this. He does have the right to 30 days notice, unless a written sublease says otherwise or expires. Same goes for @LeavesNoTrace:: she has a right of 30 days if her sublet is terminated, unless there is a written agreement that expires.

I’m assuming $950 is already more than half the rent. Needless to say, if you are a tenant in New York City bringing on a subtenant, it’s in your favor to have a sublease.

Judi's avatar

Interesting @bolwerk . It California, except in rent controlled or subsidized housing, if sub letting is allowed by the lease the person is allowed to sub le for what ever the market will bear.

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk I’m saying she can give 30 days notice her boyfriend is moving out and that she will stay on as a single.

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: You said, “If you do want to stay there for a while, just give the guy 30 days notice, meaning pay the higher rent one more month. ” Why pay higher rent when she doesn’t have to? It’s true that the boyfriend leaving without giving a rental period of notice is technically a violation of the tenant of record’s rights, but that is between the tenant and the ex-boyfriend. Assuming the tenant of record didn’t run afoul of the law by overcharging anyway, he could sue in civil court and probably win pretty easily. But the tenant can’t punish the remaining subtenant because another subtenant left.

Mind you, these 30 days rules bind both tenant and subtenant. If this went to court, housing court would probably see it this way: the rent he charged her was one-half of $1120 or $560. That’s probably the most she could possibly owe for the next rental period. If anything, he can’t hike her rent without 30 days’ notice. He’ll probably have to eat that.

Whether that $1120 is equal to ⅔ of the rent is another question.

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk The way I remember it from real estate school, although it was not NY, is each tenant on a lease is fully respinsible for the total amount. If my husband moves out I don’t get to cut my rent in half. The OP said for a couple they pay a little more. I guess maybe that covers utilities, not sure. I’m suggesting now that she is one person the rent should be reduced to the single renter fee of $950. I just reread the OP’s post and it seems like she is only going to be charged the higher amount for February and then going forward it will be reduced. Seems fair. That is the 30 days notice basically if she told him in Jan and her rent is due the first of the month.

If she is on a month to month lease (I just caught she wrote that) then she can leave altogether with notice) so I don’t really understand why there is any problem to be honest. I hope the OP comes back to clarify what she wants to do.

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: she wanted to know her rights. She was one of two subtenants, and doesn’t even appear to have a written sublease. The other subtenant left, not her, in violation of law that says a tenant deserves a rental period of notice if a subtenant leaves. She isn’t responsible for what the other subtenant did, even if she was sharing the room with him. If they were married, they’d count as one person, but they’re evidently not married.

Her right is to pay no more than a proportional share of the rent. If there are three roommates, two subtenants and a tenant, that means ⅓ of the rent from each subtenant. I don’t think anything would keep him from raising her share to one-half when the other subtenant leaves, but she has a right to that 30-day notice period too at the very least if the tenant does in fact raise her rent. The tenant of record took that risk on when he accepted an unmarried couple as subtenants.

My only question would be, what is the lease’s stated rent? Because it sounds, from her description, he was illegally overcharging them anyway and it’s likely that $950 is illegally overcharging.

Judi's avatar

@bolwerk , and the real question IS was there a written agreement? I write all my leases to say that the tenants are jointly and severally liable, meaning that if one occupant of the unit bunks out, the others are still responsible to pay the full rent.
I explain that when room mates move in together. They often forget by the time their room mate moves out or doesn’t pay their share.

bolwerk's avatar

@Judi: it wouldn’t matter much, as that stuff is all local law here. Tenants have a right to a subtenant (roommate) in New York City. Unless the subtenant is destructive or a nuisance, it’s not the landlord’s business. The subtenant answers to the tenant. The tenant answers to the landlord. Whosoever has a name on the lease is responsible to see rent is paid.

Either way, a written agreement with a subtenant doesn’t make that subtenant responsible for another subtenants’ rent. The boyfriend left early, he’s responsible.

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk If the OP and her bf signed one lease together, both their names on one lease, or sublease, each of them is only responaible for half legally? I find that doubtful. If they both had separate leases then that would be different. I googled and everything says what @Judi and I are saying about that, but when I googled websites that links to 311 for NYC I can’t find something specific on the topic to answer the question.

Judi's avatar

I found a little info about subletting in NYC HERE but I’m not sure how it applies when you’re just sub letting a room. It appears that if you were over charged they may ow you 3x the difference.

Judi's avatar

A little more research. According to the portion regarding Apartment Sharing athte bottom of the page here The amount the can charge is limited only if it is in a Rent Stabilized Apartment and you can 718–739-6400 to find out if it is.

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: yes, each subtenant is responsible for a proportional amount of the rent. @Judi says that only applies to regulated apartments, and if that’s true there are some exceptions.

JLeslie's avatar

@bolwerk I’m not sure I am communicating well. My point is if there is a contract, what matters usually is if there is two contract separate contracts for each person or one. I would think if the contract was intended to make each person responsible for a portion, each person would have contracted to pay $560, but that doesn’t seem to be what the OP is saying.

bolwerk's avatar

@JLeslie: illegal contracts aren’t enforceable. If it’s rent regulated in any way (controlled or stabilized or NYCHA* housing – likely from the OP’s description), he has to do it the way the law says even if @Judi‘s link is right, whether it’s a written contract or not. This seems very likely to me, given how she described the tenant of record’s reaction to making the landlord involved.

I think it’s fair to say the tenant of record had separate contracts (written or unwritten) with two entities who happened to be dating, not one legal entity (a single person or a married couple). I can’t see how he can legally make her responsible for another subtenant’s share of the rent under any cirumstances, and I seriously doubt the answer to that question is a quirky element of NYC law.

* New York City Housing Authority has various forms of public and public-private housing. I actually don’t know the implications of this either.

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