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Roommate Issues and Leases FAQ


Disclaimer: By providing answers to frequently asked questions, the staff of the Rent Guidelines Board attempts to clarify the often complex programs and regulations governing landlord tenant relations in NYC. However, the information provided herein does not represent official policies or opinions of the City of New York or the Rent Guidelines Board nor should this information be used to substitute for advice of legal counsel.

In addition: The NYS Homes and Community Renewal's Office of Rent Administration (DHCR) also offers useful information on their Web site, with special web pages for both owners and tenants, as well as their own FAQ page.


I'm not on the lease - what are my rights?

The rights of roommates who are not family members are very limited. They are generally considered "licensees" and may be evicted when the tenant on the lease leaves. Note that the definition of family members includes partners who can show substantial financial and emotional co-dependence. For more information on this see our FAQ section on Succession.

As the signer of a rent stabilized lease, a primary tenant has a right to renew the lease at the lease expiration date, subject to rent adjustments regulated by the Rent Guidelines Board and the Rent Stabilization Code.

Once the tenant on the lease moves out, the landlord is not required to accept a remaining occupant as a new tenant unless that occupant has succession rights. If the roommate is accepted as the new tenant, the landlord may charge a vacancy allowance (typically a 17-20% increase).

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Can my name be added to the lease if the owner accepted my checks?

Unless you are the spouse of the named tenant, a landlord is generally not obligated to add your name to the lease. In some cases, direct payment of rent to the landlord may indicate that the landlord has accepted the occupant as a tenant. These are unusual cases, however, and the acceptance of a few rent checks does not necessarily confer the status of a tenant. Such matters are often decided in court after an examination of all of the evidence.

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I am one of two names on the lease - can I renew with just my name?

As long as your name appears on the lease and you continue to live in the apartment, you have the right to future renewal leases in your stabilized unit.

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Can I get my unpleasant roommate's name off the lease we both signed?

If your roommate is named on the lease, s/he is technically a co-tenant, and has the same rights as you do to the apartment.

If the apartment is not rent regulated, you are free to renegotiate with the landlord to have a new lease naming you as the sole tenant. However, so can your co-tenant. The owner is not under any obligation to renew your lease, rent it solely to you, or to renew it with the same names unless the current lease specifically states so.

If the apartment is rent stabilized, the primary tenants named on the lease BOTH have the right of renewal. If you wish to have a new lease naming you only, you should get the co-tenant's consent (in writing). The owner may not pick sides and renew to only one of the current named tenants without consent of the other.

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Do new roommates or guarantors mean I will get a vacancy lease/increase?

Under the existing rent stabilization rules, a landlord can charge a 17-20% increase for a "vacancy lease." In most cases, a vacancy lease occurs when one tenant vacates an apartment and a new one moves in. However, a vacancy lease can also occur if an existing tenant requests the landlord to "add" someone to the lease, since this is then considered a "new" lease. For more information on how vacancy lease increases are calculated, look at our page on vacancy leases.

If you renew and a new roommate signs the lease, the landlord can charge the vacancy increase of 17-20%. This is considered a "new" lease and is subject to the vacancy allowance rules. However, if you renew the lease on your own (no roommate signs the lease), the landlord cannot charge the vacancy allowance. Under this scenario you can still have a roommate (where only one tenant is named on the lease, state law allows you to have one roommate without the landlord's consent), and the roommate would not trigger a vacancy increase.

The presence or absence of a guarantor would not trigger a new lease. Note that renewal leases must be offered on the same terms and conditions as the expiring lease. Therefore, if no guarantor was on your first lease, the landlord may not impose this requirement on subsequent leases.

Finally, if you are married, the landlord must put your spouse on the lease if he/she is requested to do so and cannot charge the vacancy allowance. However, if you ask the landlord to put your fiancée on the lease BEFORE you are married he/she could charge the allowance.

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My roommates took my name off the lease while I was away - Can they do this?

If you signed the lease and the lease has NOT expired, neither your roommates nor your landlord can ask you to leave. This may be an illegal eviction. The only way they could force you from the apartment would be to file an eviction action in housing court.

If the lease had EXPIRED when you returned, and the apartment is NOT rent stabilized, you have no right to a lease or to return to the apartment. If the apartment is rent stabilized you may have had the right to a lease renewal. However, if you failed to respond to a properly served lease renewal offer, you may have to file a complaint with the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) demanding a lease. You will have to show that you have a good excuse for not having returned a properly tendered renewal offer. The matter may also end up in Housing Court if the landlord attempts to prevent you from occupying the apartment.

A signed lease which is still in effect (i.e., not expired) is proof that you have the right to occupy the apartment. If this is the case and you would like to return to the apartment you should talk to the landlord and let him/her know that you may have to call the police if he/she does not let you return. If this doesn't work you may have to file an action in New York City Housing Court to regain access to the apartment. For more information on housing court in New York City, see our two resources on housing court here and here.

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My son signed a lease with roommates who are leaving - What are his/her options for renewal?

If only your son stays as the only tenant and signs up for a new term, it is considered a renewal lease. However, if s/he asks the landlord to add another name to the lease the landlord can charge the vacancy allowance and it becomes a vacancy lease. In this situation the landlord could raise the rent for the apartment about 17-20% (based on the State’s vacancy formula).

Your son can renew the lease and take on one "roommate" (someone who is not on the lease) without an additional charge. State law allows your son to have one roommate and s/he need not ask the landlord's permission. The roommate is not a subtenant, just a roommate.

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How can I takeover my friends' great apartment they are vacating soon?

You can’t unless you can convince the landlord to rent you the apartment and agree to pay the "vacancy increase," (which is about 17-20% in most cases). The landlord may also add to the monthly rent 1/40th (or 1/60th in buildings with more than 35 apartment units, effective Sept 24, 2011) the cost of any improvements made while the unit is vacant.

Whoever the current primary tenant is could also apply to the landlord for a lease assignment assigning the lease to you. A lease assignment conveys to another person all the tenant's rights to occupy the apartment, whereas a sublet is based upon a temporary absence by the prime tenant who intends to return to the apartment at the end of the sublease. This is unlikely to result in your avoiding the full vacancy increase because a landlord may take a vacancy allowance when a lease is assigned.

Also, a tenant may not assign his/her lease without the written consent of the owner, which may be unconditionally withheld without cause. However, an owner who unreasonably refuses to grant permission to assign the lease must release the tenant from the lease upon request of the tenant upon 30 days notice. If the owner reasonably withholds consent, the lease may not be assigned and the tenant will not be released from the lease.

So, be careful, the primary tenant could end up being released early from the lease and the owner may still not consent to assign the lease to you.

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Can my brother get a roommate in his/her apartment and how much can s/he charge?

First, you do not say if the apartment is rent stabilized or not. If you are not sure, contact the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), the state agency that administers the rent laws, and they will tell you. If the unit is stabilized, there are specific situations in which a landlord may increase rent. Adding a roommate who is not named on the lease is not grounds for a rent increase.

The following applies to tenants in all types of apartments in New York City:

Apartment Sharing

Landlords may limit the total number of people living in an apartment to comply with legal overcrowding standards. (Real Property Law §§ 235-f) However, it is unlawful for a landlord to restrict occupancy of an apartment to the named tenant in the lease or to that tenant and immediate family. When the lease names only one tenant, that tenant may share the apartment with immediate family, one additional occupant and the occupant's dependent children, provided that the tenant or the tenant's spouse occupies the premises as his/her primary residence.

When the lease names more than one tenant, these tenants may share their apartment with immediate family, and if one of the tenants named in the lease moves out, that tenant may be replaced with another occupant and the dependent children of the occupant. At least one of the tenants named in the lease or that tenant's spouse must occupy the shared apartment as his/her or her primary residence.

Tenants must inform their landlords of the name of any occupant within 30 days after the occupant has moved into the apartment or within 30 days of landlord's request for this information. If the tenant named in the lease moves out, the remaining occupant has no right to continue in occupancy without the landlord's express consent.

The following applies to tenants living in rent stabilized apartments in New York City:

Limits on Charging Roommates

The amount a roommate may be charged by the prime tenant cannot exceed their "proportionate share". Proportionate share is defined "by dividing the legal regulated rent by the total number of tenants named on the lease and the total number of occupants residing in the subject housing accommodation. However, the total number of tenants named in the lease shall not include a tenant’s spouse, and the total number of occupants shall not include a tenant’s family member or an occupant’s dependent child. Regardless of the number of occupants, tenants named on the lease shall remain responsible for payment to the owner of the entire legal regulated rent. The charging of a rental amount to an occupant that exceeds that occupant’s proportionate share shall be deemed to constitute a violation of this Code." RENT STABILIZATION CODE section 2525.7(b).

Some court rulings have found that overcharging roommates is a ground for eviction.

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Disclaimer: By providing answers to frequently asked questions, the staff of the Rent Guidelines Board attempts to clarify the often complex programs and regulations governing landlord tenant relations in NYC. However, the information provided herein does not represent official policies or opinions of the City of New York or the Rent Guidelines Board nor should this information be used to substitute for advice of legal counsel.

RGB Page Updated 1/29/2014


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