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What to do when your roommate becomes a stone in your shoe

"Seemed so nice when we first met," is the phrase lawyers often hear. Everything even went well for a while. But now you bitterly regret having gotten involved. It happens all the time: conflict arises and people part ways. If you're in a situation like this with a roommate, there are legal ramifications to be wary of. In most cases, the landlord can sue all the tenants named in the lease and get the full rent from any one of them. The tenants must then determine how much each should have been paying the landlord amongst themselves, and may end up suing one another. On the other hand, if your name is the only one on the lease and you wish to terminate a relationship with someone living in your apartment who is paying part of the rent, you might have two problems:

  • First, if the roommate refuses to leave, you may have to begin eviction proceedings, and will likely have to hire an attorney to handle the case. Like it or not, when you rent part of your apartment to a roommate, you become a landlord. More specifically, you remain the landlord's tenant and the roommate becomes your tenant.
  • Second, it is your responsibility to deliver an empty apartment when the lease ends. If you move out before the lease expires, you are still legally responsible for the rent through its full term. In addition, if the roommate stays on after you leave and doesn't pay the rent, you can be held liable for the arrears until he or she is evicted.

You should also know that under Rent Stabilization, you can only charge your roommate a proportionate share of the rent. What is considered as proportionate is a hotly litigated issue, and if your roommate is picking up a large chunk of the rent, that may be another bone of contention.

 Given the fact that you can sustain these expenses, whether one or more names are on the lease, it may pay to negotiate an arrangement to have your roommate leave promptly and quietly in exchange for a payment from you. As unpalatable as that sounds, it may be the most cost-effective option. It's best to have a lawyer handle the transaction, as you'll want to have the funds placed in escrow, to be released to your roommate once he or she surrenders and vacates the apartment, and you've changed the locks.

The agreement needs to be in writing and in compliance with New York Landlord Tenant law, as well as conforming to the requirements of a valid contract. Otherwise, you may be creating an even bigger problem for yourself.

After you get everything resolved, chalk the whole experience up to learning a valuable lesson: Be careful whom you room with. It sometimes turns out to be a legal and financial nightmare.

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