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Roommate Realities People Don't Consider, Then Live to Regret

By law, you are generally entitled to live in an apartment with your immediate family and one roommate. There are a few exceptions, but if you notify your landlord in writing and continue to pay your rent on time, the landlord is unlikely to have a reasonable basis to object. Seems simple enough, but unfortunately, roommate transactions are rarely as uncomplicated as they first may appear to be. Here are several considerations that are frequently overlooked and can fuel disputes:

  • If you rent an apartment with roommates, and one of them decides to leave prior to the expiration of the lease, you are entitled to stay. The landlord cannot force the termination of your tenant rights as long as the rent continues to be paid in timely fashion, and you comply with the other terms of the lease.

    Difficulties can arise though if your name isn't on the lease. While it is easier to escape liability and lawsuits if your name isn't on it, you also lose control of your right to be there and who lives with you.

  • Some landlords don't like the idea of roommates. If your landlord sues you just for taking in a roommate, you may be able to win under New York State's "retaliatory eviction" defense and preserve your tenancy. However, this can be a costly option and there's no guarantee of prevailing in Housing Court. You may end up paying legal fees and will be subject to blacklisting even if you win.

  • If the landlord does not offer a renewal lease because he or she objects to your having a roommate, you may have grounds to sue for retaliation in New York State Supreme Court. In Supreme Court, you can force the landlord to renew your lease if you win. Once again though, you're involved in a lawsuit, with no assurance your legal fees will be reimbursed. However, in the Supreme Court, you avoid blacklisting because unlike Housing Court, it does not sell names of litigants to background checking agencies.

  • If anyone moves in with you, and the landlord inquires about it, tell the truth. The law requires you to respond in 30 days to a landlord's inquiry about a roommate. If you don't abide by that rule, it may weaken your tenancy rights.

  • If all roommates are to be named on the lease, each is responsible for the full rent if one or more of the others don't pay. That's because under most leases of this type the named tenants are "jointly and severally" responsible for the rent. So if you don't think someone has the financial means or stability to cover his or her share, don't enter into a lease with that person.

  • If you're renting in a co-op or condo, you have the legal right to a roommate, but the landlord or board may establish certain limits. While they cannot simply prevent you from having one, dealing with the board is an extra hurdle to clear.

Having a roommate as a means to reduce your monthly expense may be a seductive proposition, but as you can see, it warrants careful thought before proceeding. It's far easier to end up with roommate legal trouble than most people imagine.

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