Roommate arrangements are frequently short-lived. Often one person will move out unexpectedly, then another person moves in. Some landlords like to take advantage of tenants who lack knowledge of their rights, and charge an "application fee" for each new roommate that occupies the apartment.
However, you may not have to pay these extra charges. Landlords may not be justified in charging application fees if the tenancy doesn't change. Tenants are allowed to live with immediate family members and one roommate who is not related by blood or marriage. If the name or names on the lease stay the same, the tenancy hasn't changed, and there probably should not be an application fee.
Under certain conditions, when your landlord charges an application fee because you take in a roommate, you may be able to dispute it. That would involve explaining to him or her in writing that under the New York State's roommate law you are entitled to have a roommate without it being a change in your tenancy, so there is no reason to charge an application fee.
However, as with many other Landlord Tenant cases, roommate situations are fact-specific, and can have individual or unique variants that are subject to interpretation or dispute. Depending on the facts of your particular circumstances, the landlord may be within his or her legal rights to conduct a background check. Issues concerning building security can arise, which is separate and distinct from whether or not there has been a change of tenancy. If a tenant's proposed roommate has a criminal history, the landlord and other tenants could have reasonable concerns about the safety of the building and its residents. Consequently, the smart thing to do is to consult a Tenants' attorney to discuss these factors prior to contacting the landlord.
If you live in a rent-stabilized apartment, sometimes roommate situations can involve succession rights or subletting laws. On the other hand, if you rent in subsidized housing (like apartments in the Section 8, Mitchell Lama, or NYCHA programs) for which your roommate does not qualify, or whose earnings change total household income, the roommate law does not trump those requirements. In either scenario, you would again be wise to review the details of your rental arrangement and lease with a tenants rights attorney, before speaking to or corresponding with the landlord.
Generally, before you put anything in writing to your landlord, it's a good idea to have it reviewed by a lawyer knowledgeable in Landlord Tenant law first.
Attention New York City Tenants: Get more information on Landlord Tenant matters at the McAdams Law main site here.