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Understanding Roommate Rights in NYC

Roommates who aren’t named on an apartment’s lease have limited rights, but their tenancies are among the most vulnerable. Fortunately, roommates are covered by laws that protect tenants from being illegally evicted and that ensure tenants have access to basic services.

Roommates are also entitled to enforce provisions of the lease or roommate agreement with the primary tenant of the apartment, as long as the agreement does not violate any applicable laws or the primary lease for the apartment.

Understanding your rights as a roommate can be confusing, but it’s critical to getting the treatment you deserve and the rights you’re entitled to. In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at some common issues faced by roommates, and what your rights are in those scenarios. Let’s jump right in!

What Can You Do If The Primary Tenant Threats to or Evicts You?

If you’re a roommate, you’re protected against illegal eviction. The laws regarding evictions apply if:

  • You have lived in the apartment for at least 30 days

  • You have a valid lease signed by both parties

  • The primary tenant of the apartment has accepted rent from you

    • You must be able to prove that you paid rent, which can be done by showing receipts from a money order or a canceled check.

If any of the above apply to you, the primary tenant of the apartment is required to begin an eviction case against you in order to legally remove you from the apartment. It is required that you are served court papers and that you have the right to appear in court and present your defenses.

If a warrant of eviction is ordered by a judge, the eviction must be done by a marshal or sheriff. It is illegal for anyone else, including the primary tenant to:

  • Remove you or your belongings from the apartment

  • Prevent you from entering the apartment or your room

  • Change the locks to the apartment entrance or your room without giving you a new key - Cut off essential services that you do not control

What Happens To You If The Primary Tenant is Evicted?

If the primary tenant is legally evicted, the court order typically allows the eviction to be carried out against all occupants of the apartment, including roommates.

If court papers are served on your apartment, or if you have reason to believe your roommate is facing an eviction and withholding this information from you, it is recommended to visit the Housing Court and find out whether there is an open eviction case against the primary tenant.

If court papers such as a marshal’s notice are served on your apartment, you are able to go to the housing court and ask to temporarily delay the eviction. You can file a “Order to Show Cause” which is a request to have a hearing in front of a judge. You will be required to know the index number for the eviction case, which can be found on any official court papers regarding the eviction, or can be accessed through the computers in the Housing Court. The judge will have the choice to allow you to present your case, and it is not guaranteed that the judge will delay the date of the eviction because the roommate was unaware of the court case.

If you are legally evicted by a marshal, you are able to go to the court to file an “Order to Show Cause” in order to request that you be restored to the apartment, or permitted to take your personal belongings. If you were previously unaware of the eviction case until the marshal arrived to lock the door, this must be explained to the judge. Even if the judge does not grant you permission to return to the apartment, you have the right by law to recover your personal belongings. If your belongings are still in the apartment, the judge has the ability to order the landlord to give you temporary access to move out your belongings.

Is The Primary Tenant Legally Allowed to Have You As a Roommate?

New York State law protects the right of tenants in privately owned buildings to have a roommate under certain conditions. If these conditions are met, the tenant does not need permission from the landlord to have a roommate, even if their lease prohibits it. The law states that as long as the apartment does not become overcrowded, tenants have the right to share their apartments with immediate family members as well as one other unrelated adult and that person’s children if:

  • The tenant lives in a privately owned building

  • Only one person has signed the lease

Tenants do not have the right to a roommate if:

  • The reside in public housing or most subsidized housing

  • More than one person has signed the lease and the lease does not expressly give the tenant permission to live with an additional person

Can You Enforce the Rights in a Roommate Agreement as a Lease?

If a roommate agreement has been signed by both the primary tenant and the roommate, it becomes a contract and operates similar to a lease. It is valid to the extent that it follows applicable laws and it does not violate the overriding lease the primary tenant has with the owner of the building.

What Rights Do You Have if You Do Not Have a Written Agreement?

If you do not have a written agreement with the primary tenant, or if you continue to live in an apartment beyond the length of time stated in your last agreement, you become a month to month roommate. The primary tenant can change the terms of your agreement or ask you to leave upon 30 days written notice. As a month to month roommate, you can give your 30 day notice at any point. If you do not leave, the primary tenant must take you to court to have you legally evicted.

Outerbridge Law Protects Roommates and Tenants

If you’re a roommate in New York and the primary tenant is trying to illegally evict you, contact Outerbridge Law. With years of experience in landlord tenant law, Outerbridge Law is prepared to fight for your rights and get the justice you deserve. To consult with an attorney you can trust, contact Outerbridge Law today.