Dealing With a Bad Roommate in NYC? Know Your Rights

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Many of us have been there before — stuck with a bad roommate. In this city, where high rent prices force many of us to live with new friends and strangers, plenty of people have roommates they don’t get along with.

There are some minor problems that might come up, like differences in cleanliness, music taste and sleep schedules, among other things. And then there are those roommates who seemingly go out of their way to make your life as difficult as possible.

The best way to avoid potential problems with roommates is to set boundaries before agreeing to live with each other. Talk about daily habits, priorities and pet peeves. In an ideal world, every party will honor the preset boundaries and living together will be smooth sailing.

But, particularly if you’re reading this article, you know that isn’t always the case. If you find yourself living with a toxic roommate, there are some important tips and specific rights to know.

Can my roommate force me to move out?

They can make your life hard, but, as long as your name is on the lease, you have the same rights to your apartment as your roommate does. Your roommate cannot take you off the lease if it has not expired. If a roommate tries to take you off the lease, that is an illegal eviction. The only way a roommate can remove you from the lease is by filing an eviction action in housing court. Learn more about that here.  

Can I force my roommate to move out? 

Whether you can remove your roommate from your apartment completely depends on whether their name is on the lease. If both you and your roommate are signed onto the lease, you both are legally obligated to the contract. So, in most cases, there is little you can do. However, if your name is on the lease and your roommate’s name is not, meaning your roommate is renting from you, you may be able to start a roommate holdover case

If you find yourself in a bad roommate situation, make sure you document everything. You can create a Google Drive titled the name of your apartment to keep all of the information organized. Collect texts, emails, pictures, voice recordings – you get the point. Make sure that you do not delete the documentation even after you move out. You never know when you will need it. 

How can I move out without having to continue paying rent?

If you do decide to move out, you may have two options. First, if your landlord allows it, you can find someone to take over your room fully, which means you would find someone to replace your name on the lease. This process has to be coordinated with your landlord. 

The second option is to sublet your room. Under New York law, you are allowed to sublet your apartment with your landlord’s permission. Once you find the right person, sign a sublease agreement with the person taking your room. (And it is probably wise to require a one-month security deposit as well.) Because, ultimately, you are the one who is responsible for making the payments to your landlord. Signing a contract and requiring a security deposit will give you some peace of mind. 

What should I do if my roommate makes me feel unsafe, threatens my safety or is stalking me? 

If your roommate makes you feel unsafe, threatens your safety or is stalking you, the first answer would be to go to the police. However, if you don’t feel comfortable turning to the police, you can contact Safe Horizon, a nonprofit organization specializing in victim assistance. You can call Safe Horizon, explain your situation and present all of the documentation. Safe Horizon will then assess the case and try to find a way to help you.

You can also send your roommate a cease and desist letter, which are designed to stop someone from doing specific action(s). Cease and desist letters are essentially the last step before a lawsuit. The letter would say everything that your roommate is no longer allowed to do and could entail contacting you through phone, text, email and in person, among other things. Typically, your roommate would have a set amount of time to sign the letter and agree. If they do not sign and the harassment continues, you can find a lawyer. Hopefully, it will not get to that point, but it might be the last option. Legal Services NYC aims to help provide free legal services for low-income New Yorkers, and the organization has a specific program for Brooklyn. 

Additional words of advice

All the information I have provided above is the compiling of three years of dealing with my own Bushwick roommate problems. The last piece of advice I can provide is to remain calm when dealing with a stressful roommate situation. The easiest option is to ignore your roommate and not react to text messages, no matter how rude they are. Try to move out as soon as possible and find healthy outlets to help you cope.

Featured image: Andrew Karpan.

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