Just as New York City is the city of subletters, it’s also a city of roommates. Many places would find it bizarre and even dangerous, but it’s quite commonplace for New York apartment hunters to seek out our roommates among total strangers (we all know about the room for rent section on Craigslist, right?). And some of us also get into our new abode with like-minded friends or acquaintances. Well, what does one do when a roommate situation turns sour? It’s time to figure out how to cope when we find ourselves in a signed lease agreement with a disagreeable roomie.
I currently live in a luxury building with another roommate. Recently there have been some issues between the two of us and she has been engaging in some questionable activity in our apartment. What she’s been doing is illegal and dangerous. She has basically completely ignored my requests to please keep it out of the apartment. I finally spoke with the management company and have pretty much explained the whole situation to them. I told them about the illegal activity and also that I feel unsafe.
I looked over the lease and it clearly states that anything like that going on is in breach of our signed lease, which we are both signed on.
I’m getting to a point where I can’t take it but I don’t want to move out. Would there be a way for me to break my lease? Or force her to move out? – M.L, New York, NY
Before I get to the specific answer to this question, I feel this is a good time to bring up the term actual eviction. An actual eviction, also called self-help, is basically when a landlord shows up at the premises of their tenant, removes the tenants’ personal property from the space, then changes the locks, thus blocking the tenant from re-entry. A landlord would do this for non-payment of rent or some other form of dispute with their tenant, up to and including the tenant conducting illegal activities on the premises. There are other methods a landlord may use when performing an actual eviction, such as cutting off essential utilities, refusing to repair damage on the premises, or using harassment or threats to force the tenant to leave.
Actual evictions, or evictions that are performed directly by the landlord, are illegal in the state of New York and the housing courts (and in some cases, civil and criminal courts as well) take the act of actual eviction very seriously. A landlord cannot, under any circumstances, simply throw a tenant out into the streets and block them from re-entry, nor can they force a tenant to leave by other methods. The penalties are severe for a landlord who is found to have performed an actual eviction, which is why there are probably very few of you New Yorkers who know of anyone who has been evicted in this manner. A tenant who is the victim of an actual eviction can recover triple the amount of the damages caused by this action, and as stated above there are some cases in which the landlord can also be held criminally liable.
“The only way any tenant in New York can be legally evicted is by a sheriff, marshal, or constable who has a court ordered warrant.”(http://www.thelpa.com/lpa/landlord-tenant-law/new-york-tenant-rights.html)
With that being said, let’s get back to the question at hand. If you’re living in a situation where your roommate is conducting illegal activities on the premises, bringing the issue to the landlord is an urgent first step you must take. But don’t expect it to immediately allow the landlord to simply throw your nightmare roommate out. It will take time before the landlord can do anything about it since they must go through legal channels at all times. They must investigate first and determine that there is, in fact, illegal activity taking place on their property. They will then be required to notify the police. So what will you do in the meantime? Stay there and wait for them to battle it out?
Not a good idea. If there’s a chance you’re in harm’s way you must take actions to protect yourself NOW. Understand that if it’s found out that illegal activities are being conducted in your apartment, you’re running the risk of being caught in the middle of a legal nightmare with every passing minute you stick around. Eviction proceedings take months to finalize; if you choose to stay you’ll have to wait in this dangerous environment until then. And what will be your reward when your management finally evicts your roommate? You’re being evicted right along with her, that’s what. Then the eviction will appear on both of your credit reports, and you could even face criminal charges if she winds up getting arrested while you’re still living there. Having a roommate or a tenant of this sort is a huge liability for both you and your landlord, and there is no way either of you should take the chance of continuing to associate with her.
At the same time, forcing her to move so you can remain there in peace will probably be a far bigger hassle than just making arrangements to move yourself. You can demand that she move out, or discuss with her the possibility of her moving out, but ultimately if she refuses to leave there really isn’t anything you can legally do to force her hand.
It’s a tough issue to have to suffer the consequences of the irresponsible behavior of someone else. In New York State, eviction proceedings are initiated against the lease and not against individual people on the lease. If you’re on the lease you will most likely be sued for eviction even if you do move out, so it’s an absolute MUST that you have your name removed from the lease once you move out. That means getting the landlord to absolve you from all responsibility on that lease from the date you move out and onward.
If you’ve already informed the management that you feel unsafe, then they may be open to you breaking the lease under certain circumstances. They will probably require that you either find someone to take over your half of the lease, or they’ll require your current roommate to agree to take over the entire lease herself. Talk it over with them to see what they want in exchange for allowing you to break the lease early. Once you’ve negotiated everything out with them you’ll need notification of your release from the lease in writing – and by “in writing,” I mean a document that is signed and dated by the management clearly agreeing to the arrangement. E-mail notification from them of this release is not sufficient to protect yourself from liability, nor is verbal notification, so don’t accept any other forms of release except one signed by the management. Get it in writing!
So if all attempts at being reasonable with your roommate fails, just take these steps, move out, move on, and make 100% sure that you remove yourself from any lease/tenant/contractual relationship with her before you go. Her landlord will take care of the rest, I guarantee it.
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