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Apartment Swapping and the Law

I live in a rent-stabilized apartment. I am interested in doing a home exchange with others who live in different cities or countries. There are websites devoted to these arrangements, and no money changes hands. Am I breaking rent stabilization rules by exchanging homes for no more than a couple of weeks at a time?

SoHo, Manhattan

This might seem like a harmless plan — and an affordable way to travel — but it could cost you your apartment.

“There’s a fine line between having guests stay in an apartment, and subletting an apartment without a landlord’s consent,” said Lucas A. Ferrara, a landlord-tenant lawyer. “And that gray area is enough to get a tenant evicted.”

A provision typically found in rent-stabilized leases limits occupancy to the tenant, the tenant’s immediate family and a roommate. The rules do allow for houseguests, but your visitor would not qualify as a guest, according to Phyllis H. Weisberg, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

Your plan also runs afoul of the state Multiple Dwelling Law, which prohibits stays of less than 30 days. There are exceptions, like for a house sitter who waters the plants and watches the pets when you’re on vacation. But your plan would not meet the narrow criteria.

“Certainly, the proposed arrangement is far different than a dog sitter,” Ms. Weisberg said.

Bartering is also an issue. Even if no money changes hands, you are still getting something of value. A week in an apartment in SoHo has monetary value, particularly if you swap it with a similar unit in, say, Paris. “Barter is compensation,” Mr. Ferrara said.

So here are some repercussions that could make your life unpleasant: The landlord could begin eviction proceedings for violating both the lease and the law. You could attract the attention of the state attorney general’s office, which has been going after users of online services like Airbnb. And the tax authorities might be interested in your barter income. “This is a land mine for litigation,” Mr. Ferrara said.

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