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Most of the time, rent ain’t cheap, and for many New Yorkers, that often means shared living arrangements. And while one or more people may live with you, that doesn't automatically make them “roommates” – which has a pretty precise definition under the law. A “roommate,” explains Lucas A. Ferrara, senior partner at Newman Ferrara LLP and an adjunct professor at New York Law School, is “a co-occupant of an apartment with the lease-holder, with whom the space is shared.”

That response appeared in the July 2021 issue of Cooperator News where a reader asked the following question:

I have a two-bedroom co-op in Manhattan. I also have a townhouse in Los Angeles because that is where I pursue acting for TV and film mostly. I have had roommates in my New York apartment as I come in 1-2 times a year. My current roommate is leaving at the end of June, and I have a new roommate who wants to move in the first week of August. The management company is trying to tell me that it constitutes a sublet. I told them no, he is a roommate. My bedroom is mine and my clothes and furniture are there. Plus I pay the utilities. They are saying that I should be there more than I am in Los Angeles. What are the legalities of this?

In his column, Ferrara informed the reader of the legal distinction between a roommate and a sublet. The difference, he noted, is simply this: “if you are residing in an apartment with another person, then that other individual can be characterized as a roommate. If you are allowing someone to live in your unit, in your place and stead, or in your absence, you probably have a sublet (or an assignment).”

New York State’s Unlawful Restrictions on Occupancy Law -- popularly called the “Roommate Law” – permits a tenant to take on a roommate without a landlord’s or co-op board’s approval. But, as Ferrara highlighted, that law has a few restrictions, including a “simultaneous occupancy” requirement. He quoted a New York City Civil Court judge’s decision, which noted, “[The Roommate Law] contemplates that the occupant reside in the apartment together with the tenant.”

So even if the reader’s clothes, furniture, or other personal belongings remained in the unit, Ferrara warned that the arrangement may be construed as a sublet (or assignment), which -- depending on the co-op’s bylaws and other governing requirements -- may require prior board authorization.

Here’s a link to the Q&A in the July edition of the Cooperator News - https://cooperatornews.com/article/qa-bi-coastal-blues.

Should you have a question about your landlord-tenant rights (or obligations), please do not hesitate to reach out to an attorney from our office, by calling 212.619.5400.