What's a tenant supposed to do?
Let’s say you’re living with a roommate who is refusing to pay rent and/or leave, and, in addition, that person is verbally intimating and harassing you. Is there any recourse? Well, that was the question posed by the New York Times to Newman Ferrara partner, Lucas A. Ferrara -- who is also an adjunct professor at New York Law School and co-author of “Landlord and Tenant Practice in New York."
In a recent Real Estate Q&A column, two elderly rent-stabilized tenants advised reporter Ronda Kaysen, that they had rented out a room in their apartment and that the individual stopped paying his share of the rent. While they took the roomie to housing court, the nonpayment case has reportedly been adjourned multiple times supposedly because the guy has applied for aid from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) -- which provides economic relief (such as temporary rental and utility arrears assistance) to low and moderate-income individuals at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Now in occupancy for some two years, the seniors report that in addition to accumulating rental arrears the individual is also engaging in acts of harassment (such as, locking the seniors out of their home).
Normally, when someone has lived in an apartment for two years or more, and there is no written lease, you must give that individual a 90-day notice to vacate before the occupancy arrangement can be formally terminated and the individual brought to housing court on holdover grounds. A holdover (based on this kind of termination) would have been a better option, as a person that eventually remits the unpaid rent within the context of a nonpayment dispute will usually get to stay. While in a holdover, the focus is primarily on terminating the occupancy relationship.
But because a case is already pending, and a judge has already been assigned to the matter, the tenants will need to allow that case to play out.
And while there is reportedly some animosity between the parties, negotiating a settlement – like waiving all or part of the unpaid rent in exchange for his vacating -- may be the only expeditious option remaining here. (The New York Peace Institute offers free mediation support for residents of Manhattan and Brooklyn, and this may be preferable to paying more legal fees.)
The seniors may also want to consider conferring with an attorney about getting some form of injunctive relief (like a restraining order) to stop the harassment and abusive conduct. The violation of such an order could result in the roommate’s removal (together with other possible penalties and other relief). Record-keeping, such as photographing and recording these interactions, in addition to contacting the police (when appropriate) and keeping copies of all police reports, will usually help to bolster such a claim.
To read the actual column, click this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/28/realestate/roommate-unpaid-rent-housing-court.html (subscription required)
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If you are having a landlord-tenant issue, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of our attorneys by calling 212-619-5400.