The Roommate Law

June 22, 2018 | By Charles Botensten

Q: After reading last week’s Question of the Week on the New York City Occupancy Standard, I am curious about how this law interacts with the New York State Roommate law. Can you please provide a brief FAQ on the Roommate Law and explain how it is limited by the New York City Occupancy Standard?

FAQs:

  • Q: What is the general concept behind the New York Roommate law?

    A: Broadly speaking, the New York Real Property Law Article 7, Section 235-f (the "Roommate Law") grants certain individuals the right to share their apartments with at least one roommate. Pursuant to the law, a landlord may not "restrict occupancy of residential premises, by express lease terms or otherwise, to a tenant or tenants or to such tenants and immediate family." 
     
  • Q: If there is one person named on the lease how many roommates may be added to the apartment?

    A: Pursuant to the Roommate Law, if you are the only tenant named on the lease and you or your spouse occupies the apartment as a primary residence, you may share the apartment with immediate family, one additional occupant, and the occupant’s dependent children (collectively, a "Roommate"), provided that total occupancy in the apartment remains compliant with the New York City Occupancy Standard.
     
  • Q: How does the New York City Occupancy Standard limit the Roommate Law?

    A: If allowing a Roommate to occupy an apartment would cause the total occupancy to exceed the New York City Occupancy Standard (80 square feet per person), the Roommate may not lawfully occupy the apartment. For example, if a tenant lives in a 150 square foot apartment, he or she may not have a Roommate because there is not enough room pursuant to the Occupancy Standard (two people would be required to have 160 square feet of living space).
     
  • Q: Who are considered immediate family members for purposes of the Roommate Law?

    A: The Roommate Law does not define the term "immediate family." However New York courts have interpreted the definition to include the tenant’s spouse, parents, children and step children.
     
  • Q: If the specific terms of the lease state that a tenant may not share the apartment with anyone who is not a tenant, is the provision enforceable?

    A: No, according to the Roommate Law, any provision of a lease or rental agreement purporting to waive a tenant’s right to a Roommate is "null and void."
     
  • Q: Must a Roommate be added to a lease after moving into the apartment?

    A: No, there is no requirement that a Roommate be added to the lease. However, the Roommate Law provides that the tenant "shall inform the landlord of the name of any occupant within thirty days following the commencement of occupancy by such person or within thirty days following a request by the landlord."

The Legal Line Question by:
Neil B. Garfinkel
REBNY Broker Counsel

Partner-in-charge of real estate and banking practices at Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, LLP