If you're renting an apartment in New York State, you can generally take on roommates without having to add them to the lease or even get your landlord's approval. This is thanks to the tenant-friendly Unlawful Restrictions on Occupancy Law, commonly known as the "Roommate Law." What's more, is that the Roommate Law applies not just to relatives but to non-relatives such as a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Which Areas of New York State Are Covered?
The Roommate Law applies equally throughout the state. So, whether you rent in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, or the Catskills, the law covers your apartment.
Who Can You Add as Occupants?
Occupancy isn't limited just to those tenants named in the lease. If you're the only tenant, you can add members of your immediate family plus an extra, unrelated occupant and her children. If you're one of the tenants on the lease, you and the other tenants may add immediate family members and unrelated people as new occupants—as long as the total number of occupants (not counting unrelated occupants' children) doesn't exceed the number of tenants listed in the lease.
Is There a Primary Residency Requirement?
For the Roommate Law to apply to you, the apartment must be your or your spouse's primary residence. If you've signed the lease with other tenants, then at least one of those tenants (or a spouse) must occupy the apartment as a primary residence if you choose not to do so.
What About Tenant Screening?
If you wish to add an extra occupant, you needn't inform your landlord about it beforehand because you don't need your landlord's permission. Also, landlords who learn about a new occupant can't insist on screening as they would with new tenants. If your New York lease includes any language requiring notification or screening of new occupants, the Roommate Law makes it clear that such clauses are invalid.
What If My Landlord Cites a Lease Provision Requiring Screening and Wants a Fee?
Landlords who learn about a new occupant can't insist on screening as they would with new tenants. If your landlord points to a lease clause requiring notification or screening of new occupants or wants you to pay a screening fee for your new roommate, you should tell the landlord that New York State law makes it clear that such provisions are invalid.
If you need to get specific and cite the New York State Real Property Law (RPL), here are the legalistic details:
- Article 7, section 235-f(2) states that "[i]t shall be unlawful for a landlord to restrict occupancy of residential premises, by express lease terms of otherwise, to a tenant or tenants... Any such restriction in a lease... shall be unenforceable as against public policy."
- Article 7, section 235-f(7) makes it clear that "[a]ny provision of a lease or rental agreement purporting to waive a provision of this section is null and void."
- Article 7, section 235-f(9) provides that if you believe your landlord is violating this law, you may bring an "action in any court of competent jurisdiction for: (a) an injunction to enjoin and restrain such unlawful practice; (b) actual damages sustained as a result of such unlawful practice; and (c) court costs."
Can the Landlord Request Information About Roommates?
The Roommate Law requires you to let your landlord know about a new roommate in your apartment either within 30 days of move-in or within 30 days of a request by the landlord for a list of all occupants. Since you're not seeking the landlord's permission, you shouldn't fear to send the landlord this notification.
May a Landlord Limit Occupancy Under Any Circumstances?
Your landlord may restrict the total number of occupants in your apartment to comply with local occupancy laws aimed at preventing overcrowding. If apartments in a building are overflowing with occupants, it leads to several problems. Not only does it make for uncomfortable, cramped living and pose a health and safety hazard, but a building's systems get over-burdened, and there may be many more cars than parking spaces available.