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When Things Get Ugly

A real-estate lawyer and broker-slash-psychologist weigh in on some common roommate dilemma

The Problem:
Your roommate is dating a guy who spends six nights a week at the apartment. Can you ask the boyfriend to pay a share of the rent?
Real-estate lawyer Steve Wagner: Technically, no. In the absence of any predetermined agreement with your roommate about perma-guests, you may not have grounds to insist that he pay his share. He’s not on the lease, so you can’t force it.
Broker-psycholo­gist Jeff Gardere: Ethically, yes. Say, “This was not our original arrangement. How do you suggest we handle it?” If neither of them wants to pay for his share, your roommate can offer to move out. That would be the right thing to do.

The Problem:
Your roommate skips town; you have six months left on the lease. What are your rights?
Wagner: If she’s not officially on the lease, there’s little you can do. If she is, you can sue in small-claims court to recover her share and try civil court if it’s more than $5,000.
Gardere: I would just thank my lucky stars the person left. She’s obviously troubled.

The Problem:
Your roommate sets the kitchen on fire. Should you kiss your security deposit good-bye?
Wagner: Probably. Even if you can prove you’re not responsible, if you both agreed to be on the lease, you’re accountable.
Gardere: Was it accidental? In that case, the person who did this should offer reparations. If he can’t afford it, be gracious and try to work something out.

The Problem:
You find out that the guy you’re renting a room from is charging you an exorbitant rate. Can you obtain a copy of the lease? If not, should you report him to the landlord?
Wagner: You don’t have a right to get a copy of the lease; the landlord and the tenant have no obligation to share it with you. That said, if the apartment is rent-stabilized, your roommate is breaking the law by charging more than his share. If you bring it to the landlord’s attention, he could have grounds for eviction.
Gardere: Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Real estate in New York is expensive. Go to your roommate and say, “I know you’re charging me more than my share.” If he says no [to a recalculation], move out.


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