Ask Sam: Our landlord wants to use a small room in our apartment as a separate rental. Is this legal?
- Renters have the right to use the entire apartment when they sign a lease
- A building must be classified as an SRO or hotel in order to rent by the room
There’s a third, tiny bedroom in our apartment that my landlord wants to rent out separately, but my roommate and I think it’s a bad idea. I’m also wondering whether this is even legal. What is considered a legal bedroom? Can landlords rent out individual rooms?
It sounds like by renting out this third bedroom, your landlord would be violating the state’s anti-SRO statute, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph, who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
Under New York’s Multiple Dwelling Law, it is illegal to occupy any class-A multiple dwelling as a rooming house. In other words, landlords cannot rent out individual rooms to tenants in an apartment if the building is not classified as a single-room occupancy (SRO) or hotel. Tenants instead must have the right to occupy the entire apartment when they sign a lease with a landlord—not just a single bedroom within the apartment.
“The landlord cannot legally impose this on you,” Himmelstein says, “and recently the attorney general has been going after landlords and services that do this.”
One of the reasons the Attorney General Leticia James is pursuing landlords who violate the anti-SRO statute is safety: Renting out individual rooms can mean there are locks on bedroom doors that can cause fire hazards.
It also sounds like the bedroom your landlord wants to rent out might not be considered a legal bedroom at all—another reason not to go along with his plan.
“The Multiple Dwelling Law has certain requirements as to what constitutes a legal bedroom,” Himmelstein says. “It has to be at least eight feet in any dimension with a minimum ceiling height of eight feet and be a minimum of 80 square feet total. There has to be at least one window at least 12 square feet.”
Another consideration: If the landlord is trying to rent the room out separately, he’s violating the building’s certificate of occupancy. You have a few options for reporting this.
“You could file a complaint with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which might respond by placing a violation on the building or even a vacate order,” Himmelstein says. “You could also withhold your rent, and you might be able to get a housing court judge to rule you don’t have to pay it because the landlord is violating the CO.”
And if you’re rent-stabilized, you may want to report this to the Division of Housing and Community Renewal.
“It’s possible that the landlord is overcharging you on rent. If he’s charging tenants for individual rooms, the total rent he is collecting could exceed the legal rent for the apartment,” Himmelstein says.
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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.