Realty Bites

I don’t want my roommate’s boyfriend to have a key to our NYC apartment. What can I do?

By Nikki M. Mascali  | May 8, 2019 - 3:30PM

Legally, you can’t do much to prevent a roommate from giving her boyfriend a key to your place. But there are some things you both need to discuss before he gets one. 


My roommate and I have lived together for almost two years. She wants to give her boyfriend, who she’s been dating for a while, a key to our apartment since he’s often here. I like him and don’t mind when he stays over or hangs out, but giving him a key makes me uncomfortable. We’re both on the lease, so is there anything I can do?

Even if you are on friendly terms with your roommate’s boyfriend, it’s understandable to be concerned about him getting a key to your NYC apartment. It is, after all, your home, which you (and your roommate) pay for. It may not be her intention, but giving him a key could signal that it's his space too—but without the responsibility of paying rent—sort of like the scenario with Bevers, the very invasive, always-present boyfriend of Abbi’s never-seen roommate, Melody, on “Broad City.”

So what can you do? Legally speaking, the answer is unfortunately not much. 

“The prevailing view here is that in the absence of a written agreement between the roommates to the contrary, there is nothing that the objecting roommate can do to prevent the boyfriend from having a key, unless he somehow posed a demonstrable danger or security risk,” says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer and Brick Underground sponsor who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations. “Tenants have the general right to give keys to their guests, and neither the landlord nor a roommate has any right to prevent it.”

However, you should still take extra caution, says Sarah Beth Hill, founder of roommate-matching service Perfect Strangers of NYC.

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You should ask your roommate if she’s willing to have an in-person (read: not over text) conversation with you about the key situation, “and say you’re not opposed, but would like to discuss some potential ground rules,” Hill says. 

Obviously, the conversation could get a little heated. It’s important to keep calm and have an open mind as this is, after all, a big step in her relationship with him. But it could potentially also put your safety, and hers, into jeopardy, so here are four talking points you'll want to cover before he’s given a key.

1. What happens if they break up? 

This one is especially critical to avoid a potentially scary situation if things end badly. Of course, you’re not wishing ill on their relationship, but things do happen. If they stop dating, you have a right to know how she plans to get the keys back from him (though, if a breakup is the end result, especially a bad one, you should check your lease or ask your landlord if you’re be able to change the locks yourself just in case). 

2. Do you know about squatters’ rights?

Thanks to a New York City eviction law, if your roommate’s boyfriend can prove he’s resided in your apartment for more than 30 days, he has the right to continue living there—yes, even if he’s not on your lease—until there’s a court process to legally evict him, which can take some time and make for a potentially uncomfortable and even unsafe situation.

“Giving him keys makes it even harder to fight against this,” Hill says. Bringing it up in a breezy, “hey, did you know…” type of manner, “with the hope is that the squatters’ rights conversation just scares her enough to not give out keys,” she adds. 

3. Will he be in the apartment when you’re not there?

Even if you know and trust a roommate, you can never really be too sure what they do when you’re not in the apartment with them—and that goes for their significant others. If he does end up getting keys to your place, “you may want to consider putting a lock on your bedroom door,” Hill says. 

However, it is illegal to install a double cylinder lock on a door in NYC because it’s a fire safety hazard, and bedroom door locks in general “could create a situation where tenants can’t get to the fire escape because it’s in that bedroom and the door is locked,” Himmelstein told Brick earlier this year. 

There are plenty of easy-to-install door lock mechanisms out there, but err on the side of caution and check with your landlord or super first to make sure you’re compliant with fire-safety codes.

4. Will he help pay rent and utilities?

While you clearly enjoy your roommate’s company enough to live with her for the past few years, you likely also rely on having someone to split the rent with in this costly real estate market. 

“If he stays over there more than not, he should contribute to rent and utilities,” Hill says.

But if he truly becomes a permanent fixture, you will have to eventually notify your landlord, usually within 30 days, so review your lease to see if there’s a clause about how many occupants can live in your apartment, Hill says. If your landlord allows an additional occupant, and you’re OK with that scenario, her boyfriend could be added to your lease, making him just as legally responsible as you and your roommate for a portion of the rent. 


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