Ask Sam: How much information do I have to give the landlord before I move in with my friend?
My friend signed a lease as the sole tenant in a market-rate apartment. I'm going to be his roommate. The landlord insisted that I submit an application with my social security number, picture ID, home address, employer, and current landlord. Is this legal? What should I do?
Most NYC tenants have the right to a roommate, and are not required to give the landlord information about the roommate beyond their name and the fact that they’ve moved in, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“If the person is truly a roommate, as opposed to a subtenant, you can bring in anyone you want, but there’s a limit on how many roommates you can have at once,” Himmelstein says.
New York City’s roommate law grants tenants the right to live with one roommate—and that roommate’s dependent children—if they are the only person named on the lease. If there are two or more people named on the lease, however, those tenants cannot bring in roommates unless one or more of the tenants moves out. (And note that this law does not apply to people living in public or subsidized housing.)
“The total number of roommates and tenants cannot exceed the number of tenants listed on the lease,” Himmelstein explains. “In other words, if there are multiple tenants and one leaves, you can substitute a roommate for that tenant.”
As for a tenant’s obligation to the landlord, New York Real Property Law states that they must give the landlord the name of their roommate within 30 days of that roommate moving in or within 30 days of a request by the landlord. Legally speaking, then, landlords cannot request information like social security numbers, employment information, and so on.
But whether your friend should push back against his nosy landlord is another question. Rent-regulated tenants have more leeway, since they are legally entitled to a lease renewal every one or two years, but non-regulated tenants don’t have the same advantage.
“If you’re a stabilized tenant, there’s nothing the landlord can do to hurt you as a result of not giving more information about a roommate,” Himmelstein says. “But if you’re a market-rate tenant and you get into a battle with your landlord over this, they might not renew your lease.”
You and your roommate-to-be may need to discuss whether it’s worthwhile to refuse his landlord’s request for information.
Tenants should also keep in mind that if they plan to take on a subletter rather than a roommate, they’ll be expected to provide their landlord with more information. To sublet, tenants must first formally ask their landlord’s permission, and the landlord may send them a questionnaire about the subtenant, with requests for information about their rental history. (Read more about the rules for subletting here.)
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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, Donoghue & 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.