Q&A: Sublet Drama

Q I recently encountered an unfortunate situation with a co-op apartment sublet,  and hope that someone may have some advice. I recently signed a two-year lease  to sublet an apartment in a co-op building in Manhattan, with the expectation  of extending the lease for a third year when my original lease was up. This was  a legal sublet, executed with full agreement by both the apartment owner and  the building board. Upon review of my lease however, the board noted that the  owner was not paying appropriate sublet fees. After months of fighting, the  owner—my landlord—refused to pay any of the fees. A new lease was never signed, but reverted to a  default month-to-month basis in which I continued paying rent and the apartment  owner continued to accept it. Eventually, the board of the co-op threatened to  take over the apartment from the owner citing breach of the proprietary terms  of the owner’s contract if the owner did not begin to pay the sublet fees or evict me, the  tenant. A formal eviction notice was issued and I struggled to find another  apartment and eventually moved out, all within 45 days of the original eviction  date. I feel that the co-op owner did not operate in good faith in the sublet  contract by refusing to resolve issues with the board that would have permitted  the extension of my lease. Is there any legal recourse available to me against  the owner in this situation for uprooting me and my family, causing unnecessary  stress, inconvenience and loss of work time? Does a subtenant have any recourse  against his or her landlord or the cooperative?  

 —Aggrieved in Astoria  

A “It is important to note that the subtenant’s two-year sublease agreement was not terminated prematurely and the subtenant  got the benefit and enjoyment of the entire two year sublease agreement,” according to Albert Pennisi, an attorney with Rego Park-based law firm of  Daniels Norelli Scully & Cecere, P.C.  

 “What is at issue is the loss of the ‘expectation of extending the sublease for a third year.’ The subtenant’s rights as against the proprietary lessee depend solely upon what the sublease  agreement says about extending the sublease for a third year. If the sublease  is silent about a lease extension and the subtenant’s expectation was garnered solely from an oral agreement or understanding with  the proprietary lessee, then the subtenant has no recourse since there are no  lease terms that are breached by the proprietary lessee. In New York, leases of  one-year or more must be in writing to be enforceable; therefore, any oral  agreement between the subtenant and the proprietary lessee for a one-year lease  extension beyond the two year sublease is unenforceable thereby leaving the  subtenant with no recourse as against the proprietary lessee.  

 “If, however, the sublease does expressly provide for a one-year lease extension  beyond the two year sublease agreement the subtenant’s rights will depend upon exactly what the lease provides for. Is the lease  extension at the option of the subtenant or at the option of the proprietary  lessee? Does notice of exercising the extension option have to be given, and if  so, was proper notice given under the sublease?  

 “Thus, the subtenant may have recourse as against the proprietary lessee only  assuming a one lease extension was expressly provided for in the sublease and  the option was properly exercised. The fact that the proprietary lessee and the  co-op were in a dispute concerning the payment of sublet fees does not  necessarily mean that the proprietary lessee was acting in bad faith inasmuch  as the sublet fee charged by the co-op may not have been properly enacted and  therefore not enforceable or may have been discriminatorily applied.”      

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