Co-op residents are used to restrictions on who may live in their unit, for how long, and with whom. Thanks to the proprietary lease, boards have extensive power over these issues, and generally forbid practices including subletting - the most typical form of non-shareholder occupancy. But what about other types of non-shareholder residents, such as roommates or boarders? Is the typical co-op shareholder be free to make such arrangements?
The Occupancy Clause
Most proprietary leases afforded to shareholders in co-ops contain an occupancy clause that outlines who can live in the unit with the shareholder. Simply stated, a husband, wife, parent, child, or other close family relation may share or cohabit in the unit with the shareholder--but not without, or in place of, the shareholder. If the shareholder doesn't actually reside in the unit, occupancy by the various family members enumerated in the clause may be considered a sublet, which in most co-op buildings requires board approval -- if they're even entertained at all. That’s not to say that your adult child, parent, or brother- and sister-in-law can’t stay in your apartment for a few days while you’re on vacation. But it might mean that they can’t live there for a year while you’re on sabbatical in Nepal.
What About Roommates?
There are times and situations, though, when a shareholder may want to take in a roommate or boarder to help defray the costs of ownership. For instance, empty nesters with an additional bedroom might consider renting it out as a way to increase their savings for retirement. Or say a single person with a spare bedroom decides to change careers and go back to school; he or she can’t afford to carry the unit on a reduced income, but doesn’t want to sell -- bringing in a paying housemate is an attractive option for some.
So...can shareholders bring a non-related resident into their unit for the long term? And equally importantly, can they do this without board approval?
The Cooperator surveyed a number of co-op buildings and found that there is little consistency -- and even less knowledge of shareholder rights -- relative to this question. All the shareholders surveyed believed that they were prohibited outright from having a roommate or boarder. No single building surveyed had a concrete policy position. The truth is -- perhaps surprisingly, both for those shareholders and their governing boards -- a co-op shareholder has a clear and inalienable right to take in a roommate or boarder without board consent under what's commonly referred to as New York State’s Roommate Law.