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Roommates and Boarders in Co-ops What Are Your Rights?

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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.

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8 Comments

  • The article should note that the Roommate Law does not allow unlimited roommates -- rather, the number of roommates is limited to the number of shareholders of the co-op unit. So, if there is 1 person on the share certificate, that shareholder can have 1 roommate. If there are 2 people on the certificate, maximum 2 roommates. Etc. We had a situation of a single shareholder with several roommates. It became an untenable boarder situation. The Roommate Law helped the board when fighting in court for removal of an unwanted boarder. Because the 1st one was "legal" but any simultaneous ones after that were not.
  • The author notes that, even if a roommate is legal under the Roommate Law, the co-op board can require copy of ID, copy of the lease agreement, etc. Presumably the board also can require the shareholder with "roommates" to supply a signed non-smoking policy that the board requests per building policy. What does the author recommend when the shareholder with roommate(s) fails to comply with board requests/building rules? If the roommate is legal under the Roommate Law, what teeth does the board have? We are struggling with this in our co-op. The boarders consume utility resources and represent a potential security issue when there are random/unknown persons going in and out, claiming to live in the building. What is a co-op board to do?
  • Subletters can not have a roommate, but a co-subletter. The arrangements between the sublettets are not monitored by the board. But the co-subletter can be asked what their arrangement is at the board interview to let the co-subletter if they are being ripped off.
  • Roommates must comply with Coop rules. If they don't, they can be fined or the shareholder can be asked to remove the roommate. All people who reside in the coop must follow the coop house rules or if the shareholder does not comply along with his roommate ,can be evicted a ccording to the proprietary lease ked
  • New York’s Real Property Law Section 235-f does not mention that a board member can ask to see how much money a shareholder makes off the roommate to ascertain whether the person is a roommate or subtenant. There is no case law that supports what this lawyer stated. The board can only request the name of the roommate and nothing else.
  • I have a 2br co-op in Manhattan. I also have my townhouse in Los Angeles because that is where I pursue acting for TV and film mostly. I have had room-mates in my NY apt as I come in 1-2 times a year. My room-mate is leaving at the end of June and I have a new room-mate who wants to move in the first week of August. The Mgt company is trying to tell me that it constitutes as a sublet. I told them no, he is a room-mate. My bedroom is mine and my clothes and furniture are there. Plus I pay the utilities. They are saying that I should be there more than I am in Los Angeles. What are the legalities of this? Thank you.
  • Larry, your co-op proprietary lease and bylaws should provide some guidance. Generally, a roommate lives with you, and a subtenant occupies the co-op without you. In order to prove "roommate," you may need to demonstrate that you actually live in the co-op. That can be via legal/tax address (is co-op address the address listed on your tax return) or physical presence (do you sleep in the co-op at least 183 nights per year). Even if it is deemed a sublet, there still may be a way to do it (check your lease).
  • Larry, the Roommate Law states you have to simultaneously live with the roommates to have the law protect you. Technically you are subletting a room to your roommate because you also live in LA. If a board member has a personal issue with you, hires a private investigator and finds out you live in LA, the board can take you to court to evict you after the moratorium ends. Also, you board may even install a camera in the hallway at some point to prove you are illegally subletting rooms. Your lease will state how many days you have to live in your apartment to fulfill the permanent residents clause.