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Have I made a tragic subletting error?
January 5, 2012 9:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm worried I've entered into a completely unreasonable subletting agreement, and don't know how to get out or to solve the situation.

Asking for a friend:

(Using "landlord" or "subletter" to refer to the person who lives in one of the five bedrooms in my apartment, and has the lease on the apt.)

I'm subletting a room in an apartment in NYC. The person I am subletting from sublets 4 of the rooms in the 5-room apartment for 3-6 months at a time. When I moved in, I signed a lease for six months with 30 days notice (written by the person subletting the apartment) stating I would abide by the "rules of the apartment."

The two noted rules, when I moved in, were to try to cook only once or twice a week (although I would be given fridge and cupboard space), and to not be loud before 9 am or after 10 pm—neither of which I thought wouldn't be problems (and haven't been—I'm neither a cook nor a loud person). I knew it wouldn't be a "do whatever you want" sublet, but never expected this. Within two months of moving in, I have been reprimanded for the following infractions (all these sparked stern talking-tos, often accompanied by statements like "I'm very angry with you about this"):

Putting (unopened, sealed, precooked) sausage in the freezer to save for later use (it will "contaminate the ice cubes") and leaving jarred pasta sauce in the fridge for three days

Not checking to make sure the trash in the kitchen has been taken out in the morning, despite not stepping in the kitchen on my way to work (or ever really using the kitchen...)

Leaving a pot to soak in the sink after cooking (this was my first time cooking in the apartment, and I wanted to make sure the pot was super-clean 'cause it was the landlords—I realize this isn't always the best thing to do, but they were pissed that I left the pot to soak in the sink than on the stove—even though the entire kitchen is a mess, with dishes strewn everywhere, all the time).

Not double-checking to make sure toilet paper had been placed under the sink when the roll ran low.

In addition:

The landlord also asked me to, as part of my utilities payment, go buy them groceries because they "weren't feeling that great." I felt really uncomfortable doing this.

They've instigated a stringent, twice-weekly rotating cleaning schedule that would make Cinderella queasy. (Think: Scrub ALL the things!)

They blew off the Bedbug Registry as a "scam" when I brought up concerns about bedbugs reported in our (large) apartment building. (Note: I have found no bedbugs, that is not a concern, but their nonchalance is.)

I'd been commuting to my job from CT and was eager to move into an apartment—and I went through two interviews with the person subletting, and felt like this would be a good match before I could make a permanent move with a friend in May. The subletter and I got along wonderfully in those two interviews, and I was really excited for the apartment and really love the location, the apartment, building and (until the past few weeks), the roommate.

However, I'm very disturbed by recent developments and kind of panicking at the idea of living here for another four and a half months. I think the subletter is using me (and possibly other tenants) as cleaners/errand people, and has absolutely absurd expectations as to cleanliness, etc. Are sublettees entitled to any rights under NY tenant law? Is there any chance of escaping with my last month's rent and deposit without the subletter witholding them? Or: Is there any hope of salvaging the situation? Am I being ridiculous?

I cannot afford a lawyer, and don't think the amount I would gain would be worthy of retaining one. I'm just interested to know if I have any rights in a subletting situation, and if these rules are acceptable or ridiculous.
posted by good day merlock to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Does the actual landlord know that any of this is going on, or that his tenant is subletting the space?
posted by schmod at 9:28 PM on January 5, 2012


As far as they know, no, but it is on the list of "things I should have asked." They do know that this subletting has been going on for several years, and it is a very large building, with probably 30 or 40 apartments.
posted by good day merlock at 9:38 PM on January 5, 2012


Are the rules of the apartment, either the two you knew about before you moved in, or the others that have appeared since, in writing in the lease?
posted by decathecting at 9:46 PM on January 5, 2012


I'm really really sorry. Usually I have stellar advice, especially when it comes to NYC. But I'm stumped here.

My BEST advice is to let the "landlord" keep the deposit and eat losing the deposit. Move.

My second best advice, which seems impossible, is that you negotiate to leave your lease early for a penalty of half the deposit once you find a place. Negotiating this relies on kindness on the part of a crazy person. This is in doubt, but worth trying. Absolutely. I would frame it as, "You don't seem to like me and you'll be happy with a better tenant than I've been. I thought I could meet your expectations, but it's apparent I can not. Please help me help YOU."

My last best advice is to ignore it all and just use this as a place to crash. NEVER walk into the kitchen again. Not sure what to do about the cleaning part.

So sorry.
posted by jbenben at 9:46 PM on January 5, 2012


You aren't being ridiculous by any means. It sounds like lots of situations I have heard of friends having subletting places from crazy people. There's a good chance they are not legally subletting, just knowing how these things work. My suggestion is to sit down and talk with them, saying "Listen, I know I signed on for such-and-such amount of time, but I don't think this situation is working out for me. Is there any kind of agreement we can work out?" and get them to sign something saying they will give you back the deposit if they agree to letting you leave early. If that doesn't work out, then bail. I don't think you'll have any real legal merit to stand on though if you want to reclaim any money they might not give you back. Good luck!
posted by greta simone at 9:50 PM on January 5, 2012


The two known about beforehand were verbal, not written in the lease. The lease simply says "abide by the rules of the apartment" (not verbatim, don't have the lease on hand, relying on gchat with the friend).
posted by good day merlock at 9:50 PM on January 5, 2012


What you got there is a control freak. Just start saying 'No' to any unreasonable requests. He'll just keep adding rules otherwise.

Keep your area clean, pay your bills on time. If he kicks you out, leave. If he keeps your deposit, sue in small claims. When your lease is up, run for the hills.
posted by Bonzai at 9:53 PM on January 5, 2012 [26 favorites]


There is a reason this crazy person only sublets for 3 to 6 months at a time. it's a crazy-person-power-thing. You save more money and angst by jumping ship. You are not the first person in this sublet to need to DTFMA.

The lease and rights mean nothing in the face of a hostile environment. This person has a lot of experience fucking with their "tenants."

Not worth the fight. Try Diplomacy and jump.
posted by jbenben at 9:54 PM on January 5, 2012


Next time he asks you to do something you don't want to do say "no". Repeat until he stops being an ass or explodes in a cloud of hand wringing frothiness. Those really are his only two options, you have all the power here. He can't make you fetch his groceries! If he scolds you say 'wait a minute you're not my mother, I don't have to let you talk to me like that". Say it out loud.

Living with roommates is an exercise in maintaining boundaries. NEVER agree to do anything you don't want to and once a week refuse to do something reasonable just for practice.
posted by fshgrl at 9:58 PM on January 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


Are there other people currently subletting from this person in the apartment? What do they have to say?
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:09 PM on January 5, 2012


You understand that "abide by the rules of the apartment" is legally meaningless when those rules are not on a document that you have signed, right? It sounds like this situation is unpleasant, and carries with it a lot of social problems, but you are under no legal obligation to follow any of these rules.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:12 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're renting a room in this apartment. IANAL, but this sounds like so much total bullshit and I would really like to see the "landlord" (uh, no, this guy's a tenant in a rental building, nothing more) hold up his "lease" in a court of law and hold you to a single provision therein. He's letting rooms out of his apartment. That doesn't make him the landlord. The landlord owns the building and a management company manages it. If the landlord doesn't know about you, that's not entirely kosher. And, by the way, for all you know, he's making a profit off of you and any other renters.

It is ludicrous to be unable to cook in your own home. It is ridiculous to be unable to freeze perishables in a freezer manufactured specifically for this purpose. It is ludicrous to be expected to run errands in lieu of paying utilities. You're being treated like a sucker. There are dozens of other sublet arrangements you could find in Manhattan or the outer boroughs where you could actually, like, live.

If I were you, I'd move. Start looking now. Plan to forfeit your security deposit, but think of it more as "leaving it for [landlord] as your last month's rent. In the meanwhile, do not entertain any further verbal dressing downs. Say this: "Tad, if you have a problem, I encourage you to take it up with the management company of the building." This guy can't pay his rent without tenants. Without your money, he's fucked. Just always remember that.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:15 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sealed sausage will "contaminate the ice cubes?!" this guy is a psychotic asshole. Begin by ignoring everything he says, now! For some reason you gave him a deposit, so lock up your valuables and find a new place, but stay your full last month which he has money or, and don't give him a cent more. He has no right to it and surely has no intention of giving you your deposit back, so get its equivalent in the last month's rent.
posted by catatethebird at 10:26 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Say this a lot: "That is not a reasonable request." Be very nice about doing reasonable roommate things, and even extra things, but look at him like he's insane and say that for everything else. He'll learn you're not going to put up with that kind of bullshit. (Maybe after a few tantrums, though.)

Six months isn't that long. Just have somewhere else lined up for when it's over.
posted by ctmf at 10:26 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Hey, I don't think of myself as an asshole, but no."

I can think of a lot of ways to niggle this person into letting you out of your lease, and openly calling it a "shithole" might be a good place to start. Place a toothbrush next to the toilet that says "FOR CLEANING ONLY" on it.
posted by rhizome at 10:52 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am not a lawyer, but I have been in some shady apartment situations in New York City.

First, my guess is that there may also be the possibility that this person ratchets up the craziness in order to "force" people out after X number of months. This helps them to maintain control of the apartment by preventing their tenants from gaining any traction.

Have you paid your last month already? If you aren't there yet, then I would consider (at your 30 day to end-of-lease moment) just telling them to use your deposit as your last month's rent. This will piss them off, but I have had to eat a deposit before in a crappy situation and it is something I really regret. It was a very sketchy situation with a landlord with a criminal record, and that I found a number of articles on her similar craziness after I was long gone.

Did you actually sign a lease? Breaking the "rules" of the apartment -- like soaking a pot -- is not a violation of a typical legal NYC lease. This is just stepping on an OCD person's toes. The renter (which you are calling the landlord) has a lease with the real landlord, you on the other hand have some sort of shady (and likely illegal) arrangement. If you did sign a real lease, then you do have legal rights. NYC has been cracking down on these short-term leasing situations (like AirBNB) -- yours is a bit longer, but there are still reasons why your crazy friend here wants to keep people moving out: he maintains his own place, and gets the occasional security deposit bonus. Hell, if he could force each of the 4 tenants in his flophouse to forfeit their security deposit every three months, he would be doing pretty damn well!!

I would start looking for places asap, and I would consider your deposit your last month's rent -- you don't really have much leverage without it. If you have already paid your rent, you can either start demanding it back or just take commit that much money's worth of violations (jam a lot o' sausages in his icebox).
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 11:20 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


My BEST advice is to let the "landlord" keep the deposit and eat losing the deposit. Move.

I was in this exact situation in the 90s in NYC and wish someone had told me this at that time. What you are dealing with is probably a person who is not only nuts, but has setup a situation that allows to them to get crazier with every passing day. Nthing all the other crazy-person notes above.

The thing to be careful about is that this person has no scruples when it comes to kicking you out or just making your life miserable. They will bend the situation to protect their little kingdom at any cost including doing things that a normal person would never consider. Take care when you do decide to make a stand in whatever form that takes. Be fully prepared to make a hasty exit as things could go even further south even faster that you think they ever could.

Face it. You are in a no-win situation here. Or at least you are in a situation that is seriously not to your advantage. Subletting in NYC (or anywhere really) always has the potential to go horribly wrong. The type of person who sublets in the manner you have described probably has some sort of sweet deal with the apartment and you are helping them keep it that way. Once you start making waves, it becomes a situation where you are not just forcing the person to look for a new tenant, but they may perceive it as a threat to their ability to keep the apartment as a sweet deal altogether. And for that, they will scratch and claw to protect themselves.
posted by lampshade at 11:35 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


For sure look for a new apt and use your deposit as your last month's rent. But you have to move out right away and not live there while you 'owe him money'. (Which means it is more like late rent in lieu of notice so you may still be eating 2 weeks of rental loss). Try to figure out whether he is legally allowed to sublet, if not then you are totally within reason to just refuse to do whatever. Cleaning cinderella-wise etc ad definitely not running errands. What? Also seriously make sure they are 'harmless-crazy'. If they seem dangerous then just get out, staying for your deposit is not worth risking harm over.
posted by bquarters at 1:30 AM on January 6, 2012


Make sure that you get your stuff out of there BEFORE you tell this nutcase you're leaving, or I could see him locking down your property and holding it hostage. Start quietly moving your belongings out NOW (with an emphasis on anything that's not replaceable, like photo albums, as well as all personal papers), even if you have to rent a public storage space to do it.
posted by easily confused at 4:52 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Someone close to me wound up in a situation kind of like this, in a house where one guy lived and subletted the other rooms to students and travellers. The rules kept multiplying, eventually becoming more stringent, with previously agreed privileges revoked for no reason. My friend worked very hard to keep the place clean and got nothing but abuse, and upon moving out (as fast as she could) received a wall of text email ranting at her for failing to keep the place tidy. The email was so long and so divorced from reality that we figure he just had it saved and sends it to everyone who sublets from him.

This is a power struggle that you can't win. Such people don't want to be reasoned with. You are not obligated to follow his capricious whims -- if he wanted you to follow any 'rules of the apartment', he needed to specify these up-front and attach them to the lease, so you could agree to them. You don't need to take his abuse; if he starts yelling you can walk away from him and close the door in his face. But I don't know how you get out of here with your deposit intact.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:52 AM on January 6, 2012


I'm perverse enough to suggest telling all of the other subtenants to join you in a simultaneous action of only obeying those apartment rules which were declared before or at the time of signing the sublease. Everyone should give the same canned, yet also firm and polite response each time the sublessor's whims are rebuffed.

If the sublessor tries to roll back existing services or to otherwise interfere with your quiet enjoyment of the premises, contact DHCR and file a harassment claim. If the sublessor tries to evict people for exercising their rights, contact DHCR and file a retaliation claim.

In reality, though, you should probably just leave, unless you all have the wherewithal and resources of Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:15 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "Landlord" is being totally unreasonable. Your have to start taking control of the situation. The Landlord fellow can 'request' as much cleaning and chores as he likes but you don't actually have to do it.

Ultimately the landlord has no more control that a normal flatmate would, so just saying "yeah, yeah, I'm too busy this week to clean the kitchen, sorry about that, later..." and stepping out the door is perfectly within your rights.

Or you can just dispute the cleaning schedule. - just say its excessive and you have better things to do with your life. - he might then request you to leave anyway and would have no grounds for holding back the deposit.
posted by mary8nne at 5:38 AM on January 6, 2012


Don't worry about your "lease." The sublettor (who is actually the renter) can't write a legally enforceable one. Keep living how you're living and he will eventually break your "lease" for you. Unfortunately, since this isn't a true lease, I think you can kiss your deposit goodbye. You gave it to some dude who had no legal right to it and has no motivation to ever return it.

What happens if you opt to not pay your rent for the last two months of your lease, instead of just your last pre-paid month, and tell him that you're using your security deposit to pay that month? If he says that's not acceptable, tell him to return it to you and you'll leave in 30 days. Odds are good that he can't return it to you because he's already spent it. There will be few if any repercussions. But put a lock on your door if you can - you can talk to a locksmith about a hidden lock installation so that you can secure your personal belongings without alerting your "landlord" you've done so.

You can feel free - did you need permission? - to say, "sorry, no," when you are requested to do household things like grocery shop or clean areas which you do not venture into.
posted by juniperesque at 7:37 AM on January 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did you know it's illegal for more than three unrelated people to occupy a dwelling in NYC?

I would leave and just eat the deposit like others have said, but once you leave, you could report him to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

BTW I lived in a similar situation and one night after I got home the guy I was subletting from started yelling at me about how "dirty" I was (which no one has ever said before or since) and how I needed to scrub better. I broke down crying and moved out soon after. Later he called and threatened me. He said that if I didn't find someone to replace myself that he would sue me. I played the illegal dwelling card and he never contacted me again. I lost my security deposit, but I wasn't going to lose my dignity. It was honestly an abusive situation.
posted by melissam at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2012


In the future, always search the subletter's full name and full address in google with +scam or +problems or other useful apartment nightmare keywords and see what, if anything, previous tenants have to say about them. It can be helpful in weeding out the crazies.
posted by elizardbits at 8:09 AM on January 6, 2012


In the future, always search the subletter's full name and full address in google with +scam or +problems or other useful apartment nightmare keywords and see what, if anything, previous tenants have to say about them. It can be helpful in weeding out the crazies.

I wonder if the OP can post this person's name anywhere? Or if there are libel concerns? Either way, I started asking landlords/potential roommates for references after what happened to me. If someone won't let me talk to a previous tenant, that's a huge red flag.
posted by melissam at 9:57 AM on January 6, 2012


Don't worry about your "lease." The sublettor (who is actually the renter) can't write a legally enforceable one. Keep living how you're living and he will eventually break your "lease" for you. Unfortunately, since this isn't a true lease, I think you can kiss your deposit goodbye. You gave it to some dude who had no legal right to it and has no motivation to ever return it.

This is not true. Sublease agreements may indeed be enforceable, and security deposits are often a rightful part of the sublease agreement.

That is not to say that this particular sublessor's sublease agreement is wholly enforceable, but do not go around thinking that no sublease agreement is enforceable.

What happens if you opt to not pay your rent for the last two months of your lease, instead of just your last pre-paid month, and tell him that you're using your security deposit to pay that month? If he says that's not acceptable, tell him to return it to you and you'll leave in 30 days. Odds are good that he can't return it to you because he's already spent it.

I wouldn't go around flouting the agreement, as it's not clear that you can legally force a sublessor to accept your security deposit as a rent payment. (I bet a shiny nickel that you can't.) An extra month won't be worth the hassle if the sublessor winds up being litigious.

Just refuse to do anything more than what you already agreed to, and then get the hell out of Dodge.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:23 PM on January 6, 2012


I wonder if the OP can post this person's name anywhere? Or if there are libel concerns?

For the record: do not post names here.
posted by jessamyn at 1:03 PM on January 6, 2012


Unfortunately, since this isn't a true lease, I think you can kiss your deposit goodbye.

Not true. You can become annoying enough that the landlord gives you your deposit for you to leave. The landlord is already handing out a list of things that annoy them.
posted by rhizome at 1:23 PM on January 6, 2012


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