Should I confront my roommate about overcharging me for rent?
March 30, 2009 2:28 PM   Subscribe

I found out my roommate is overcharging me for rent - do I do anything?

I recently moved into an apartment share with a roommate who has already been living in the apartment for about six months. I found an invoice today that contained the full rent amount, and it looks like I'm paying $100 more than what half of it would be each month. FWIW, I did not know my roommate before I moved in (we found eachother on craigslist), we're living in NYC, our apartment is rent-controlled, and the place is in her name.

I'm curious about the politics of roomshares, and whether I'm entitled to say something or not. Honestly, I most likely will not since the apartment IS rent-controlled and thus still a good deal, plus I do like my roommate and don't want to risk causing a situation awkward enough that I might want to move again. Regardless of what I'm inclined to do, I'm curious what the objective standard (if one could be said to exist) on these situations is - do I have a right to say anything? Is this common? Is it considered an unscrupulous thing to do, or just the way of the world when it comes to NYC apartments?

Thanks in advance for any insight.
posted by lxs to Human Relations (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about right and wrong here, but is your room by any chance larger than your roommate's room? I've known people to pay more per month for the bigger bedroom.
posted by brina at 2:31 PM on March 30, 2009

Are your bedrooms the same size?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:31 PM on March 30, 2009

Response by poster: sorry, forgot to mention - the bedrooms are the same size.
posted by lxs at 2:35 PM on March 30, 2009

I might be the dissenting voice, but why does it have to be 50-50 split? Did your roommate tell you it was 50% of the rent? If the deal is still good, then I don't see what the issue is. She has something, named her price fo it, you agreed to it.
posted by kellyblah at 2:36 PM on March 30, 2009 [27 favorites]

What's fair is for you to pay the rent you agreed to pay when you moved in. There's no law that says your roommate has to pay half of the total- not even if they live in the awesomest bedroom in the place AND keep their entire anvil collection on the kitchen counters.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:38 PM on March 30, 2009 [7 favorites]

So, basically, you're sub-letting from your new roommate and are not on the lease? Do you have a lease agreement with anyone?

Are you not paying for something -- electricity? water? garbage? -- that might make this a little more equitable?

It's a tough question. On the one hand, you'd like to think that they'd just split the rent in half. On the other hand, if you don't have a lease then you can walk away anytime. Perhaps this is your roomie's way of hedging her bets that if you walk away she can cover your half of the rent while she finds a new roommate. That's just one reason why landlord's charge a deposit and have clauses for breaking a lease.
posted by amanda at 2:38 PM on March 30, 2009

If your room is larger, or the shared furniture and stuff (tv, kitchen gadgets, couch, etc), are all hers, or you use the only parking spot, or she's had the apartment so long that the rent is way below market value, then I think it's fair. I've charged new roommates more than I paid for all of these reasons.

But, if your room is smaller, or you split ownership of the common stuff evenly, or it's only a few months difference in your duration of tenancy (as you said), it's probably not as fair, and I'd be annoyed if I were in your shoes.

Making her split that $100 evenly won't go well, though- you'll both resent each other. You'll be mad she ripped you off; she'll be embarrassed you called her on it. So either justify it to yourself, or start making plans to move out.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:40 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Was the apartment mostly or fully furnished? We charged the new roommate more because we supplied all the furniture in the apartment and in the new roomie's room.
posted by mandapanda at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2009

Also, if she's the only one to deal with the landlord, that's another fair reason for a rent difference. Take advantage of this by allowing her to be the only one to deal with the landlord (requesting repairs, etc).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

If it's her name on the lease, it seems fair enough --- she's on the line of anything goes wrong with the apartment. (especially if she's put money down for the security deposit, etc). My general policy on rent is not to sweat the small stuff -- because real estate's a pain, and it's no fun fighting over money. That's assuming $100 a month is a negligible amount of money for you. If it's not, I'd mention it at the next lease hike -- that way you can renegotiate simultaneously, and figure out what makes sense for each of you to pay.

As far as "rent etiquette," it depends on a lot of things -- who holds the lease, who's put down the security deposit, as well as things like room size / shared amenities / stuff in the apartment (things like furniture, etc). When my partner and I were subletting, we had three people in a 2 BR and all split the rent evenly because the subletter had a smaller room. I can't count the number of people who told me this was a dumb idea, and we should have charged him as much as he would pay. I'm glad we didn't -- but I don't think this is at all out of the ordinary.
posted by puckish at 2:42 PM on March 30, 2009

Best answer: "She has something, named her price for it, you agreed to it."


Unless you're on the actual lease as being responsible for 50% of the rent invoiced, your deal with your roommate is just that: a deal you made with someone. It's kind of an asshole thing your roommate pulled, but you liked the deal enough to sign up for it.
posted by majick at 2:42 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is not remotely unscrupulous even if your rooms are the same size, as anyone who's vetted new roommates in NYC will immediately attest. If your roommate interviewed you among (presumably) many other people to live in this space and you agreed to pay the stated rent in advance, this is an extremely common occurrence. She could have perhaps charged even more money and another person would have accepted those terms, and she knows this. The aphorism that "life's not fair" applies three-fold to renting apartments in this NYC. New Yorkers will make grave sacrifices for affordable, clean, harmonious living spaces, and your roommate is no doubt aware that there are many worse places to call home. It would be an awkward point to bring up with her, especially because this is a culturally accepted practice in the city but not necessarily fair game to discuss while you both fix dinner in the kitchen.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:42 PM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: everything in the apartment is, in fact, hers, which is an excellent point. the apartment is still an amazing deal, and i'm not really salty, i was just curious what the standard was, as i've only lived with parents/friends/boyfriend in the past and so i hadn't ever thought about this before.
posted by lxs at 2:44 PM on March 30, 2009

Why do you think you should be paying 50% of the rent? If you didn't explicitly agree this before moving in, then there is absolutely zero issue here - you are simply mistaken in an assumption that you had no justification in making. You are subletting from someone and are paying the agreed sum (from what I can gather).

Basically, you have no right, justification or moral basis for saying anything at all. You're getting precisely what you agreed to for your money, unless there is some other aspect you're not telling us. All this talk of large rooms and furniture is irrelevant as long as the original agreement between you is being honoured.
posted by Brockles at 2:47 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

While I was living in NYC I saw this a few times. I've been on both sides of the situation, in fact. One of my roommates, a very close friend, moved out and someone else I didn't really know at all was taking his place. Since his name was not on the lease and mine was, thus making me a bit more liable should whatever happen, I charged him a little extra.

Basically, this, as kellyblah has just said: She has something, named her price fo it, you agreed to it. So, yeah, I wouldn't make a big deal about it.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 2:47 PM on March 30, 2009

If this were your friend it would be grounds for argument, but you said you didn't know her before. It's not totally kosher, but it's standard when people sublet that the subletter may take a little extra to offset her own rent, as your landlord is taking a profit from you both. If you were happy with the deal before, you should let it lie - it's just unfortunate you found the invoice.
posted by cincinnatus c at 2:48 PM on March 30, 2009

Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it. — Publilius Syrus

I am (I suspect) in a situation similar to yours, in which I pay more than my "fair" share of the rent. In this case, however, and especially in NYC, "fair" is debatable. If you are not on the lease you have more freedom and less responsibility. In addition, your roommate may have put down a large deposit, furnished most of the place, et cetera.

So: since you thought the rent was fair when you agreed to it, I would not bring it up at all; if you are unhappy, you can move into a similar but cheaper place later on, if you can find one.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:53 PM on March 30, 2009

Its rent stabalized? I'm assuming you're still paying under market? You should be happy it is only $100 more than she's paying.
posted by cestmoi15 at 2:53 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

You also (probably) don't have a sublease with your roommate obligating you to pay her your share of the month every month for, say, 12 months. The extra money isn't just compensation for the time she spent finding and screening roommates, it's buying you the flexibility to walk and not be responsible for the lease.
posted by zachlipton at 2:54 PM on March 30, 2009

Are you sure you don't mean rent *stabilized*? If it's a stabilized apartment, it is illegal to profiteer by charging a roommate more than a proportionate share of the rent.
posted by cowboy_sally at 3:05 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

The finer point cowboy is stated above: in New York, this is a reasonable practice and the main leasing roommate from whom lxs is renting from differs in situation: the renter is responsible for the lease and ultimately the whole expense monthly to the building management and likely paid a security deposit, while the subleasing lxs needs only to provide under the terms of their sublease. In addition, the main renter provided lxs a *furnished* apartment, which considering reasonable expectations, could indeed be worth more than the extra $100 lxs is paying. Indeed, if the apartment is clean, affordable and furnished, I'd consider this a jackpot to only be charged an extra $100.
posted by eatdonuts at 3:41 PM on March 30, 2009

I heard of a situation where a couple that had a rent stabilized apartment lived in the master bedroom with its own bathroom, and rented out each of the other (much smaller) two bedrooms plus the converted living room for enough that they paid NO rent.

To me that's disgusting. Rent-stabilization laws are there to encourage income diversity and allow lower income people to live in New York. Not to let lucky first-renters make a profit. It is also illegal, like Cowboy Sally pointed out. But no one complained because they weren't sure they could do better.

The difference you're talking about, on the other hand, is much less. Depending on the full costs, I think that NOT being on the hook for the lease, not being the one responsible for the whole rent if the other roommate cuts out, investing in household furnishings, etc (but mostly, being on the hook) could be worth that difference quite reasonably.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:51 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agree with above- you agreed to a price, doesn't matter what the "seller's" cost is. Now, if you had agreed to a percentage split and it turned out that you were getting charged more than the % you agreed to, then you'd have cause to be ticked off.
posted by gjc at 4:22 PM on March 30, 2009

Yeah, definitely no room to gripe here, you agreed to what she wanted to rent it to you at, and you're subletting. If she's fully on the lease, she can charge whatever she pleases, within the confines of HER lease.

Moreover, out here (AZ) it's plenty common for someone to buy a 3 or 4 bedroom house, and rent it out to 2 or 3 roommates, such that their rent pays for the ENTIRE mortgage. This is still a good deal for the renters, since they're not in a position to purchase the home, but the owner has to deal with everything and it's THEIR mortgage.

Ergo, if you thought it was fair, it still is. If everything in the house is hers, it's *definitely* "fair". If she could've gotten a higher value from someone else, you're lucky. "Fair" is what the market's willing to pay--there's no expectation that she'd split things evenly.

But you seem pretty chill about it, so just enjoy your decent rent, and your good relationship with the roommate and let it be.
posted by disillusioned at 4:27 PM on March 30, 2009

I've heard other people in NYC being shocked when they find out they are paying more than 50% of the rent in an apartment where another person is actually on the lease, but I can't really sympathize. The lease-holder is the person who usually deals with all the landlord issues, repairs, check-mailing, etc. Plus, when you leave, she will have to spend considerable time and energy finding a replacement for you. The fact that almost all the furniture in the apartment is hers adds to the fairness of this arrangement. Also, she is the one who found this great deal on the apartment, and presumably put a fair bit of work into finding it. That is worth something. There is obviously real work and investment behind the scenes. To demand equal payment for unequal responsibility, time, work, etc. is more than a little ridiculous. This idea definitely raises my 'entitlement hackles'.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:16 PM on March 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

So just to repeat the point ... you're not a "roommate" - you sub-lease space from her. You have basically no commitment and no risk... you can move out tomorrow and not get stuck with any lease issues.

The $100 is the price you pay for that lack of risk. That $100 is the reward the other person gets for shouldering the risk. And for furnishing the apt.
posted by Xhris at 6:23 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

You got into a share in a rent controlled apartment, thus locking in an artificially low, pre-2009 rent.
You didn't need to go through the credit check, show proof of income, show proof of assets, pay exorbitant brokers fees, or multi-months worth of deposit/first/last months down.
You didn't have to buy any furniture, nor pay for moving furniture in (and later, back out).
You don't have your name on a lease with a landlord who will hold you liable for rent if you need to move out early / lose your job / etc.
.... and you think $100 more than rent is some sort of scam?

I'm surprised they aren't trying to stick you with far more rent than that.
You are getting a bargain.
posted by gomess at 7:34 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

We do this. We had a room that was left furnished, we did all the apartment hunting, it's our name attached to the lease and the bills. Hence, everyone else pays a bit extra. Now, if your roommate said "Total rent is 1200 and you pay 600 and I pay 600!", then you'd have cause to get your feathers ruffled. But if you agreed to pay 600, then you agreed to pay 600 regardless of what the actual percentages are.

FWIW, we never revealed the total rent to the other 2 bedroom holders. I'm not hiding it from them, but we didn't volunteer it and they didn't ask. We just said, "This room is x".
posted by GilloD at 8:42 PM on March 30, 2009

While I 100% agree that the renter agreed to a price and should stick to it as well as the whole its furnished thing, I disagree with the concept that there is a benefit to not having to deal with the lease. The poster should WANT to be on the lease. The lease is an asset to the lease holder. It is rent stabilized. It has value. There is not a benefit to not having to deal with the landlord. What happens at the end of the lease and the lease holder wants out? The renter cannot claim the lease in many cases. If the renter lost his/her job and it was as good a deal as it seems, he can sublet his share. Being on the lease has value in this case.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:50 PM on March 30, 2009

I think this is the first thread I've read on Ask Metafilter where I disagree with an almost unanimous opinion.

There's no law that says your roommate has to pay half of the total- not even if they live in the awesomest bedroom in the place AND keep their entire anvil collection on the kitchen counters.

Actually, in San Francisco, there is:

Pursuant to Rules and Regulations Section 6.15C(3), a master tenant who shares a rental unit with one or more subtenants cannot charge any subtenant more than a proportional share of the total rent the master tenant pays to the landlord. For tenancies that commenced after May 24, 1998, the master tenant is required to provide each subtenant a written disclosure of the amount of rent the master tenant is obligated to pay the owner, prior to commencement of the subtenancy.

Obviously, this doesn't apply to New York City, but San Francisco has a similarly crazy and cutthroat rental market and even if this sort of thing weren't illegal, the consensus among almost everyone I know is that it's pretty sleazy. It's not necessarily even the price difference itself that's the issue - I agree that $100 extra per month might be quite reasonable when you factor in the furnishings and the extra responsibilities of being the master tenant. My biggest problem is not being upfront about it and negotiating fairly and transparently. If the $100 extra really is fair given the situation, why not just be open about it from the beginning?

Basically, you have no right, justification or moral basis for saying anything at all. You're getting precisely what you agreed to for your money, unless there is some other aspect you're not telling us. All this talk of large rooms and furniture is irrelevant as long as the original agreement between you is being honoured.

I'm actually pretty baffled by this view. Yes, the OP agreed to pay the price named - but he/she wasn't given all the details necessary to really make an informed consent. Again, if it's a fair setup, be honest about price difference and let the potential candidate decide. In this case, he/she's still getting a good deal, but that's not always so. Most room-seekers are getting fucked in the ass by the insane rents around these parts, and there's a practice of using the good fortune of having landed a place when rents were more reasonable to make oneself some money by disproportionately charging desperate people. I'd like to think that we're better than those whose ethicality in contract negotiation is mainly dependent upon the savvy and self-protection instinct of the person they're negotiating with. I suppose some would call that good business practice, but I think it's lame. I expect that shit from flea markets, drug dealers, and banks, but someone you're going to be living with? Anyway, rooming with somebody, especially a stranger, is difficult enough already. How about starting it off on the right foot by being trustworthy from the start?

But this is SF and we're all pinko commies here.
posted by granted at 12:38 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's no law that says your roommate has to pay half of the total- not even if they live in the awesomest bedroom in the place AND keep their entire anvil collection on the kitchen counters.

In New York City, there is such a law. The Rent Stabilization Code states that you cannot charge a roommate more than a "proportionate share" of the rent. 9 NYCRR 2525.7.

The legality of it aside, this is extremely common, as others have said. Since you're getting a good deal and like your roommate, why mess with a good thing?
posted by Mavri at 9:20 AM on March 31, 2009

I'm curious to know what "proportionate share" legally entails, especially since bedroom sizes & quality can vary so wildly. I'd hope it's _not_ based on the number of tenants, for obvious reasons.

Salamandrous, I'm curious to know more about the history of rent-stabilization laws in NYC that led to your saying "rent-stabilization laws are there to encourage income diversity and allow lower income people to live in New York." I thought they were there so that people who currently lived in apartments could continue to live there, as insurance against future markets. That doesn't necessarily include diversified or low-income groups.
posted by timoni at 3:44 PM on March 31, 2009

"For the purposes of this subdivision, an occupant's proportionate share shall be determined by dividing the legal regulated rent by the total number of tenants named on the lease and the total number of occupants residing in the subject housing accommodation. However, the total number of tenants named on the lease shall not include a tenant's spouse, and the total number of occupants shall not include a tenant's family member or an occupant's dependent child."

My guess for why it was done this way would be to cut down on the number of cases involving litigants squabbling about room size--the predictability of bright line rules, and all that. But, yeah, I can see it resulting in some lopsided situations.
posted by Mavri at 4:17 PM on March 31, 2009

Would you go and research the landlord's overhead -- what he paid for the building, his mortgage, the utilities, his taxes, etc -- and expect to pay exactly what's "fair," ie, a proportionate amount for the size/cost of your apartment? No. We expect that the landlord wants a profit on top of his costs, and that he'll charge what the market will bear, within reason, without calling the landlord a sleaze. Why expect different from your roommate/sub-lessor? Is it because the landlord is "the man" and your roommate is not?
posted by thebazilist at 8:12 PM on March 31, 2009

Just saw this. Timoni, I think what you're thinking of might be rent control laws, which apply to the tenant for as long as that particular tenant has that apartment. Rent stabilization laws tend to apply to the building (buildings built before a certain time, for example), or depending, a certain percentage of a new building for which the builder got financial perks from the government.

There's a variety of programs in NY for housing, and my impression is that their overall goal is to support diversity and prosperity from the bottom up, but of course that's up for discussion, especially since I'm not at all knowledgeable about their histories.

In any case, I'm pretty sure their purpose is NOT to help tenants make the profits off of the apartments that the landlords are legally prohibited from making.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:13 PM on April 5, 2009


Actually, the reason one wouldn't have to go research the landlord's overhead, taxes, costs, etc, is because the government does it (for rent stabilized apartments), so you don't have to. And because the government does it to the landlord, the lessor has no more right than the sublessor to benefit from those government restrictions *on the landlord*. We're not talking about the free market here.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:17 PM on April 5, 2009

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