is it necessary and/or advisable to have a written contract between a subletter and a tenant in nyc?
June 20, 2010 8:59 PM   Subscribe

should I worry about subletting a room in an apartment with no written agreement between me and the tenant on the lease?

i'm about to move to a place where all three of us in this three-bedroom apartment in NYC are subletting from one guy who's on the lease. they're all great people and i don't foresee any issues on any level. nevertheless, when i asked the tenant on the lease about whether i needed to sign anything, he said that there "hasn't been a need for a written contract" in the past. all i (and the other two presumably) had to do to get the place is give him a security deposit and that's it.

i understand from *his* point of view what he would gain from a contract - if i break any of his stuff or damage the apartment, i could theoretically walk out and all he would have was my security deposit. but if he's ok with no contract, what do *i*, the subletter, have to lose?

i'm pretty inexperienced with these sort of situations, and know zero about new york / nyc laws in this department either. am i exposing myself to legal or logistical liability of any sort? if i were to ask him to sign something, what would it say? i guess my question is two parts - should there be a contract at all; and if so, what should be in it? thanks askme, i love you.
posted by Muffpub to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Well, if you come home one day and all your possessions are sitting in boxes in the hallway and the locks have been changed you're probably going to wish you had a contract/lease.
posted by andoatnp at 9:15 PM on June 20, 2010

This has nothing to do with laws / rights but the most obvious one would seem to be that you'd lack an official renter's history: when applying to rent a new place where I live almost all landlords require you to supply documentation showing your last 1-2 places of residence and who you rented from (to filter out problem renters who wrecked the place / didn't pay rent).
posted by xdvesper at 9:17 PM on June 20, 2010

Do you want horror stories to make you want to do things by the book, or are you comfortable with very minimal tentant rights if something goes wrong, knowing that it is very unlikely that something will go wrong?

Yes you are exposing yourself to some liability; however, the likelihood of something going wrong is probably pretty minimal - barring murphy's law.

Incidentally though, by not signing something generally the tenant who is on a lease is the one that is responsible - meaning you shouldn't have liability if something goes wrong - but you also have very minimal legal recourse should the actual tenant decide to kick you out early, attempt to do something underhanded, or otherwise not be cool.

but really - from my perspective no contract = no security deposit. If he wants first and last, fine - get a receipt for last to make sure things are clear, but there's no way that they're going to hold the money properly in escrow if they're too lazy to have a sublet contract.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:17 PM on June 20, 2010

Personally, my minimum requirement is that if I am giving a security deposit, I want something written and signed acknowledging that I have given $X as a deposit and that it will be returned upon move-out as long as specific (listed) conditions are met.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2010

In NYC, if you're there for 30 days, you are a de facto tenant, and have the same rights as somebody with a lease has.

In fact, you're basically in better standing than the landlord if they try anything fishy.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:24 PM on June 20, 2010

Could it go bad? Yes. Will it? Who knows. I've been subletting (three places) without a written contract in three different places since I moved to New York in 2/2005. I've never had any serious problems that would have come out differently had I had a written contract.
posted by Jahaza at 9:31 PM on June 20, 2010

Assuming that you and the person you're renting from are decent people, it is almost impossible that you are going to end up in small claims court. However, having something in writing can prevent some disagreeable fighting down the line, so I would definitely make sure that the following things are agreed upon beforehand:

- how much notice you have to give to vacate
- when the rent is payable
- the amount of the deposit
- by how much, how often, and when the rent can be raised
- whether you can sublet your room if you go on vacation for 1 week / 1 month / 3 months.
- whether the other tenants can sublet their rooms if they leave (and whether you will have a say in who takes their place.)

you might want to talk about:

- overnight visitors staying in your room / staying in the common area
- how food is shared (most people share basics)
- if someone moves out, whether you will have a say in who moves in
- what the landlord is like (how often things get fixed, what gets fixed)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:35 PM on June 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I should add, that in that time, I've had two roommates (fellow sub-letters) who our (also living with us) leaseholders probably wishes they had them sign written contracts, because they were pains, or got behind on rent and then left, etc. But as a tenant, I haven't had any major problems.
posted by Jahaza at 9:36 PM on June 20, 2010

Yes, you should worry IMO. For a recent horror story that happened to a friend of mine in North Carolina see this AskMe. tl;dr don't even necessarily expect to be able to get back your possessions if things go horrendously wrong.

IANAL, so this isn't legal advice and possibly is completely worthless non-legal advice, but I think you should at least have a contract that has the basic understanding you've already verbally made in writing: that
  • you are a subletting tenant at the specified address
  • that you will be paying rent of a certain amount monthly to him and the amount may change in the future under x conditions
  • that either of you may terminate the subletting relationship with reasonable notice (thirty days? or whatever you agree to)
  • and that he is holding for you a deposit that will be returned to you at termination minus any damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear, that are caused by you or any guests you may have
If you don't get a contract (which I think he would be very smart to refuse to give you if you've already moved in - I actually would guess that you probably have much more to gain from a contract than he does, if tenant's rights are as liberal in NYC as I've heard) at least get receipts from him for the rent that say "rent for room at «address» for the month of «month»" or write the same on your checks before he cashes them.
posted by XMLicious at 1:20 AM on June 21, 2010

Yup, get an agreement. I've subletted at least 7 or 8 places in NYC, and each time signed a written note saying that I was subletting from what date to what date, was paying how much, that included rent and utilities, etc, is paying a security deposit of what. A few times it was typed up and copied, once it was scrawled on an index card. Nobody as such blinked an eye when I brought up the suggestion.

And listen -- if you ask for a written contract, and he balks at the idea, then you do NOT want to stay there, either. So either way, you're better off asking for something in writing.
posted by suedehead at 7:18 PM on June 21, 2010

Ah, here's an agreement I've used before:

Sublet Agreement 
It is mutually agreed on this 27th day of June, 2007, between Sublesssor, _______, and Sublessee, ______. that all the rights and duties described below shall be applied for the term of the sublet agreement specified below.

Description of Lease and Premises
Address of Rental Unit ___________ 
Term of Sublease: _____ to ____.

Provisions of Sublet Agreement
A. The sublessee shall be liable for the full rent of the sublessor in the amount of $ ____ per month.

B. The sublessee shall pay a security deposit in the amount of $____  to be held by ________ .

C. Rent of the sublessee shall be payable to  ________ at the address of _____________________________________________.

D. Rent of the sublessee shall be paid on or before the        day of the month.

E. Other conditions:

1. Sublessor must give Sublessee written notice, at least two weeks in advance, if she intends to end the term of the sublease earlier than indicated above.

2. Sublessee will forfeit her security deposit if she fails to give Sublessor written notice, at least two weeks in advance, if she intends to end the term of the sublease earlier than indicated above.

3. Sublessee will forfeit her security deposit if, at the end of the term of the sublease, the apartment has not been returned to the state of order and cleanliness in which it was found. This includes replenishing or replacing any household supplies used during her stay (i.e. sponges, garbage bags, paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning solutions).

4. Sublessee will not duplicate the keys to the apartment or apartment building.

5. Sublessee is responsible for one-half of all utility costs incurred during her stay, to be paid to _______

6.  Sublessee will provide his own bed linens (esp. sheets and pillowcases).

Sublessee Signature ______________ Date _______
Sublettor Signature ______________ Date _______

Modify this, and print this out, and give it to the guy. Note that this is not legal advice, and IANAL.
posted by suedehead at 7:24 PM on June 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks everyone! one more question if anyone's still out there listening - how do i get him to "sign" something over the internet?
posted by Muffpub at 12:23 PM on June 22, 2010

This is all anecdote and obviously not legal advice in any way. I've lived in New York for 10 years, and never had my own private lease before (i.e. I've always been a roommate or a subletter). In all those years, I have only once been asked to sign anything. I've never had a problem, and never rued the day I didn't force my roommates/sub-landlord/whoever into a written agreement.

Is it possible that you'll come home one day to find all your stuff in the hall and the locks changed? I suppose. Anything is possible. Some kind of cutesy homemade "contract" probably wouldn't protect you in a situation like that, anyway.

I would imagine that renter's insurance would cover you in most issues of roommates stealing/damaging your belongings.
posted by Sara C. at 5:48 AM on June 30, 2010

If cutesy homemade written versions of your homemade verbal agreement didn't matter I don't think that courts would ask whether or not you have one (and then ask for receipts, or correspondence, or anything, anything at all in writing...)

Insurance is a great idea though, I would think that a smart insurance company would make you document a lot of the things a court would want documented.
posted by XMLicious at 7:41 AM on June 30, 2010

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