Subletting dispute: what are my options?
February 24, 2013 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I recently subleased a place in NYC for three months. I put down a $2000 deposit and paid $3200 for the first month. I’ve been there for two weeks. The lease specified that I’d pay for each remaining month on the first of the month. I've been told "you’ve lost your fucking money, get out". What next?

The roommate, who’s subletting the spare room to me, hadn’t expressed any concerns about the arrangement until today, when she screamed at me for half an hour about all the things I do that annoy her. She told me that if I can’t live by her rules I should get out. That’s fine with me, so I said that if she wanted to pro-rate the rent I’ve paid and return the rest of my money, I could be out whenever she wanted. Her response was “no, you’ve lost your fucking money, get out”. Later, she said that if I wanted to stay, she wanted the rest of my rent up front, so it’s not clear to me if she really wants me out or not. In any case, it seems like a bad idea to give more money to someone who has already expressed a desire to take my money and leave me without a place to stay.

Both legally and practically, what are my options? I can afford to eat a $3600 loss ($5200 - the $1600 in rent) and find another place, but, as a matter of principle, I’d rather not. In case it matters, I’m certainly not wealthy, but I’ve earned enough as an engineer that I can handle a surprise $3600 expense without it being a disaster.

This happened less than an hour ago, so I’m planning on seeing what she has to say when she’s calmed down. But, if that doesn’t work out, I’d like to know what a reasonable course of action might be. I’ve never had a landlord or subletter dispute, so I’m really familiar with the law, and if that law even matters practically (e.g., even if I’m legally allowed to stay, staying in a place where the other person is trying to make your life miserable seems like an unpleasant experience).
posted by suncoursing to Work & Money (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What does your lease say?
posted by halogen at 12:20 PM on February 24, 2013

Best answer: "I am prepared to leave the apartment at the end of my first month if you are prepared to hand me my $2000 deposit in cash. Otherwise, NYC tenancy law is on my side and I'll just sit here for the entire duration of my lease."

Under no circumstances have you "lost your fucking money" unless you have caused damage that entitles her to keep the deposit.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:23 PM on February 24, 2013 [39 favorites]

I don't know the law in your area either, and I encourage you to find out what it says.

My temptation, though, would be to start immediately looking for another place to live, make sure there's a good lock on the bedroom door that you have the only key to, and tell the roommate something like, "I've got a lease, so I can sue you for my deposit or you can give it back to me and I'll leave quietly, at the end of this month."

Or: "Give me my deposit back, or I'll make sure every potential subletter knows you've taken my deposit unfairly and left me with no place to stay."
posted by nadise at 12:29 PM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure what your legal rights are --- contact the NYC Tenant's Rights folks for that kind of advice --- but I'd say practically speaking, you'll be best off getting out of there as soon as you can..... if Roommate goes that nutty on you after only two weeks, living with her ain't gonna improve!

Do not pay this woman for months in advance, do tell her she is required to give back your $2000 deposit, and move move MOVE out. Also, starting immediatly, try not to leave anything in the apartment that you would hate to lose: get your private papers/computer/jewelry/anything valuable out of there now, even if you have to rent a storage unit to do it --- I can easily see her (legally or not) literally changing the locks in the middle of the day and making it impossible for you to retrieve your stuff.

A strong lock on your bedroom door would be nice, but that isn't going to help if she locks you out of the entire apartment.
posted by easily confused at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

You paid for a month so legally you get stay. If they throw you or early you can sue for damages. And once you're there for thirty days you have tenant's rights.

You can also Google the NY Attorney General tenant's rights guide.

You can also Google for the NEDAP fact sheet on illegal evictions.

If you are low income or are very nice you can call City Bar Justice Center Legal Hotline M-F from 9 to 5 for free advice. 212-626-7383.
posted by mountmccabe at 12:38 PM on February 24, 2013

Best answer: I would also start taking photographs of your room and the common areas of the apartment to document their condition as of today. You don't want her claiming you damaged something in a bid to keep your deposit.
posted by ambrosia at 12:46 PM on February 24, 2013 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: It was probably a bad idea to talk to her again while she was still angry, but this is so weird for me that I asked for clarification. She told me my options are to stay until March 15th and lose my deposit (I moved in Feb 15th, and paid for one month), or pay the rest of my rent up front on March 10th. She told me she doesn't negotiate and that "if you want your deposit back, take me to court".

Financially, I can afford to lose the $2000, but that seems wrong. I suppose I'll need a lawyer now. Since you can't ask more than one question per week here, let me amend my question to ask if anyone knows a reputable local attorney who might handle this sort of thing.
posted by suncoursing at 12:52 PM on February 24, 2013

Best answer: you should call these lawyers even though you may not be in the LGBT community. i live in nyc as well and can personally vouch for their expertise in housing law issues. they tend to represent beleaguered tenants, that's you.

in the meantime, take photos of everything ASAP (good idea ambrosia!!) to prevent made up claims of damages. get a good lock for your bedroom door or consider storing valuables & essentials elsewhere, such as at work, because she sounds nuts. please document what she says to you about this, or get her to say it over email so you have it in writing. this will help if you hire a lawyer. so if she starts up in a tirade, cut it off with "i won't be threatened or intimidated. i know my rights. if you want to talk about this you can contact my lawyer."

even as a subletter, the law in NY protects you after you've lived there for 30 days. this link may be of interest.
posted by zdravo at 1:02 PM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get lots of video/photographic evidence, and contact a lawyer about getting out and suing the crazy person.

Living with that nonsense can't be safe or healthy.
posted by grudgebgon at 1:16 PM on February 24, 2013

Best answer: Former NYC housing advocate here.

If the grouchy lady in question is on the lease and actually living in the apt., you are not a subletter but a roommate. (She can evict you with 30 days' written notice, no less, but beyond that you don't have any relationship to the landlord or the unit. She can't just tell you to get out.)

Here is a housing agency with a good page on roommates' rights.

But don't get all legal here. Housing Court is not interested in roommate/roommate disputes (as opposed to landlord/tenant or landlord/subtenant matters). You would in all probability be referred to Small Claims to get your deposit back, that's it.

Just find another place. Leave March 15th (a month after you moved in). Don't give her any more money. Re: the deposit, I guess you have 3 options:

(1) Write it off.

(2) Take pictures and try to get it back in Small Claims if she doesn't refund it. (How much is your time worth an hour?)

(3) Stay for a month and 2 weeks (approx. end of March) and use the $2000 as the last two weeks' rent. I would do this myself if she was a friend of a friend or some other quasi-acquaintance who may be a huge asshole, but is not going to harm you, change the locks, or destroy your stuff. BUT it sounds here like she's more of the psycho stranger bent.
posted by skbw at 1:20 PM on February 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Skbw has it. 30 day notice to quit for her to legally evict you, but L&T is a nightmare and not going to help you. Stay through the month you've paid for, take photos of the room when leaving (use a newspaper with that date in the photo as an official time stamp) then file in small claims for the deposit. You can file suit online in NYC, I believe it's through turbo court. Night court so you won't miss work.

IANAL, etc.
posted by jenad at 1:38 PM on February 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW when our landlord in D.C. attempted to illegally hold on to our deposit, we went to small claims court. We did not need a lawyer though we did need a process server (Do you know or can you find out where she works? Might come in handy later).

The small claims court experience: the judge said at the outset, if you are here because you are a landlord trying to illegally hold on to someone's deposit, I hope you brought your checkbook (not those words). We went to mediation before we saw the judge. The landlord lied about us screwing him over and attempted to get us to settle for <50% of what he owed us. We opted to take it up with the judge who basically said to the landlord, did you hear what I said earlier? We were done by lunchtime and got our money a few weeks later. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 3:14 PM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your roommate clearly doesn't know the law. Luckily, your friends here on the green, do.

I'm with skbw and option #3, myself. Document EVERYTHING. Take notes on every conversation.

Here is my gut: she planned on stealing your money from the outset. don't give her another penny.

Here is my second gut feeling:

Always keep a copy on your lease on hand and ride it out the extra 2 weeks if you can.

I think crazy lady has already spent your money. I think crazy lady might be behind to the landlord and may be getting evicted herself, or some similar shenanigans.

Don't give crazy lady another dime. and tell her you have right and retaining an attorney. Tell her you will be HAPPY to leave immediately, provided she gives you a FULL REFUND, prorated, but she is not entitled to your deposit.

Put it in writing. Be short and polite.

She obviously doesn't know the law. Don't tell her her legal options (that's her homework to do) but let her know you are on top of YOUR end of the equation.

Let her calm down. Hopefully, she will back off.

I'm worried you both may get locked out by the sheriff if the apartment is in the eviction process, so see if you can find out somehow if the rent on the unit is paid and up to date with the landlord.

My other thought is crazy lady is a druggie.

Either way this is a scam. Don't fall for it. You have rights.

Stay safe. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 3:45 PM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry for typo's. And don't stay if it is unsafe.

I guess I'm hoping she'll back off once she realizes you know your rights and she can't just steal your money.

That said

Don't stay if you or your stuff isn't safe.

Document everything. Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:04 PM on February 24, 2013

Sorry to hear this happening to you. You seem pretty zen about it all, though, so good on you. Everyone here has offered some good advice. Seconding the option of getting in contact with the building manager or landlord and somehow making them aware of the situation.
posted by ageispolis at 4:09 PM on February 24, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone. I've gotten as much stuff out as I could easily carry in a couple of backpacks (which includes everything I would have a hard time replacing) and I'm staying at a friend's place. I've taken photos documenting the condition of everything except the roommate's room, which I haven't entered (though she's been in my room since I've moved in). I've put the photos on dropbox, which should timestamp them, should it come to that. It hadn't occurred to me that I should worry her falsely claiming damages, but in light of the comments here and the facts of the situation, it seems like an obvious thing to be concerned about.

I didn't include the list of complaints, because I didn't want to risk derailing the thread, but it seems relevant to at least mention what sort of complains they were. Some were typical roommate annoyances that would be easy to address had they been brought up before an angry explosion, some were things that everyone I've talked to agree are completely unreasonable, and some were outright fabrications. It's not clear to me if she's actually convinced herself of the fabrications, or if she's consciously lying, but it worries both me and the people I've told the story to that her narrative is disconnected from reality.

My apologies for any grammatical errors and my generally poor prose. I'm running on very little sleep, and I was going to take a nap when this happened. Instead, I've been scrambling to find a place all day (it looks like I have both a short term solution and a longer term solution). If I could hire a lawyer to handle it and keep her from gaining from basically stealing $3600 from me, I'd do it, but it doesn't seem worth the time, stress, and hassle of going to small claims court, where it's going to be her word against mine.
posted by suncoursing at 5:46 PM on February 24, 2013

Only a city marshal can lock out an NYC tenant. If you are illegally locked out, call the police and they will immediately assure you are let back in, and will tell her not to do it again.

(She can evict you with 30 days' written notice, no less, but beyond that you don't have any relationship to the landlord or the unit. She can't just tell you to get out.)

She can sue for eviction after 30 days (properly worded) written notice. That process will take another 30 days.

If you can document that she kicked you out, and prevented you from staying there, then it's no one's word against anyone else's, it's simply, "where you locked out by a city marshal." Triple damages on an illegal lockout, where damages include hotel stays, etc. I'd go back there and let her lock me out if she cares to.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:36 PM on February 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Um, why did you leave without at least putting everything in writing to her, including what she owes you prorated and your deposit, for illegally kicking you out.

Really, she can't force you to move right now, although I understand what you ar doing by way of protecting yourself and your possessions.

The problem is that once you willingly vacate, without documentation to the contrary (email plus certified letter) she can claim you skipped out, vs. you claiming she kicked you out (which again, she can not do, legally.) Rhis will effect you in small claims court, or it might give her reason to ignore a demand letter for the monies owed that she will receive from you/your lawyer prior to small claims court.

Don't give the keys back or give formal notice until you speak with a lawyer.

You are still legally a tenant. Don't make it easy for her to rip you off, even if you put your peace of mind and (possibly) safety, first.
posted by jbenben at 7:30 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Again, apologies for all of my typo's!

Phone typing.
posted by jbenben at 8:18 PM on February 24, 2013

Just a thought that those wiser than me might comment on--perhaps it would be worth getting the police involved. If you make a complaint concerning being forced to leave the apartment, perhaps that would give you more leverage in a small claims situation. (and you may want an escort and witness to pick up the rest of your stuff in case of the crazy.)
posted by BlueHorse at 8:26 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hope this works out and you get your deposit back. I highly recommend filing a case in small claims court even if you don't intend to follow through. If you've filed, you can document that fact on sites like and link it to her name and address so anyone else considering renting from her will find out by googling what she's up to. (Filing the case makes it harder for her to go after you for libel since the existence of the case will be a matter of public record.)

She sounds like a scam artist of some kind, and I wouldn't be surprised if you are not the first person she's ripped off this way. Maybe you can be the last.
posted by rpfields at 6:47 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I could hire a lawyer to handle it and keep her from gaining from basically stealing $3600 from me, I'd do it, but it doesn't seem worth the time, stress, and hassle of going to small claims court, where it's going to be her word against mine.

I'm puzzled as to why you're just folding here. The law is on your side. Find your pants and take a position here; don't reward her for theft and fiduciary abuse. Stay for the month you paid for; do not tell her if you've made alternative arrangements; do tell her you will not be vacating unless she hands you your entire deposit in cash or an itemised bill when the 30 days are up.

Is there something you're not telling us about why this woman wants you out of her apartment? Because honestly at this point, your willingness to just walk away from thousands of dollars to avoid conflict is pinging as shady.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:01 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Send your roommate an email and a certified letter:

"Since you have insisted that I pay the rest of the rent upfront, and based upon the unpleasantness this morning, I have decided, per your demends, I will vacate the apartment as of March 15th, the date that I've paid my rent through. I can vacate earlier, but I will insist upon return of my pro-rated rent. I would like to make an appointment to do a final walk-through and to make arrangements for the return of my $2,000 deposit.

Should you withhold my money, I will file a case in small claims court for the return of my deposit.

I can be reached at this phone number/address should you have any questions."

I'd go to Small Claims court in a heartbeat. Plus, you're in NY, so once you've filed, you can call People's Court, and see if they'll arbitrate it for you. You get to be on TV, and when you win, they pay you, so you get your dough!

Document everything, save your text messages and any voice mails she may leave.

You're well out of crazy-town, but don't let her keep your money.

Also, I don't care what her complaints are, if you have a lease, she can't kick you out and she can't keep your deposit!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:38 AM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take her to court. She's talking above her knowledge and you are due a couple grand. It's worth it. She may even back off when she realizes you have reasearched what the f you are talking about as opposed to her off the cuff approach.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:53 AM on February 25, 2013

Okay, you've got your valuables out. Continue to remove all but the minimum of your stuff from the apartment. Can you get a lawyer to write her a letter, saying something like you'll vacate immediately if she hands over the $2000? Legally you may have several other avenues available, including small claims court; but practically speaking, staying for your full already-paid-for month might be the only way to convince her to cough it up. I'd also suggest you tell WackyWoman that you'll be out of there after March 15: last thing you want to do is give her ammunition against you.

Definately move out no later than March 15, no matter what --- luckily you've already managed to find places to go: marvelous! Of course, if she has been violent or has threatened violence, get out now: your safety isn't worth either the money or the principle of the thing. Meanwhile, stay there at night, maybe with a bureau pushed against the bedroom door so she can't burst in yelling at you.
posted by easily confused at 10:06 AM on February 25, 2013

Small claims court is surprisingly good for this kind of claim. Definitely take her to small claims court.

And I wouldn't stay there on principle. Getting out is the smartest thing. In a few months or years, this money will mean nothing to you, but if you stay there and something really nasty happens, it'll never be worth the money. You certainly won't be getting your money's worth if you've pushed a bureau up against the bedroom door. Creepy.

But again, take her to small claims court. Do that both on principle and for the dough.
posted by Capri at 4:45 PM on February 25, 2013

If you get out, you should leave some clothes, personal items, and your toothbrush. If she locks you out, and you call the police, they will likely ask you things like, "where is your tooth brush?" Then they will certainly restore you to possession.

if you have a lease, she can't kick you out and she can't keep your deposit!

If she has accepted your rent then you have a lease, maybe just not a written one, but that doesn't matter at all if you have proof of payment. Send yourself a certified letter to the address. Either you will receive it, proving tenancy, or not, indicating a possible federal offense on her part.

New York has the weirdest deposit return laws of any state. There is no specific time limit to return your deposit, just that it must be within a "reasonable amount of time." Absent any contract specifying when it is due, the courts usually find reasonable to be "within 30 to 60 days."

After 30 days is kind of pushing it, and you can get a judgement anytime after 30 days. Go to 100 Centre Street, near China Town, just north of Canal and enter through the metal detectors and ask at the information desk for small claims and landlord tenant offices. There are free attorneys in room 100, and you then go to other floors and the clerks at the windows will walk you through the forms to fill out. You could pursue this through either venue. Small claims is more for getting the deposit if you have already vacated, because then you're not a tenant anymore.

A lockout is L & T, and if that happens you can get damages likely to exceed your deposit. A small claims judgement for $2000 will be a hollow victory, because then you will have to collect it and that is a whole 'nother process. But it's all not that hard to do, and doesn't take too much effort. Both of these courts are geared to people coming in without attorneys and the process is relaxed to allow for that. There is plenty of on-site advice. If you get a sullen or crabby clerk, just get back in line and try another one at a different window.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:43 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the help, folks. Here's a quick update: I'd moved most, but not all of my things out (I left things I couldn't cram into my backpack there). When I stopped by tonight to pick them up, I was locked out. There's at least one lock on the door I wasn't given a key to. She originally claimed she never used that lock, but that's clearly not true.

I wasn't sure what would happen, so I asked a guy from the program I'm in to come with me as a witness in case there was an altercation. That didn't happen, but something unexpected happened anyway.
posted by suncoursing at 4:08 PM on February 28, 2013

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