help me not get screwed over by my roommate
May 4, 2014 4:48 PM   Subscribe

My troublesome roommate is doing a last minute sublet of her room in our 2 BR apartment for the summer. The sublet seems a little shady to me, as she is not telling management and is just planning to have the renter pay her directly. Am I naive to think she should tell the apartment complex? She is also very behind in all of the bills (cable/electric/gas), so I'm worried about getting her to pay her share in full before the subletter moves in. Help me sort through the legality of all this to avoid finding myself in a bad situation. Also, talk to me about breaking an apartment lease.

This issue has many layers, but I want to focus on the urgent and/or possibly illegal ones.

1) Bills-

The bills thing has been giving me a ton of stress for several months now. I write down the exact amount she owes each month, remind her constantly, send texts, etc., and she simply does not pay. Or, she pays once every ~3 months, but even then not usually the entirety of what she owes. It's hard for me to even keep track of which part is her responsibility after it rolls over into the next month and I factor in late fees. We had a conversation about this and it did not get better. The bills are either in both of our names or just my name. I'm worried it will affect my credit. I assume management doesn't care about this, but is there NOTHING that can be done?

2) Sublease-

It's a 3 month sublease and she found someone online. She had her "friend's dad who's a lawyer" help her create a makeshift contract on MS Word, stating the terms of the sublease. Is this a legally binding contract? She quoted a higher price to the subletter and was planning on pocketing the difference. We had an argument about that and she decided to tell the subletter the real price (I think to placate me, for fear of me telling management her plans). Is it normal/common to do a sublease like this? Why is she avoiding doing it legally? Who's responsibility is it if the subletter does not pay?

3) Getting out of lease-

My lease isn't up until October, but ideally I would like to break ties with this person and move on w/ my life sooner. How do you get out of an apartment lease in NYC (Brooklyn)? My super is very unresponsive and has a terrible attitude. I can't think of ONE time he has helped or even been respectful towards me. I'm not even sure who owns the building because the company we signed our lease through is different from the one we send our rent checks to. We had laundry in the basement, but there has been a giant plumbing-related hole in the ground preventing access to the washing machines. I texted my super asking when it would be fixed, and he said he didn't know. Is there any way I could use my issues with the super, the laundry situation, and/or the non-payment of bills as leverage to get out of my lease? Is it bad for your credit to end an apartment lease?

Please help me. I'm so stressed and I'm feeling backed into a corner here.
posted by DayTripper to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1) If the bills are in your name, they're your responsibility. Period. If she isn't paying you and you're not paying the full amount and accumulating late fees, those fees are also yours, and yes, it is ruining your credit. Pay your bills. There is no such thing as split responsibility on bills. It's giving you stress because you know she won't pay but you're not making a contingency plan; namely paying the bills yourself.

2) The management company may or may not care about subleases, but those details should be in your original lease. On the surface, this doesn't sound all that strange. It happens in Chicago all the time, for example, as a normal course of business. The thing is, her name (and yours) is still on the lease. The subletter could basically trash the place, and you and she would be held responsible. And she doesn't sound very responsible, which means you will be held responsible. Which brings us to...

3) Your roommate is screwing you over and leaving you holding the bag. She knows what's up, and what's up is that her roommate is paying the bills while she beats a hasty retreat, with no consequences. You probably need to leave. Learn your rights as a tenant, and then find a way to legally break your lease, and get out. Personal issues with your super are probably not grounds for breaking the lease, and the bills are definitely not grounds to break it, but lack of maintenance might be. IANAL. Also, you mentioned that she doesn't seem to be keen on you telling the management company that she's subletting; if it's against your lease terms, you could be evicted. That will be bad for your credit and your ability to rent again.
posted by juniperesque at 5:03 PM on May 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

Start taking pictures and some sort of a diary of events, ya never know.
posted by Freedomboy at 5:10 PM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

You need to fish out a copy of your lease and review it, pronto. The lease will have terms related to both subletting and breaking the lease. Also, here is a link to a 2011 document explaining NY tenants' rights published by the NY Attorney General.

IAAL (in a different jurisdiction) but IANYL, and to get definitive answers on this you'll need to consult a NY renters' rights organization and/or an attorney, but: I can say with 99% certainty that the hole in the laundry room floor is not grounds for breaking your lease. The laundry room is not located in your apartment, so it would not qualify as rendering the apartment uninhabitable, which is required when you're breaking a lease for issues about the physical condition of the place. See page 18 at the linked document.

With respect to subletting, that document also indicates that subletting is not allowed without the landlord's written consent. A landlord, however, may not unreasonably refuse consent. Only a NY lawyer or tenants' rights organization can tell you what constitutes "unreasonable" refusal in NY.

About the bills: If the bills are in your name, they are indeed your responsibility. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to force someone to pay a share of a bill you are responsible for if they don't want to do so. You could always threaten to take her to small claims court, but only you can decide if you want to escalate to that level. (You might not even have to go - a letter on an attorney's letterhead could do it, but again, YMMV.)
posted by sevensnowflakes at 5:22 PM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

One more thing: with respect to moving out, sometimes even when a lease can't be legally broken (meaning you can't be discharged from the responsibility for the remaining rent of the lease term), leasing companies are willing to allow tenants to do the legwork for finding a new tenant who can take over the original tenant's portion of the lease. I'd definitely investigate that route.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 5:33 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't advise you on the subletting, other than checking the lease to see if this is allowed.

Regarding the shared bills—you're probably screwed. She's moving out soon, and it sounds like she'll have no problem leaving you on the hook for what she owes. It sounds like there are two alternatives.

1)If the lease doesn't allow subletting, you can threaten to rat her out until you get paid.

2)Small claims court, but you'll have to hurry. She's gone in a month, right?

Is she in college? Some schools will hang up credits or graduation if it looks like people are trying to skate out of town while owing money.

But you should mentally prepare yourself, chances are you going to be left hanging either way.
posted by Marky at 5:52 PM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you don't have a legal reason always ask the Landlord. 'Look this isn't working yada yada.' And they may say yeah 30 days notice no problem. They may not.

Honestly you should have 100 percent say in who she subleases to. It's your roommate. It is not hers.

I'd Google the person. See if they have a background. If so you can use that as leverage with your roommate and the landlord.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:59 PM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd take her nicest stuff and lock it away somewhere until she paid up on the cable/electric etc. and went with me to the management office to get the sublease figured out. And why would you trust her to pay over rent paid to her by her sub lessee? Nope. I would also bet the sub lessor must have her credit approved and a fee paid for the transfer of tenant name to be made by the management company. Don't turn your back on this chick unless you're willing to be screwed.
posted by Lornalulu at 6:16 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yup, taking and holding an expensive item of hers until she pays up is probably the only way you can ensure she doesn't screw you over.

Alternatively, is she still in school? Contact her school's student affairs office and/or her parents and let them know about your concerns.
posted by killdevil at 6:22 PM on May 4, 2014

Cancel every service except the electricity .

Send a certified letter to your landlord ( same place you send the rent) advising them of your situation (roommate skipping out on the lease) and ask them to contact you so that you can discuss your options.

posted by jbenben at 7:19 PM on May 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Is the apartment rent stabilized? If so, here's some info saying tenants need to ask the landlord's permission and can't charge more than 10% more than the rent if the place is furnished. (As others said, your lease also might just say that subletting is not allowed at all).
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:53 PM on May 4, 2014

Btw if subletting is legit, turnabout is fair play. Sublet your room out until October, drop the utilities and move out.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:18 PM on May 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'd take her nicest stuff and lock it away somewhere until she paid up on the cable/electric etc. and went with me to the management office to get the sublease figured out.

While you've got some real problems here that are likely to end up with you being left holding the bag on some bills, I would not take any of her things without talking to an attorney first. Otherwise you're potentially opening yourself up to some real trouble.
posted by azpenguin at 9:25 PM on May 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

I can't speak to the subleasing stuff because i haven't seen your lease, and i'm not familiar with NY-area tenant law. What i will say though is, that no matter what your first move without even telling her should be to contact the landlord and say she's trying to do this. Maybe they already know, maybe they don't. Take their temperature. You want them to know ASAP so that if they are against it, and are willing to work with you on terminating the lease because of it. Check what your actual lease itself says too, but i've seen even assholey landlords be pretty accommodating about this type of thing.

She is also very behind in all of the bills (cable/electric/gas), so I'm worried about getting her to pay her share in full before the subletter moves in. Help me sort through the legality of all this to avoid finding myself in a bad situation. Also, talk to me about breaking an apartment lease.

Yea, i would say she doesn't get to move anyone else in until she settles this out, and it's her problem to keep paying until she does. You are not being unrealistic or catastrophizing to assume that her plan is just to disappear, and assume that a new person taking over the bills is basically just a clear slate for her to walk away from. Because in her mind, what leverage do you even have if she's gone?

As for how to enforce this, i honestly like the "hold her stuff hostage" methods, especially if she seems like the type of person who would essentially be judgement proof in small claims. You also only have any grounds in small claims to collect on stuff their name was on, and i've only ever seen people do this with rent. That kind of hardball, questionable stuff is the only way i've gained any ground back in shitty roommate situations like this.

I have two friends with ruined credit from having the electric/water/etc in their names in a situation like this. jbenben, honestly, probably has the best idea here if you don't want to get boned over. You should be looking to cut your losses on this place, not only collect the money this person owes you.

Is it bad for your credit to end an apartment lease?

Not anywhere i've ever seen. They generally charge a large fee though(on the order of at least one additional months rent). This will be outlined very clearly in every lease i've ever looked over. If it isn't, check out what the local landlord tenant laws are. You should actually be doing that anyways, since i've seen more than one lease that had blatantly illegal language in it that you could happily ignore(I.E. in some places there is a cap to how much fees/penalties can be, how much notice needs to be given, etc and anything outside those parameters just doesn't count and defaults back to the standard minimum or maximum laid out in the law).

Another thing i'd note is that if you're not just going to lay down for this, which you shouldn't... you should prepare in advance by getting some of your valuable stuff out of the house, locking things up, etc. In a very similar situation i had things stolen, and i also had a "where's the money? i'm going to be pursuing official channels on this after this discussion" sort of conversation turn in to a fairly brutal fist fight, and i've seen a stuff-smashing thing go down too.
posted by emptythought at 10:46 PM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Subleasing without a landlord's permission is pretty common. It's a bit slimy to charge more than the rent, but I've seen lots of people do that too.
posted by redlines at 11:45 PM on May 4, 2014

"She quoted a higher price to the subletter and was planning on pocketing the difference."

A sublet is more than the apartment - sublettees use the original renter's furniture, appliances, kitchenware, cable TV, gas, electricity, internet, etc. It is more than just the "rent check" if you factor in all those costs.
Her "pocketing" the difference is her having money to pay for cable/gas/electricity.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:28 AM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

You're in control. Tell her that no one moves in until ALL the bills are paid, you meet the roommate AND you and she have that same lawyer draw up an agreement that says:

1. She is responsible for past due expenses AND any sublet expenses.

2. She will return on X date, and if she doesn't then she will pay you $$$$$.

3. Or. She can bail now, and you can find a better roommate and she owes $$$$ for past due bills.

Otherwise tell the Super, Mgt company and the place you mail the checks.

Good luck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:58 AM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ban her from using the cable/Internet - change the password on the router, remove the TV, whatever - until she pays all of her bills, in full.

And yeah, what folks are saying above about her subletting: 1) it may break your lease and you should talk to the landlord immediately, and 2) if it's allowed, she doesn't get to sublet to anyone without your approval first.

Seriously, she's being a complete dick of a roommate, and you need to step up the confrontation before she leaves if you want to have any hope of getting your money, and a subletting person you can live with.
posted by mediareport at 9:25 AM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your roommate is screwing you over and leaving you holding the bag.

Seriously, this person is trying to seriously fuck you over. You need to be firm and tell them to stop, or you will get seriously fucked over.

If the lease doesn't allow subletting, you can threaten to rat her out until you get paid.

This should be your first move: "If you don't pay all of your bills before Wednesday morning, I'm going to call the landlord to make sure the subletting is legal."

Then, after they pay the bills, call the landlord to make sure the subletting is legal, and discuss options for getting this toxic, obnoxious person out of your life immediately.
posted by mediareport at 9:37 AM on May 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

You are about to get royally screwed here. You need to find leverage, something she cares about enough to get her to choose to pay your bills than endure whatever unpleasant situation comes up. Think about what she really cares about in terms of housing and comfort, then cut if off until she pays the bills.

Is she an air conditioning junkie? Cut off the electricity.
Does she watch TV 24/7? Cut the cable and/or remove the TV
Likes surfing the internet? Change the internet password
She likes to cook? Disconnect the gas.

Yes, this will result in your discomfort too, but if you act like you don't give a damn what she thinks, you probably won't have to endure it for long before she gives in. If she refuses, keep escalating.

This will only work if she doesn't have a partner and somewhere else to stay. If she does.. you basically have the "take her laptop and lock it in the closet" option, or the "call the landlord about an illegal sublease" option. When it comes to the sublease, you're really in control because you can flat out tell the new tenant that they're living there illegally and they do not have your permission to move in (not too many people would be interested in stepping into that situation) or siccing the management company on them.

Also, this sounds like one of those screwed up college roommate situations to me. If that is the case, I wouldn't hesitate to call her parents.
posted by zug at 10:29 AM on May 5, 2014

Btw if subletting is legit, turnabout is fair play. Sublet your room out until October, drop the utilities and move out.

Be aware that if you do this, it's likely you will be held fully financially responsible by your landlord for any damage or unpaid rent left by your subletter and quite possibly also by your roommate's subletter. The landlord has a contract with you and your roommate, not with any subletters.
posted by jaguar at 10:31 AM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know that since the bills are in your name you are legally responsible for those bills not your roommate... but there is such a thing as a verbal contract and when it comes to recording conversations NY is a one party state. So it's legal for you to secretly record a conversation with your roommate where it's made clear she agreed to pay a certain percentage of the bills. If you decide to take her to small claims court with that evidence I'm assuming the judge has to take it into consideration. I'm not a lawyer so I'm not sure if the judge is more likely to say the name on the bill outweighs any verbal contract made or not, but it's worth a shot.
posted by manderin at 11:01 AM on May 5, 2014

This is not going to end well. If you allow the sublet I would garnish the rent the sublet is paying her enough so it covers the bills. So the sublet is writing you a check before she gets any money. That check should include enough to pay the back-due bills, current bills, and rent.
posted by Gungho at 1:50 PM on May 5, 2014

No No No No No. You are going to share your living space with someone you've never even met? You are going to let her sublease when she owes you money? She is walking all over your rights as a roommate. I've never heard of anyone just finding some random person to move in without their roommate(s) saying yes or no. 1) tell her no one moves in without your agreement; 2) the subleaser pays deposit and rent checks directly to you 3) the whole deal is off if by the time she is planning to move out she has not paid you the money she owes 4) if she doesn't meet these requirements you will tell the landlord. Don't back down. She's not a trustworthy person, and these requirements from you are totally reasonable.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:07 PM on May 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey guys-- thanks for the help! Quick update:

She has paid the bills (after I threatened to stop the sublease from going forward), but I am still trying to get her to switch at least one of them into her name. I am also still concerned about the sublet situation. I contacted my flaky management office and they've yet to get back to me.

We're not in college but we're in our early-mid 20s. Her parents have zero involvement so reaching out to them would be futile.

The extra cost of rent that she initially was going to charge did NOT include any bills or utilities. She was simply planning on taking the extra cash for herself.
posted by DayTripper at 8:07 AM on May 8, 2014

You still haven't told us what your lease says about subletting.

That's really important here. What does your lease say about subletting?

Look, she's a total dick. You need to insist on approval of any new roommate, and contact the property owner immediately if the management company is dropping the ball in getting back to you promptly.
posted by mediareport at 8:46 AM on May 8, 2014

If the sublet is not allowed by the lease, or not performed in the way required by the lease, please be aware that unless you and your roommate have individual leases (that is, you each signed a different document saying you were legally responsible for only 1/2 the rent, 1/2 the deposit, and for the condition only of your own room), you can likely be held 100% financially responsible for the rent if the subletter becomes a deadbeat or flakes and for any damages she causes while she's there. You could likely sue your roommate to get back the money, but it could subject you to a long ugly process in the meantime.

It is in your financial and legal interest to make sure the sublet is legal. At the very very least, if the sublet's illegal, your roommate needs to cough up her full rent to cover the subleased months, and that money needs to be fully cleared by your bank and in your account, before she moves out; the subletter can pay her rather than you. Then if the subletter flakes, it's your roommate's responsibility to track down the money.

Leases are legal contracts. Renters act like they're some sort of minir formality, and a lot of landlords are nice enough to be flexible about enforcing them, but it's important to understand what you have legally committed to and what responsibilities/penalties you've agreed to if something goes wrong.
posted by jaguar at 10:57 AM on May 8, 2014

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