Help me not pay twice as much rent!
September 2, 2007 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Moved out: roommate won't give me my last month's rent back. What do I do?

The sequence of events -

1) I moved into a room into a two-bedroom apartment (this is in NYC), and signed a sublease agreement with the lease owner (my roommate). The sublease agreement was month-to-month. I paid him the first month's and last month's rent

2) After little more than a week after living there, I told my roommate that I wasn't staying, and that I was moving out. I posted notices up on Craigslist, and found him multiple people willing to take the room (he wanted to make the final decision).

3) I kept on living in the apartment for the next three weeks.

4) Fast forward to now: I moved out after a month, gave him the keys. I asked for the last month's rent back (since I paid two month's rent, but only stayed a month), and he told me that his financial situation was bad, and that he would only be able to give me $20 a month, unless things change or he gets a paying job (which I assume means that he doesn't currently).

On top of that, he told me that I was on the lease as well! I had never heard anything about this, nor had he told me anything about a lease, especially since the agreement was most certainly a sublease/sublet agreement. He said that he just went ahead and put me on the lease, since he thought I would be staying for a while -- but not to worry, since I didn't sign the lease, and so it's not valid. What??

I told him I'd have to think things over - $20 a month comes to a bit more than three years! I was also counting on getting this last month's rent, since my own financial situation isn't that great (credit card debts, etc).

What should I do? What are my options? Small claims? Quite honestly, I'm angry and annoyed, and $20 a month is pretty unreasonable. I know I should have talked to him earlier about this, but I feel like it's pretty obvious that if that I told him that I was moving out after a week or so, he would have set aside the second month's rent to return to me. Also, the thing about me being on the list is strange and kind of creeps me out...

I have an email account at: (Yes, 'roomate' is spelled 'roomate'). Thanks, AskMe!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The traditional solution in such situations is to get your very largest, not so nice looking, buddy to go collect on your behalf.

Failing that, this person sounds like a punk kid. Write to his parents and ask for the money. Even if you don't get it you will cause him at least that much grief. Lessons in life can be expensive. Be prepared to write this one off. Small claims court is of course another option.
posted by caddis at 6:34 PM on September 2, 2007

It sounds to me like he doesn't owe you any money. If you are renting month to month, you have to give one full month's notice. That means that if you move in on January 1st and give notice on January 7th, you have the place the remainder of the current month, plus the following complete month. On the other hand, if you found a replacement for yourself, you could just collect February's rent from them and you'd be set.
posted by alms at 7:04 PM on September 2, 2007

We really need to know what the sublease agreement you signed says about giving notice before moving out. Every lease I've ever signed spells out at least a month, which means you'd be in forfeit of the last month's rent. That's what it's for, actually, to pay the lease owner for sudden moves.

Email the mods if you want to add that info to your question. But without it, there's no way of knowing where you stand legally.

He said that he just went ahead and put me on the lease

That's very weird. You can't just "put someone on the lease" without them signing something. If he forged your name, that's a serious problem and you may be able to get a lawyer to do something for you. But first thing the lawyer's gonna want to know is what your sublease agreement says about giving notice.
posted by mediareport at 7:20 PM on September 2, 2007

Do you have a copy of the sublease agreement that you signed? Read the fine print -- there's really no way to give a firm answer without knowing exactly what you agreed to. You may have agreed to more notice than you gave him, in which case you may be stuck ... or you may be due money.

Did he get a new roommate? It seems like as soon as he got a new roommate, and assumedly got them to cough up first/last month's rent, he should have the cash to pay you. I would not on any circumstances wait longer than that, to get your money. If he's already spent the money you paid him, and then goes and immediately spends the new roommate's deposit ... you're going to have to sue the crap out of him (unless you want to get rough, which I don't recommend). And even then it may be blood from a stone, particularly if he has some nose-candy habits or something else that's taking all his income...

And if you don't have a copy of the sublease you signed, you're basically screwed -- write it off. Assuming you have it, you might as well start the threats of lawsuits (via certified mail with return receipts, natch) and follow up with the real thing.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:21 PM on September 2, 2007

Did he get a new roommate?
Even if your sublease specified a notice period, depending on the exact wording, if he got a tenant for that month he owes you the money. Check with a tenant's rights org, they are rife in NYC.
posted by caddis at 7:37 PM on September 2, 2007

Response by poster: Tell the roommate firmly and politely that he will be receiving rent money from the new subletter. If he needs cash, he can use that. You expect the money back in full as soon as the new tenant has moved in and paid up.

Alternatively, you could ask the new tenant for the next month's rent. I'm not sure how kosher that would be--but if you haven't signed a contract with old roommate it may be fair game.
posted by Anonymous at 8:46 PM on September 2, 2007

Didn't we just go over this?
posted by mzurer at 10:35 PM on September 2, 2007

Traditionally, a landlord does not have a duty to find a replacement for a tenant who has moved out, nor does he have to accept your replacement. Also, you may need to give a full month's notice. That is common law, however, and it might not be so harsh in NY. IANAL yet. I like the write the letter to his parents idea better than the small claims court, but either sound good.
posted by Happydaz at 11:24 PM on September 2, 2007

Don't have advice for the specific problem, but I can answer one of your questions.

Don't worry about the lease. You didn't sign it and, presumably, didn't give him permission to sign on your behalf. Erego, you're not responsible for the lease. You can't be held responsible for a contract you didn't agree to.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 12:50 AM on September 3, 2007

You may want to consider taking it in monthly payments, but not his first offer of $20/month. I'd ask for it to be paid back within a year, although be negotiable. Also ask that if he misses a payment then the rest of the debt will due immediately. There are two reasons for this:
  1. By doing this, it is clear evidence that he agrees that he owes you the money, which makes all those possibly disputable issues go away.
  2. Perhaps someone else here can comment on the small claims docket in NYC, but in some places it takes months anyway before a disputed case is resolved. It will be some work and aggravation, and if he's really as broke as he says he is it may be hard to collect anyway.

posted by grouse at 3:57 AM on September 3, 2007

follow-up from the OP: "Thanks everybody for the replies so far. Fortunately, I do have a copy of the sublease agreement. The agreement I signed doesn't say anything about giving notice, just that it's a month-to-month contract. The roommate is in his mid-late twenties, so he's not exactly a punk kid. What should I do? Is asking for payment within a year plausible? Should I take him to small-claims?"
posted by jessamyn at 3:03 PM on September 3, 2007

What should I do? Is asking for payment within a year plausible? Should I take him to small-claims?"

If you think he will pay you then take it. It is better than court, even small claims. Life is short. Keep your stress low, and maintain any friendship you can. It pays dividends in the end.
posted by caddis at 6:11 PM on September 3, 2007

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