How do I best navigate through a bad landlord/tenant situation?
March 28, 2008 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Complicated, messy NYC roommate/landlord question: 4 roommates share a 3 bedroom converted into 4 (with permission). One roommate signed a lease for a new building without getting permission from current building to transfer name on lease to new roommate. Said old roommate now refuses to pay six months of rent (remainder of lease). Much, much more inside.

So three out of 4 roommates want to get out of current lease by assigning the lease to new people. This was never a problem in the building before, but now building has new ownership, and they’re making this difficult/impossible.

Two roommates are unemployed and need to get out. One of two refuses to pay remaining 6 months of lease (even though he lied about his income and signed a new one year lease in NJ). Third roommate that wants to leave has signed a one year lease (in another building) starting in May.

Leasing agent for landlord will not give us a straight answer about assigning lease to other candidates. We gave management 3 very viable replacement candidates, including all application material. This morning one of the candidates was explicitly rejected by management because it was for the converted room (despite giving us (the current tenants) no notice of this). They refuse to comment on the other two applications.

I am one of the three that wants to move out. I am willing to pay my 6 months remainder of the lease to avoid credit problems, court appearances, etc. but (as I said earlier) one roommate refuses to pay the next 6 months and other two roommates refuse to cover the deadbeat’s share (and eventually sue deadbeat). Important note: landlord refuses to accept partial payments of rent, so if deadbeat doesn’t pay and we don’t cover his share, leasing agent won’t cash our checks.

Leasing agency refuses to break the lease. Deadbeat refuses to pay. And the third roommate that wants to leave (who signed elsewhere) is starting to think that he should refuse to pay as well and let them sue us all.

I don’t want to be sued. I want to pay my 6 months and get the hell out of this situation. Ideally, I want management to take the applicants we gave them to replace us, but if that’s not going to happen, I need to know what my best option is. Should I: 1) Refuse to pay and let them sue, knowing full well they’d sue anyway because deadbeat won’t pay. 2) Pay my rent and pray that they cash my check and understand the situation (I’m going to camp out in the office on Monday until they at least hear my case). 3) Promise the landlord a check for the full amount of my share if they leave me alone. 4) Something else?

What happens if they sue me? Will I be on the hook for the entire unpaid amount (which may be up to $30000, assuming no one pays ever from now until lease end)? Can I use old checks to prove I only paid x dollars/month and the judge will only require me to owe x? I really have no clue here.

I’m in NYC. I have contacted legal aid and lawyers. I will be speaking with a lawyer that specializes in this on Monday. But I don’t want to pay $300/hour given how ignorant I am of this situation, because that consultation would end up costing me hundreds alone. So before I go to the lawyer, I’d like some anecdotal and street advice about my options. Sorry for the length. ANY help at all is unbelievably appreciated right now. Thanks.
posted by SeizeTheDay to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Does your lease contain the phrase "jointly and severally liable?" If so, that means that each person on the lease is responsible for the entire rent, not just for a share corresponding to the percentage of the space they occupy.

Do you have any kind of agreement (in writing) with your roommates about who will pay how much each month? Such an agreement would allow you to go after them for their shares if your landlord comes after you.
posted by decathecting at 11:37 PM on March 28, 2008


Does your lease contain the phrase "jointly and severally liable?"

Yes.

Do you have any kind of agreement (in writing) with your roommates about who will pay how much each month?

No.

More info: Transferring lease to another person is allowed, but solely under discretion of management. Subletting is basically out of the question, as management refuses (and it's pretty obvious none of us that would be leaving now have any intention of renewing the lease in the future).
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:44 PM on March 28, 2008


I am not a lawyer but have rented out property on occasion and have had to deal with this from the Landlord's point-of-view. From what you are saying it sounds like you could be nailed for the entire remaining lease. If the landlord sues, he/she/they will go after the person with the most assets in the same jurisdiction, and ask the court to put a lien on that person's property (or more than one person). Basically you do need to find a lawyer. A good lawyer really won't charge all that much (practically by definition :). A reasonable landlord would allow you to find suitable tenants to sublease the property for the remainder of the lease, at your cost and your liability.
posted by thomas144 at 7:56 AM on March 29, 2008


What thomas144 said. Also, in many states the landlords have a duty to attempt to mitigate, so if you guys all move out today and four people approach the landlord tomorrow and want to rent the place, the landlord would be required to offset the new rental income against what she is charging you (if you live in such a state.) I have no idea what the law is in New York; a lawyer would definitely be a cheaper option than 6 months extra rent + possibly you being on the hook for the remainder.
posted by Happydaz at 9:33 AM on March 29, 2008


I think going over to the management office Monday is a great idea. Look professional, be super-friendly, and see if you can get on the management's side as far as this situation goes. Clearly, they'd rather that the place was rented with the least amount of headache, so maybe you can offer them the option of you taking responsibility for finding tenants again? Ask them if they have a problem with the 3rd bedroom being divided, and if they'd prefer that you only found three residents to share the costs of the apartment.

I've never rented in New York (gulp!) but I bet going in and making nice (including apologies, if applicable) will save you a lot of headache down the road. Why go to court if you can find a way that solves both your and the landlords' problems simultaneously?
posted by arnicae at 11:05 AM on March 29, 2008


A lot of people in this position simply sublet against their landlord's wishes. If you found new roommates to pay the rent, and you sent them a check for the entire rent every month, will they care?

The best thing might be to move out, break the lease, and let them find new renters themselves (they might be subtly angling for this so they can rent it out at a higher rate). Once they find new renters, you're off the hook.

In any case, I doubt you'll be on the hook for 6 months of rent.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:30 PM on March 29, 2008


Oh, and in case you didn't know, they can only sue you for their actual damages (i.e. the amount of rent for the time it stood vacant). They want to minimize their damages because it's easier to get cash from a new renter than from a deadbeat.

Good luck--and next time get your buddies to sign a document about rent-splitting.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:32 PM on March 29, 2008


A reasonable landlord would allow you to find suitable tenants to sublease the property for the remainder of the lease, at your cost and your liability.

This is definitely a great point, especially since I've already given them a viable candidate to replace me, with all the paperwork. When I speak to them on Monday (in person, of course), I will be bringing this up.


Also, in many states the landlords have a duty to attempt to mitigate

&

they can only sue you for their actual damages (i.e. the amount of rent for the time it stood vacant).

Very interesting. So if I hand them the keys, I will of course lose my security deposit, but may be off the hook for the remaining deadbeats? (Of course, I will ask a lawyer, but I appreciate your take as well, since lawyers aren't infallible.)

The best thing might be to move out, break the lease, and let them find new renters themselves

That's basically what my roommate is doing right now, and another roommate wants to do that. The question is, who's on the hook while a replacement is found, and will the landlord immediately seek to evict all of us and collect damages for everything, or just the damages for the amount of time we still lived in the apartment?

THANK YOU so much for the comments. Please keep them coming. This is such a mess that any little bit of new information, or a different kind of legal angle is all I'm seeking at this point. Thanks.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 1:53 PM on March 29, 2008


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