Property Management, Tenant Selection, Real Estate News & Tips

5 Rental Laws You Didn’t Know About Roommates

By on September 16, 2016 in Education with 10 Comments

Roommate LawsHaving a roommate can bring an otherwise unattainable apartment into your price range, and can open up opportunities in high-rent city centers. However, as anyone who has ever had a roommate knows, not all roommate situations are a match made in heaven.

While this means there are a lot of personal factors that should be considered when choosing the right roommate, make sure that you know the roommate laws in your state before bunking with your bestie.

Not all roommate laws are created equal, so always check your specific state laws regarding co-tenants, sub-tenants, and additional occupants. To help you out, we’ve rounded up some of the most specific–and indeed the strangest–rental laws regarding roommates in some of the most renter populated cities.      

New York 

  • In New York State, certain tenants are legally given the right to live with a roommate. This right cannot be waived, and any lease provisions suggesting you cannot have a roommate may be ignored. A renter must, however, inform your landlord of your new roommate’s name within 30 days after they move in, or within 30 days after your landlord requests that you provide the name.
    This only true if you live in a privately owned building, and you are the only person on your lease.

    • Special Notes: If you live in public housing, most subsidized housing, or if two or more people have signed the lease you do not have the right to an additional roommate unless your lease does not expressly give you the right.
  • While it’s true that you still must apply for permission to sublet in New York (and the process can be arduous and time-consuming) tenants in privately-owned buildings of four or more units have the right to sublet, regardless of lease restrictions. Landlords are able to refuse consent if your grounds for subletting are unreasonable, or if the subtenant you propose does not meet your landlord’s screening qualifications for tenancy.
    • Special Notes: This right does not apply to residents in public or subsidized housing, non-profit buildings, co-ops, rent controlled tenants, and tenants with rent subsidies. Rent stabilized tenants do have the right to sub-let, but have additional responsibilities and obligations.
  • A little-known law, not often enforced, New York law prevents more than 3 unrelated people occupying a dwelling unit and maintaining a common household.
    • Special Notes: Two or more people related by blood, marriage, or are domestic partners can dwell with no more than two additional boarders, roomers or lodgers.


  • Due to high rent prices which led to extreme overcrowding in off-campus student housing, 5 or more unrelated undergraduates cannot share an apartment in Boston.
    • Special Notes: Exceptions to this law are dwellings that are hotels, motels, apartment hotels, dormitories, fraternities and sorority houses.

San Francisco

  • Tenants protected by the Rent Ordinance of 1979 have various safeguards that other renters in the area may not enjoy. For tenancies covered by the Rent Ordinance and rent control, Legislation allows these tenants covered add occupants, if reasonable, despite restrictions in the rental agreement.
    The specific number of roommates must comply with occupancy laws, and the new occupant needs to agree in writing to be bound by the current rental agreement if requested by the landlord. Furthermore, if a roommate leaves and the landlord unreasonably withholds consent to replace a roommate, tenants can petition for a rent reduction based on a decrease of housing services.

    • Special Notes: The rights for adding family members are the same as unrelated roommates except for specific instances. Children, in particular, have more exceptions, as children under the age of 6 do not count towards occupancy limits, and minor children do not need to fill out an application form or need to agree to bound by the current rental agreement.      

This is by no means an exclusive list, and with any situation involving state laws, it is always prudent to check your state’s or municipal area’s specific regulations.  Since rental laws can be obscure sometimes, you should always refer back to your lease and ask your landlord questions if you are unsure about any terms.

*This information does not constitute legal advice; always check with an attorney for questions or clarifications about your rights as a renter.                                                                                                    

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About the Author

About the Author: Brentnie is a contributor for Rentec Direct. She occasionally stops by to deliver practical industry tips, providing guidance for tenants and landlords alike. .


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There Are 10 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Zana says:

    Can the owner of a duplex ask the tenents to split and pay the water bill?

    • Brentnie D says:

      Hi Zana,

      To my knowledge this is generally allowable, but if you are unsure, you should check with your local housing authority to look into any laws specific to your area.

  2. Galeen Royce says:

    I am temporarily taking care of my grandchild in my son’s apartment. It is 93 degrees today and for the third time in the past 30 days, the refrigerator has failed. As I cannot get hold of my son, I went to the rental office to see if they could send someone to fix it. I was told because of the Fair housing act, only my son can request the repair. Is that true?

    • Brentnie D says:

      Hi Galeen,

      I’m not sure why they are referring to the Fair Housing Act in this instance, as it does not seem relevant to repair issues. However, unfortunately, it does make sense that (if your son is the one who is listed in the lease agreement) that he would be the only person authorized to make a repair request.

  3. carla buck says:

    i took over a lease without paperwork now hes tellin me i have to leave cause his lease said noone else can i get my money back its been almost a year

  4. Rhonda says:

    Can a landlord take legal action on tenants if they don’t give a 30 day notice before moving out even if it is in the rental agreement that they need to give a 30 day notice can the landlord make them pay rent for the month after they’ve already moved out they gave a security deposit and told the landlord just keep the security deposit and the landlord said no what are the tenants rights ?

    • The landlord can use the security deposit to pay for the unpaid rent of the final thirty days. But a tenant should definitely give 30 days notice, especially if it is in the lease. Its reasonable for the landlord to continue to charge the tenants rent until proper notice is given.

  5. Farrah says:

    I feel like people on housing have no real way of standing up for their housing rights or being harrassed by their landlords because we are on public housing lawyers cost money we are on housing as it is already how in the world would one being on assistance afford a lawyer to help fight for our rights and get any real justace .my a/c gets turned off ironically every month around the same time every month. Ironically it’s around the time rent is about to be due or is due n they konw bc they tell me they were working on it getting it fixed or try .n say nobody would open the door to .My apt. N also they see my windows open with fans n it’s hot outside like 80° or hotter. They have put the a/c they have never had to come into my unit to fix the a/c . It is central air conditioning. My landlord calls n harrassed me about ppl being at my apt bc we have friends n have sum one take a look at my vehicle no maintenance jus checking it n cleaning the carpets bc my car got water in the floor board .n have ppl over helping me with my homework n with my disabiled daughter. Landlord says tell the Mexican man that’s always out there fixing on ur car to help pay my rent n my daughter gets told stuff about her friends. And always getting accused of having people living with me. It’s just my daughter n I. I have men’s clothing in my closet bc one of my family members passed away and I can’t get rid of them it’s not like it likeva hoarder it not even one whole side of my closet. She has left me “landloard” ugly threatening messages which I have saved as well.. I’m too scared to say or do anything till now. Wish I had someone to help me with my situation.. Guess that’s too bad for me n my daughter. 😭

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your situation Farrah, your landlord sounds like he is threatening and harassing you. That is illegal. You should take detailed notes of every interaction you have with him, and keep records of everything. Then contact your local housing authority or tenant’s union, they are there to help you! And they will be able to point you to affordable or free options. Good luck!

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