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 6 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 6 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

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