Many people, especially in expensive cities like NYC, prefer to split rent costs of an apartment/basement with other people, in a situation where one person is signed on the actual lease with the landlord of the building, and (with the permission and agreement of the landlord) rents out a room or a bed within the apartment to other people, who pay the main tenant (Using any method, even cash), without any official written sub lease agreement, just an honor system

The question is (two parts of the same question), first of all:

Is this legal, and if not, who is liable (again assuming the original land lord gives written permission or something similar)

And in any case, what are the "unspoken" rights and/or responsibilities of these sub tenants who have no legal contractual agreement?

If one of the other tenants violently attacks the other, or if there is another issue, ccan the other rightfully refuse to pay rent to the main tenant? Can a sub tenant move out unexpectedly, or would he be liable for back payment

(In this case assuming there's some kind of "proof of residency", like a letter from the landlord saying that this person is a sub tenant, but just without a lease itself)

2 Answers 2


What you describe is not a subtenant

A subtenant is a person to whom you sublet your leased premises while you don’t live there. What you are describing is a roommate.

In New York State, if you are the only tenant on the lease in a privately owned building you are entitled to have a roommate without needing the landlord’s permission subject to overcrowding laws - you must have at least 80 sq. Feet per person. If the lease says you can’t then that provision is void but you must inform your landlord of the name of the roommate within 30 days.

A roommate cannot be evicted by the primary tenant without legal action if any of the following apply:

  • They have lived there for more than 30 days
  • There is a written roommate agreement
  • They have paid rent to the primary tenant.

A roommate can enforce the lease vis-a-vis the landlord as if they were the primary tenant.

A roommate without a written agreement is on a 30-day lease: either party may change or end the agreement with 30-days notice.

If one of the other tenants violently attacks the other, or if there is another issue, ccan the other rightfully refuse to pay rent to the main tenant? Can a sub tenant move out unexpectedly, or would he be liable for back payment

Such behaviour, as well as being potentially criminal, may be a breach of contract. Whether that gives one party the right to terminate the agreement without notice is complicated.

  • If it wasn't complicated, I wouldn't have asked it :). Also in this case is there a maximum amount of roommates Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 1:17
  • By the way that second link only discusses eviction rights but doesn't explain what rights the roommate has to sue etc for being attacked for example, or even if the other rights on the lease for the main tenant apply to the roommate as well, or even if the roommate has a legal right to see the lease agreement Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 1:21
  • @YakkOv if someone assaults you you can sue them - it doesn’t matter if they’re your roommate or a total stranger
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 7:16
  • The question though is if they can sue they other person for leaving, and if the other person can use as a defense "he attacked me". What will sueing the attacker do, will it immediately get him out of the building? It's pretty awkward to live in close proximately to ones own litigant Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 0:43

A tenant has whatever rights a tenant would have under the laws of the state and city plus the terms of the agreement, whether or not the lease is written as opposed to oral. You say that the landlord agrees to the plan, so the arrangement is legal. From the perspective of landlord-tenant laws, the sub-tenant would be considered to be the "tenant" and the tenant (on the lease) is the "landlord".

A landlord cannot arbitrarily raise the rent or terminate the agreement without legal justification and proper legal procedure (eviction). The tenant cannot arbitrarily terminate the agreement or withhold payment except as provided by law. If the (sub-)tenant arbitrarily packs up and leaves, the "landlord" in that relation, i.e. the sole tenant of the signed lease agreement with the property owner, is liable for the full rent, as he always has been, so he would have to sue the sub-tenant to collect the money. If the two parties had both been on the written lease as co-tenants, the property owner could go after both parties.

Sub-tenant liability comes down to whether there is a legal ground for terminating the subtenancy, i.e. the content of "or if there is another issue". Let's say that the "issue" is that you don't like the smell of the other guy's dinner – that's not a sufficient legal basis for terminating the lease. Now let's suppose that the unit is unsafe / unsanitary (and it wasn't you that made it that way), that is a violation of N.Y. Real Prop. Law § 235-b, so you have a legal remedy. Per §227, you can surrender the premise and you will not be liable. But this does not apply to cases like leaking windows or lack of hot water, this is appropriate for life-threatening conditions.

Otherwise, if the other person beats you up, invades your privacy or harasses you, or there is a serious but not life-threatening situation, you deal with this as a "constructive eviction", which is illegal. There is a procedure to be followed, following this law. You have to notify the landlord of the issue, give them time to fix it, if that doesn't work inform the housing authority of the issue (they then notify the landlord), then you leave the unit, deposit a month’s rent with the housing court, then wait for something to happen. It is complicated, which is why people hire lawyers to deal with the issue – just walking away is not the correct option. This blurb describes the procedure for tenant remedies in case of landlord harassment (go to court, fill out forms, schedule a hearing). Apart from a court order to cease harassment, the landlord can be assessed a penalty from $1,000 to $10,000.

  • 1
    The situation described in the question is a roommate, not a subtenant.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 23:05

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