Q: In 2020, I shared a three-bedroom apartment living with two other roommates. We signed the lease together, but each one of us paid a portion to the landlord. We also paid rent in three separate checks. One roommate returned home from the pandemic and stopped making rent payments, while the other roommate and myself stayed and paid our rent on the due date. We left the apartment in good order when we moved out at the end. However, when it came to getting our security deposit back, our former roommate withheld the money. Can the landlord do that? What legal options do I have to recover my share of the money?
A:You and your roommates signed the lease. All of you took responsibility for the agreement. If someone damaged the walls or painted a room turquoise without permission, you would be responsible for the costs, even if you weren’t the culprit. Unpaid rent is the same: You are responsible to pay all rent and not just your share. Any unpaid rent can be subject to a security deposit.
“Given that there was unpaid rent, the landlord was completely within their rights to withhold the entire security, and the remaining tenants have no claim for it,” said Samuel Himmelstein, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants.
Your liability extends beyond the security deposit — the three of you still owe the landlord whatever rent your roommate did not pay. The landlord could sue you and the roommates for any unpaid rent. Or, he could turn the debt over to a collection agency. Keep an eye on a letter coming from a collection agency. Consider yourself lucky if the landlord is unable to pay the bill.
This scenario is not unusual. Many New Yorkers were often faced with job losses and moved out of the area during the pandemic. This left their roommates vulnerable. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation again, know that the state’s rent laws allow you to find a new roommate. You do not need your landlord’s permission or approval to do this — you can simply find a person willing to rent the room, collect the rent directly from that person, and pay it to the landlord. This would have allowed to pay the full rent for the remainder of your term, and also collected your security deposit.
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Source: NY Times