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How to Evict a Roommate in New York

It all probably started out well enough. You and a friend decided to become roommates to share expenses or a friend asked to move in because he or she needed a place to stay. Things were fine for awhile, but after time, they started to go downhill and now it's time for your roommate to leave. Except he or she won't. So what do you do? How do you evict a roommate in New York?

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Evicting a New York Roommate is Tricky

As living expenses rise, more people are living together as a way to save money. As a result, more people are discovering that living with a roommate is not all it's cracked up to be. Some roommates want to party all night. Others think house rules apply to everyone but them. In New York, getting rid of your obnoxious roommate, though, depends on a number of factors.

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Is Your Roommate on the Lease?

If your roommate is on the lease with you, then you have no authority to kick him or her out. That authority lies directly with the landlord, but even a landlord needs a legally valid reason to throw someone out if that person is on the lease. These reasons usually include not paying rent, using the home for illegal purposes or otherwise breaking the terms of the lease in some way.

The exception to this is if your roommate is threatening you or is violent toward you. If this is the case, then you can get a restraining order and your roommate must leave immediately.

It's worth remembering that a roommate on the lease with you is actually a co-tenant and has much right to live in the rental space as you do.

Now What?

Unfortunately, if you live in New York, then your options are limited if your roommate is on the lease. You can try asking him or her to leave, but this doesn't always work and can lead to more conflict.

If you and your roommate signed an agreement outlining rules of the house, everything from noise limits to cleaning duties and he or she breaks the agreement, then you probably cannot evict but you can sue for damages in small claims court.

Examples include your roommate having loud parties that keep you from getting your work done if you work at home or your roommate not paying his or her share of the utilities.

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While these situations could be grounds for suing, the risk is that if you sue, you may anger your roommate but not enough to make him or her move out.

You can try talking to your landlord to see if he can get your roommate to budge, but most landlords are content to leave things be as long as they are getting their rent and their property is not being damaged.

An exception would be if you can show the landlord that your roommate is breaking the lease in some way, such as selling drugs from the home (illegal use of the property) or has a dog when pets are specifically forbidden in the lease.

You have to be careful, though, because your roommate could claim that the dog belongs to both of you and your landlord could decide to evict you and your roommate. In New York, this is particularly true if your lease has a joint and/or several liability clause, which essentially means that all the tenants on a lease can be held responsible for what other tenants do.

Your landlord might be a reasonable person (or corporation), though, and decide to evict only your roommate. If this is the case, understand that it will take time. Your landlord must follow the law, which involves giving your roommate notice of the eviction and time to remedy the situation.

For example, if the grounds for the eviction are that your roommate has a dog and pets are forbidden according to the lease, then your landlord has to give your roommate adequate time to find the dog a new home. If your roommate does this, then he or she cannot be evicted. He or she can stay in the home and chances are he or she will not be happy with you.

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It is possible, too, that your roommate may just ignore the eviction notice and decide to stay in the home. In this case, your landlord will have to go to court to ask a judge to tell your roommate to go. If the judge agrees, then the sheriff will come to escort your roommate out of the property. If, though, your landlord loses in court, then your roommate can stay.

Things You Cannot Do with Regard to a New York Roommate

No matter how much you want your roommate to leave, there are things that the state of New York says you cannot legally do to make him or her vacate the home.

For example, you cannot threaten him or her. You cannot change the locks. You cannot take your roommate's personal property. If you do, you may be looking at criminal charges. No roommate is worth that.

Is Your Roommate Not on the Lease?

If your roommate is not on the lease then you have more options for getting rid of him or her.

Be careful here, though. If your roommate is not on the lease because he or she came to stay with you without your landlord knowing, then you might be the one breaking the lease terms and end up facing eviction.

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If, though, you have a roommate with your landlord's express or implicit permission - many landlords will let a girlfriend or boyfriend stay in the home without signing the lease, or they will turn a blind eye to an extra tenant - then you can evict your roommate.

In New York, there are, though, rules to follow. Even without his or her name on a written lease your roommate is still treated as if he or she had a month-to-month lease. New York requires that you give your roommate a termination notice stating that he or she has 30 days to find a new place to live and move out.

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To do this, though, you must be considered the master tenant, meaning that you are the one sending the rent checks to the landlord. If your roommate sends the checks, then you are the one who can be evicted. If you both send the checks, then you cannot evict your roommate.

If you are the master tenant, you still need "just cause," meaning a valid reason, to evict your roommate, such as not paying rent or doing something illegal in the rental.

You must put the termination notice in writing and have a third party serve it to your roommate. Keep a copy for your records.

If your roommate ignores the eviction notice or thinks he or she has grounds to stay in the unit, then you will enter a process called a roommate holdover proceeding and go to court. When you do, be prepared to state your case clearly. Present any and all documentation you have. Also be prepared to be stuck with your roommate and have to pay his legal costs if you lose the case.

If your landlord is aware of your roommate and you are on good terms with your landlord, then you might ask your landlord to help you evict your roommate. The downside with this that is your landlord - even a tolerant one - might just decide to evict you and your roommate and start fresh. He would have legal grounds to do so if your roommate is not on the lease because you have broken the lease by having the illegal tenant.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is evicting a roommate in New York is not easy. Evicting anyone is not easy, even for landlords with solid legal grounds. It is a complicated, contentious and often costly endeavor.

Get Help

Ask an Eviction Law Question, Get an Answer ASAP!

If, though, you have decided that you have no choice but to evict your roommate, then it is a good idea to talk to an experienced New York eviction lawyer before proceeding. One small misstep could mean that you are the one having to look for a new home.

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