What's in a Roommate Agreement and why you need one

The PropertyClub Team
May 31st 2019
As a New York City renter, you are almost guaranteed to live with a roommate at one point or another. Fortunately, In New York City, you can generally get roommates without getting your landlord’s approval or going through the hassle of adding them to your lease, thanks to a law commonly called the New York State “Roommate Law."

The Roommate Law applies not just to relatives but also non-relatives such as a boyfriend or girlfriend. Moreover, The Roommate Law applies to not only New York City but also the entire state. In any event, no matter the circumstances, it is always advisable to draft a roommate agreement when you allow additional occupants in your apartment, especially if you are the sole leaseholder.

Why Should You Sign a Roommate Agreement?

Imagine this scenario: You and your friends sign a one-year lease for the perfect Upper West Side 3-bedroom apartment in New York City, and for a couple of months, everything is going fantastic.  Then suddenly “Roommate #1” informs you that she got a job offer in London and she has decided to take it. To make matters worse, “Roommate #2” decides (after finding out that Roommate #1 is moving), that she wants to move in with her boyfriend to save money because she is cash strapped. With over seven months left on your lease, your friends have left you in an awful financial position, because of course; they refuse or cannot to help you out until you find replacements.  Since each signatory to an apartment lease is responsible for the entire lease amount, and you still need a place to stay, you are now left scrambling to figure out how you will pay $4,000 per month alone or find new roommates quickly.  Signing a contract called a roommate agreement would have protected your financial interest in the foregoing situation.

What Are Roommate Agreements?

Roommate Agreements are legally binding contracts that detail roommates' financial obligations to the apartment and one another. If the terms of the agreement are violated, roommates can sue each other pursuant to the agreement, in small-claims court and sometimes housing court. Additionally, Roommate Agreements cover tedious issues such as, who is responsible for what chores and how many nights a roommate can host their significant others, etc. Overall, most roommates sue each other for money.

Who Can Draft a Roommate Agreement?

Typically, you should hire an attorney to draft a Roommate Agreement. Some real estate brokers in New York City will risk their broker’s license and engage in the “unauthorized practice of law” by drafting roommate agreements. However, for your protection, pay an attorney a couple of hundred bucks to draft a roommate agreement for you.  Just remember paying a lawyer $200- $400 now, could save you thousands of dollars later should you ever have to sue one of your roommates. 

We've also drafted a sample NYC Roommate Agreement which you are free to use. 

What Should your Roommate Agreement Include?

A solid Roommate Agreement should include the following:

  1. Basic information. The roommate agreement should include your name, the leaseholder’s name (if applicable), the Landlord’s name, the apartment address, and the date the agreement is made.
  2. The Terms. The roommate agreement should indicate the termination date of the Roommate Agreement and/or under what circumstance the agreement can be terminated.
  3. Existing Lease Agreement. The roommate agreement should refer to the existing Master Lease (i.e., the lease between the tenant and the landlord) and its expiration date. Additionally, it is advisable to indicate that the Roommate Agreement does not alter the Master Lease and that the Agreement has been drafted to resolve any disputes amongst the roommates. Lastly, it is important to indicate whether the apartment is free market or rent-stabilized, as this will affect how much a roommate can be charged.
  4. Areas of Occupancy. The roommate agreement should indicate whether this is a traditional roommate agreement, (i.e., the roommates share the apartment equally) or if the occupancy by the roommate(s) are limited to just one room or a couple of rooms.
  5. Rent Information. The roommate agreement should indicate what the monthly rent will be when payment is due, and what forms of payment are acceptable. 
  6. Security Deposit. If the leaseholder is taking a security deposit, (which he/she should if he/she is the only signatory to the Master Lease) this information should be indicated in the Roommate Agreement, including when/if the deposit will be returned, and under what circumstances that the leaseholder is entitled to keep the deposit. 
  7. Utility Information. The roommate agreement should list out all utility payments and indicate what percentage each roommate will pay.
  8. House Rules. Although most people do not end up suing for violation of this part of their roommate agreement, this part of the agreement should not be overlooked. Overall, this is the opportunity to come to a meeting of the minds on the tedious things such as the rules for throwing parties, quiet hours, smoking, food, personal property, and guests.
  9. Duties and Responsibilities. This is the area where each occupant should agree on what household chores, they would be responsible for, etc.
  10. Termination of the Roommate Agreement. This critical section of the roommate agreement should indicate under what circumstances the leaseholder may terminate the contract (or vice versa). Common reasons to termination a roommate agreement include failure to Pay Rent, and failure to maintain household duties.