Your Rights to Sublet, Share, and Assign Apartments
The procedure for subletting your apartment can get very
complicated, and there are many ways that your landlord can
make it difficult. Here's a guide to tenants' rights and
responsibilities under the law.
Before you start the sublet process, make sure that you
don't really want to assign or share. Many tenants who
intend to do one wrongly believe that they mean to do
another. Sublet means that you are temporarily leaving the
apartment and subletting it to someone else while you're
gone. Sharing means that you are taking into the apartment
one or more unrelated persons who will be your roommates
without establishing an extended family relationship.
Assignment means that you are permanently leaving the
apartment and assigning the lease and the apartment to
Even if your lease forbids it, you have the right under the
law to sublease your apartment, and the lease provision is
null and void. The subletting procedures below apply
generally to tenants renting an apartment pursuant to an
existing lease in a building having four or more residential
units. The exceptions are tenants in public housing,
limited-profit housing, or housing subject to rent control.
Rent controlled tenants may, however, sublet if they have a
current or prior lease that contains a clause permitting
subletting, or if the landlord consents. To sublet, you must
closely follow these procedures:
1. Send a letter to the landlord by certified mail,
return receipt requested, requesting permission to
sublease. (You should retain copies of this
correspondence, as well as all other correspondence sent
to the landlord.) This letter must contain the following
- The term (starting and ending dates) of the sublet,
not to exceed two years. (If you are uncertain about
the term, choose the longer period, because it is
difficult to extend the sublet. You can always return
- The name of the proposed subtenant. (Choose someone
you know if possible. Subleasing to strangers is risky
and often full of unhappy surprises.)
- The business and permanent home address of the
- Your reason for subletting (work transfer, school
attendance, family crisis, etc). Your reason must
reflect an intent to return.
- Your address for the term of the sublet.
- The written consent of any co-tenant or guarantor of
- A copy of the proposed sublease, to which a copy of
your lease is attached, if available.
- A separate letter wherein both you and your proposed
subtenant state that the attached sublease is a true
copy of such sublease. This statement must be signed
2. Within 10 days after you mail your initial request,
your landlord is allowed to ask for additional
information, in order to determine if rejecting your
request would be unreasonable. Expect a list of inquiries
about the proposed sublessee's resources and rental
3. Within 30 days after you mail the initial notice, or
after you mail the additional information if requested,
your landlord must send you a notice of consent to the
sublet, or their reasons for refusal.
- If your landlord consents, you may sublease, but you
remain liable for future rents.
- If your landlord reasonably withholds consent, you
can't sublet, and you are not released from the lease
and can be held liable for future rents.
- If your landlord fails to send a response within the
30 days, this shall be deemed consent to the
- If your landlord unreasonably withholds consent, you
may sublet in accordance with the request. If your
landlord then tries to evict you, you may recover the
costs of any eviction proceedings, together with
attorneys' fees, if it is found that your landlord
acted in bad faith by withholding consent.
4. If your apartment is rent stabilized, the following
provisions also apply:
- You cannot charge your subtenant more than your
current rent unless the apartment is furnished during
the sublet. In this case, a 10 percent surcharge may be
added. The landlord may also collect a
vacancy-allowance increase during the term of the
sublet. It is rolled back when the prime tenant
returns. The increase is the vacancy allowance, if any,
provided in the Rent Guidelines Board Order in effect
at the beginning of the lease, provided the lease is a
- You must establish, and should say so in your initial
letter to your landlord, that at all times you will
maintain the apartment as your primary residence and
intend to reoccupy it at the expiration of the
sublease. Primary-residence status requires that during
your absence from your apartment, you pay New York City
resident income tax, listing the apartment as your
residence, and that all records of your residence,
including your driver's license, car registration and
voting records, reflect the apartment as your home.
- You, as the prime tenant, retain the right to a
renewal lease, and the rights and status of a "tenant
in occupancy" as they relate to conversion to
condominium or cooperative ownership.
- The law limits your sublet to two years, including the
term of the proposed sublease, out of the four-year
period preceding the termination date of the proposed
sublease. Your landlord may agree to waive this
limitation, but the law allows him to refuse. There is
no harm in asking. If he says yes, get it in writing.
- If your lease expires during the term of the proposed
sublease, your subtenant is subject to your renewal
lease. The landlord is required to offer and accept a
renewal lease from you during the sublet period just as
if you were in occupancy.
- Should you overcharge your subtenant, he or she shall
be entitled to damages of three times the overcharge
and may also be awarded attorneys' fees and interest
from the date of the overcharge.
If your landlord rejects a proposed sublease, it is
strongly recommended that you consult an attorney or contact
your local Met Council branch for advice.
Sharing Your Apartment with Roommates
All tenants in New York state have rights under the roommate
law, which was enacted in 1983 along with the subletting
provisions. Prior to this law, sharing an apartment was
limited to those named on the lease and immediate family.
1. If only one tenant has signed the lease (or where
there is only one rent controlled tenant of record), that
tenant is entitled to one roommate who is not a member of
the tenant's immediate family.
2. If two or more tenants have signed the lease (or
where there are two or more rent controlled tenants of
record) and they all live there, they are not entitled to
have any roommates. If one or more of the tenants named
on the lease (or one or more of the rent controlled
tenants of record) moves out, the departing tenant or
tenants can be replaced by the same number of roommates.
3. The named tenants on the lease (or the rent
controlled tenants) can always have their immediate
family members living with them.
4. A named tenant, a rent controlled tenant, or a
roommate is always entitled to have his or her dependent
children living with him or her. They do not count in the
enumeration of the right to one or more roommates.
5. You must inform the landlord of the name of a new
roommate within 30 days after the roommate moves in, or
within 30 days after a request by your landlord for the
roommate's name. Failure to notify the landlord carries
6. Neither your roommate nor your roommate's dependent
children acquire any right to remain in the apartment if
the named tenant(s) vacate the apartment. Neither your
roommate nor your roommate's dependent children acquire
any right to purchase the apartment under a cooperative
or condominium conversion plan (unless your landlord
gives specific permission in writing).
7. Your landlord cannot make you waive your rights
under the roommate law, and is not allowed to increase a
stabilized tenant's rent because you have a roommate.
Sometimes, rent controlled tenants must pay a rent
increase for "increased occupancy" when the total number
of people living in the unit increases.
8. The rights created under the roommate law do not
apply if having roommates violates some other federal,
state, or local law. For example, your landlord could in
certain situations use regulations prohibiting
overcrowding to prohibit sharing arrangements.
9. Certain occupants, including roommates, can have
succession rights -- the right to take over the apartment
when the prime tenant (the tenant named on the lease)
moves or dies. Contact Met Council if you would like a
copy of our succession rights information sheet.
Assignment of Leases
If you intend to leave your apartment permanently, you have
the right to write to the landlord to propose another
specific person to assume the remainder of the current lease
and inherit the apartment. This is called an assignment. The
process gives tenants who wish to break a current lease an
opportunity to transfer their responsibilities under it to
another person. The departing tenant relinquishes all rights
to the apartment.
Your landlord has the absolute right to deny your request
to assign, and you have no right to appeal that decision.
You then may not assign. However, in certain circumstances,
you do acquire the right to cancel the remainder of the
lease. In response to your assignment request, your landlord
may either (1) not respond, (2) deny your request without
giving a reason, (3) deny your request unreasonably ("I only
rent to professionals"), or (4) deny your request reasonably
("Your proposed assignee only earns half of what you do and
cannot afford the rent"). If your landlord responds as in
(1), (2), or (3), you have the right to cancel the lease
within 30 days from the date you gave them your assignment
request. If your landlord under (4) denies the assignment
"reasonably," you cannot cancel the lease. There is
obviously plenty of room for interpretation of what is
Your written request should both give the landlord notice
of your intent to move and propose assignment to a specific
person with detailed information about the proposed
assignee. Many landlords are happy to release tenants from
their leases, because it gives them the opportunity to get a
rent increase sooner. If your landlord tells you that you
can break your lease, get it in writing.
Tenant attorneys Michael Finder, Thomas Kerrigan, and
Andrea Novick contributed their expertise to this