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Co-Living- Three Tips for Tenants

Mar 09, 2020


Tenant Learning Platform  instructor, Michelle Itkowitz, was twice interviewed on the topic of co-living, by Brick Underground – How to Tell if a Co-Living Company is Legit or Sketchy, and Understanding the Legal Issues of Co-Living: Three Ways to Protect Yourself , and Michelle also appeared on a Brick podcast about co-living – All About Co-Living What Your Options are and How to Stay on the Right Side of the Law.

Here, Michelle gives us are three tips for tenants considering co-living in NYC:

(1) First, you should understand what co-living is, and what it is not.

Co-living is:

An arrangement by which a landlord rents an apartment to a group of tenants, for at least thirty days, where the tenants occupy and share the apartment as roommates, an arrangement which the landlord consents to and facilitates as an active participant; the tenants have flexible terms, which are often short, and are allowed to vacate the apartment early without liability for the full term of the lease; if a roommate is lost, the landlord assists the remaining tenants with getting a qualified new roommate to take the lost roommate’s place and gives the remaining tenants rent-relief while doing so; the landlord frequently provides the tenants with other advantages and amenities, including but not limited to furnishings and personal property, services, and thematic programming, such as dinners or lectures on topics of common interest to the roommates; co-living places a big emphasis on the creation of a community within the apartment; the price per square foot for the apartment is often higher than it would be if the same apartment was not rented for co-living. The advantages of co-living for the tenant are affordability, flexibility, convenience, limited liability for bad roommates, and community. The advantage of co-living to a landlord is a higher price per square foot and greater control of the occupants of an apartment.

What is not co-living? Co-living is not when a landlord tries to rent you a room in a regular apartment with a  lock on the door.

A real co-living company is adding value to your life because they are finding you qualified roommates and providing you with a full apartment at an affordable price, while managing the apartment and the tenants closely to create a meaningful community.

(2) Make sure the co-living facility is renting you a safe and legal space.

Some co-living companies are run in buildings that are legally hotels, and they are allowed to rent you a single room with a lock on the outside of the door. Such buildings comply with higher safety standards – there are fire doors, there are sprinklers, there are emergency lights and signs, etc.

But most co-living companies are not run in hotel buildings, they are run in regular houses and apartment buildings. If the co-living facility you are considering falls into this category, then it is illegal for the landlord to rent individual bedrooms to people with locks on the outside of the bedroom doors. It is also illegal for landlords to overcrowd regular homes and apartments.

You can look on the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development  website and enter the project’s address and see if the building is a hotel or a regular apartment building. You should also trust your gut. If you are touring a co-living facility and the residents seem too jammed in, then they probably are. Ask yourself, how would I get out of this building in the event of a fire at night?

(3) Make sure you are not liable for the rent for the whole apartment. 

This is where it gets tricky.  Because most co-living is done in regular apartment buildings, where the landlord is not allowed to rent rooms, the landlord will probably give you a lease for the whole apartment. That’s OK. The problem comes when the landlord tries to make each tenant in a suite  responsible for the rent for the entire apartment. That will only work for you if the lease also contains a mechanism for rent-relief in the event that one or more roommates leave early and/or stop paying. Remember, one of the reasons you are paying a bit more for co-living is that the landlord is supposed to absorb the risk of roommate defaults.

Email us if you would like to see a Tenant Learning Platform class on co-living.