The Friendly Landlord: Lisa’s Xenophobic Landlady

The Friendly Landlord got an e-mail! Lisa writes:

I have a question about guests to my apartment. Both I and my roommate are going away for a few weeks, and I want to have a friend cat-sit. He would obviously need to come and go, so I’d have to give him a key. The problem is that my landlady doesn’t allow anyone but I and my roommate to hold a key to the apartment. Is this legal? Is there any allowance for situations like this? If not, can you recommend some compromise I might offer to my landlady?

Since I am The Friendly Landlord and not The Friendly Grammarian, I will reluctantly not address Lisa’s avant-garde syntax (“I and my roommate”?). But before I dive into her actual question, I should provide two disclaimers.

First, I am not an attorney. While I have years of experience in real estate, even I am sometimes shocked by a crazy quirk of the law or a totally unexpected judge’s ruling. So I want to be very clear that I am not offering legal advice here. Instead I’m telling you what I would do in your situation. If you end up getting thrown on out the street for listening to me… sorry.

Second, my expertise is in Rent Stabilized or Rent Controlled apartments. About 1 million units are stabilized in NYC, accounting for close to half the rental housing supply. The other half are the Wild West of rentals, ranging from a de-stabilized luxury building in Tribeca to a no-lease basement in Brooklyn.

In terms of rules, Rent Stabilization is like classical music, all the notes are on the page, and while there might be some differences in tempo and dynamics, legal rulings usually sound about the same. Non-stabilized apartments are like jazz. There’s a slim chance you might recognize the melody in there somewhere, but it’s usually a free for all.

Though she doesn’t specify, I’m guessing that Lisa lives in something like a family’s basement in Brooklyn. But I don’t care if she’s living in a stabilized unit or not, in the janitor’s closet at P.S. 54 or a tin shanty in Mumbai, everybody in the world has the right to lend a key to a friend so they can feed their cat. Period. I understand Lisa’s landlady not being crazy about a stranger having a key to her house, but that’s part of the game, Landlady.

But, and here’s the big “But,” Lisa’s landlady has no obligation to renew the lease when it’s up. If the lease were stabilized—although as you’ve probably guessed there aren’t too many stabilized basements in the city—she would. So, Lisa, if you want to keep living there long-term, it could come down to diplomacy. Can you let the local bum stay in your apartment and coddle your kitty for a few weeks? Sure you can. Is it a better idea to bring your most responsible-looking friend by to meet your landlady before you hand over the key?

I’ll let you decide.


  1. Keith says:

    When I first came to New York back in the day and took my first apartment in a Brownstone on a tree lined block in Crown Heights, I thought my land lady was out of her mind when she begin regulating who is to have possession of my key. After all I was paying rent. However, since I became a landlord, I often reflect on that beautiful 4 story brownstone where only myself and another tenant had closed coordidors on the parler level. Anyone coming thru the front door had access to both the downstairs apartment and upstairs apartment where the landlady lived. Being the case, she had every right to demand who was coming in and out of her door as most small homeowners who share rental space with tenants. Tenants in New York City have too many unjustifiable rights that landlord court uphold which make small homeowners suffer. Let the cat stay overnight. The landlady has a right to mandate who has a key to her home.

  2. The Friendly Landlord says:

    Keith says, “Tenants in New York City have too many unjustifiable rights that landlord court[s] uphold which make small homeowners suffer.” I couldn’t agree more. Big homeowners too, and I’ll get into some of the more outrageous examples of this in later posts. But, when you decide to rent out a portion of your home, you do give away certain rights, both to the “demised” area that you have rented and to the common areas. You can make the bizarre case that out of courtesy to the landlady Lisa should let her cat starve for a couple of weeks. Or you can remember that Lisa is paying good money to make a certain portion of the landlady’s property her home. And unless Lisa’s guests are doing something blatantly disturbing or illegal, she has a right to have someone take care of her cat.

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