Real Estate

Can My Apartment Building Really Ban Overnight Guests?

Q: We own an apartment in a high-rise rental building in Manhattan, which we use as a pied-à-terre. For years we’ve allowed friends to stay in the apartment when they visit New York and we’re not there. The doormen have recently been instructed not to allow entry to guests unless the tenant is with them. When asked to justify the new policy, management pointed to the provision that restricts short-term rentals and subletting. I appreciate the concern about turning an apartment into an Airbnb, but we have never charged anyone to stay and have only offered it to close friends. Can they really claim that a friend staying over is a breach of our lease? Do we have any recourse?

A: Even though no money is changing hands, what you have described could be considered a short-term rental, violating your lease and city and state laws. You or your landlord could potentially be fined for violating the city laws, and you could be evicted for violating the terms of your lease.

A standard New York City lease allows only tenants and permitted occupants to stay in the apartment. That means you can live there with your family, a roommate or a partner. You can invite guests to stay overnight, if you are present. And, if you’re away or out for the day, a service provider like a cleaning service or dog walker can stop by. But you cannot hand your keys over to unsupervised overnight guests, regardless of your friendship, even if the stay is free.

“From the landlord’s perspective, anytime they see strangers coming into the apartment when the tenant isn’t there, it looks to them like Airbnb,” said David A. Kaminsky, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan. “The telltale sign will be when someone comes in with a roller bag that’s not known to the front desk and they say something like, ‘My friend left the key for me.’”

The city has been cracking down on short-term rentals, proposing new rules that would require landlords and tenants to register apartments, keep records of guests and follow city codes. Violators could face substantial fines. Your neighbors might be unhappy with unknown visitors, too. They don’t know if an unaccompanied guest is a trusted friend or a stranger who booked the apartment via Airbnb.

“If you live next to that apartment, you might not feel comfortable,” Mr. Kaminsky said. “You’re sleeping there and waking up in the morning and you don’t know who’s there.”

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