By Sabina Mollot
For many renters in New York City, the only way to afford an apartment is to share one, but what many of those tenants don’t know is that if things go south, they can’t just assume the roommate will leave voluntarily and peacefully.
Recently, Town & Village interviewed a resident about what he said has become a nightmarish situation for him. Specifically, last year, the resident, Neal (not his real name), got a roommate, thinking it would be temporary while the man he met through Craigslist underwent treatment for serious medical conditions at a local hospital.
But that man, who we’ll call Jason (also not his real name), has since taken advantage of their arrangement. He’s now been living in the apartment for a year, Neal said, but has also brought his three children to live with him at least part time when he was only supposed to have them visit occasionally. He’s also been exhibiting paranoia, Neal said, by constantly accusing Neal of harassing him and going into his room.
But, according to Neal, he hasn’t been in Jason’s room, because Jason had a locksmith come in and padlock the door. He even refused to allow the property’s painters — who he knew were scheduled to come — paint his room.
He told the painters, “Get the f— out of here,” Neal said, adding that he also used an ethnic slur to refer to his Hispanic housekeeper while telling her to her face he thought she was pretty.
“He can be very charming,” said Neal, although Neal hasn’t been the beneficiary of this trait for a while. He, too, has been cursed out while ordered to leave Jason’s room. This was one time when he knocked on the door, didn’t get an answer, and pushed the door open. Neal said he did this because he was looking for the phone he keeps in the living room. As it turned out, it was exactly where he thought he might find it — in Jason’s room. Rather than apologize for taking it, Jason yelled at him.
“I learned too late I should have called the police,” said Neal, although he has since spoken with officers about his situation, as well as a social worker and attorneys.
He also believes Jason is responsible for taking his mail, especially after Neal’s mailman assured him a package containing an item he’d ordered recently had arrived. Then there’s Jason’s habit of singing loudly at odd hours of the night, prompting calls to Neal from irate neighbors.
Then, just the other week, Neal’s phone service was suddenly shut off and Neal strongly suspects it was Jason who gave the instructions to Time Warner to close the account. He has since gotten it switched back on but suspects it was retaliation for when Neal had the premium cable channels shut off on the apartment’s living room TV. He said he did that to stop Jason’s kids from hanging out in the living room all day instead of staying in their father’s room.
Neal said he reached out to Town & Village to warn neighbors about what can happen when a roommate situation goes bad.
Neal learned this upon telling Jason he’d overstayed his welcome and that he wanted him to go. In response, Jason refused, and threatened to sue, Neal said, even bragging that he was a litigious person. He referred to a document he’d written up that Neal had signed, in which he’d agreed that the living arrangement could continue through March 1 of this year. Neal, who acknowledges signing it, said he had just signed it at the time because Jason made it seem as if a lease was the only way he would get government subsidies to cover part of the rent for his room. March 1 has of course come and went, but Jason is still in the apartment.
The subsidies for his rent — $107.50 every two weeks — have continued to be paid directly to Neal. However, that’s only a small part of the rent for the room, which is $1500 a month, that Neal has seen. The rest, Jason stopped paying early on. (The rent includes extras like premium cable, WiFi and payment and the housekeeper who comes in once a week.) However, at this point Neal, a retired professor, said he doesn’t even care about the money he’s owed, and just wishes he’d never placed that fateful Craigslist ad.
“I figured if things didn’t work out I could tell him to leave, but then I found out once a person is in your house whether they pay you or it’s a favor, after 30 days, you have to go to court,” said Neal.
Back in July, Neal hired an attorney, who delivered a letter to Jason informing him he was in default of the terms of the agreement by having others reside with him in his room. The letter informed Jason he had 10 days to cure the problem. But he ignored it.
Two of Jason’s three children (aged 5 and 7), Neal said, have continued to live in the second bedroom as well as a third college aged one on weekends, as well as most days throughout all of last summer. The rest of the time, they live with their mother.
The regular presence of the entire family is not something Neal’s used to since he has lived alone in his apartment for the past 20 years after getting divorced.
Additionally, early on, Jason shared that he suffered from depression, Neal said. But apparently Jason didn’t keep his misery to himself, one day informing Neal that other tenants in the building hated him.
“One day he tells me, ‘All your neighbors on this floor hate you,’” said Neal. “And I’m friendly with everyone. He’s getting pleasure out of that.”
Not surprisingly, after Neal told some neighbors about his roommate situation, they were very supportive, he said.
Since then, Neal said he just started ignoring Jason’s baiting, although with Jason’s comments now going ignored, he has come up with a new tactic of getting Neal’s attention. This would be by accusing him of harassment, usually via lengthy emailed rants.
In one, Jason accused him of scaring his children, which Neal denied. At first, Neal said, he was friendly to the kids. “But when he started bringing them in every day, I just started ignoring them.”
On the day Jason finally does leave, Neal said he wants to make sure a Stuy Town Public Safety employee is present.
“He’s capable of anything,” Neal said.
Town & Village also called Neal’s roommate for comment on the ongoing conflict, but he hung up after saying, “This is harassment.”
With the lease Jason had drawn up means the arrangement should now be over, Neal has been in regular contact with his attorney, having recently switched to a new one. According to Neal, a summons to appear in court last week was served to Jason and they both attended that hearing. Neal said his attorney believes at this point Jason won’t be around for too much longer.
When asked for comment by Town & Village, an attorney and director for the Urban Justice Center, Harvey Epstein, confirmed that this is standard process; to get rid of an unwanted roommate, the onus is on the tenant of record, not the landlord, to go through an eviction process.