What are my ex-roommate’s rights to their belongings, if they still owe me back rent?

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What are my ex-roommate’s rights to their belongings, if they still owe me back rent?

I own the lease to an apartment; I have rent here for over 2 years.My roommate has been behind on rent for over a year and has been paying me back rent. He still owes $1500 in back rent. In a fight he stormed out. Now he wants to come and collect his belongings. I had the locks changed on the doors and said he is more than welcome to collect his belongings if he pays me the full debt he owes me.

Asked on December 16, 2012 under Real Estate Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Right now, you have committed a form of theft by taking your roommates belongings--you have NO right to them, and he has every right to reclaim them. It doesn't matter that he owes you money; just because someone owes you money does not let you take their belongings unless and only if they had used those belongings as collateral (security) for that debt. (Consider: say you owe a hospital money for medical care--the hospital cannot come and repossess your car.) If he owes you money, the way to get it from him is to sue him, such as in small claims court, for that sum.

Also, you cannot lock him out or change the locks on him: you can only evict a tenant or subtenant through the courts. If he clearly indicated no intention to *ever* return--that is, he surrendered possession--then you could in theory change the locks; but if he disputes that, it's likely a court would let him back in. The only safe way to evict is through the courts.


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