Legal Question in Credit and Debt Law in New York

My roommate John invited his friend Bob to stay in our apartment. I told John I wasn't a fan of the situation but I didn't push the subject because I knew Bob was in a tight spot and he was a nice guy. Bob ended up staying for 8 months. I'd like to get compensated for the time I had Bob living in my apartment. Can I sue, and if so, who?

Asked on 10/15/13, 4:26 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Marshall Isaacs Marshall R. Isaacs, Attorney At Law

Yes, you can sue; however it's probably not worth it. The first thing you have to understand is that, in law, there are legal remedies and there are equitable remedies.

Let's say you and Bob had entered into a sublease in which Bob was required to pay $300.00 per month for rent but never did; The cause of action would be for breach of contract (a lease is nothing more than a contract.) and the legal remedy would be payment of the unpaid rent plus interest and possibly legal fees (if the sublease provides for such).

Here, however, there is no applicable contract or law. Bob used your electricity, toilet paper, food, plumbing, mailbox and cooking appliances for free. There is no legal remedy by which a court could order Bob to pay you. Under these circumstances, the court can entertain an "equitable" remedy. Equitable remedies apply when no applicable law exists but one party has suffered a loss at the hands of another and the loss was unfair. There are numerous equitable remedies. One example is "unjust enrichment." Bob was unjustly enriched; that is, he got something for free and at your expense. That being the case, a Court could award a money judgment for a sum which would make you "whole," perhaps $100 per month.

The problem is, the lower courts in New York City--if that's where you are--do not have the jurisdiction to fashion equitable remedies (there are some limited exceptions) so you will presumably bring your action in State Supreme Court where it costs $210.00 just to start a lawsuit. You will then have to pay a process server and additional Court fees. Unless you live in a mansion, I can't imagine the Court awarding much money, maybe a few hundred dollars. Between the filing fees and limited amount of an award, bringing a lawsuit is most likely cost-prohibitive.

Hope this helps.

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Answered on 10/15/13, 5:49 pm

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