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Legal How-To: Evicting a Roommate

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on July 22, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

How do you legally evict a roommate? While the answer depends on your specific situation, there are some general principles to keep in mind.

Although getting a roommate can be a great way to share the costs of renting a house or apartment, sometimes things just don't work out. But similar to when a landlord wants to evict a tenant, you'll want to make sure the law is on your side when considering evicting a roommate. A wrongful eviction may subject you to legal liability, which can be quite costly to resolve.

So how should you evict a roommate? Here are some general guidelines:

  • Try talking to your roommate -- s/he may simply agree to leave. Often, the best legal solution is not needing one at all. Laying out the reasons your roommate should leave may convince your roommate that it's for the best, especially given that it may be difficult, legally, to force a roommate to leave against his or her will. But remember, if a roommate who's on the lease agrees to move out, you (and your remaining roommates, if any) may still be responsible for his or her share of rent and utilities; check your lease to see if this applies to you.
  • If you and your roommate are both on the lease... If both you and your roommate signed the lease, then you both have equal rights to occupy the dwelling, and it will likely be very difficult to evict your roommate if he or she doesn't want to leave voluntarily. But if there are good reasons to want your roommate gone -- for example, if she uses illegal drugs on the premises, in violation of your lease -- then you may want to speak with your landlord, who may have the legal authority to begin the eviction process.
  • If your roommate is subletting... If your roommate is subletting from you and has signed a sublease agreement, then you're effectively that person's landlord. This means you may be able to evict your sublessor in the same manner as a landlord would evict a tenant by using the unlawful detainer eviction process.
  • If your roommate has no lease or sublease agreement... If your roommate has not signed a lease or sublease, can you just kick him or her out? It depends. If the person has been there a while, then he or she may be considered a month-to-month tenant, in which case the "tenancy" may be terminated with a 30-day notice. However, depending on the laws in your state, a roommate may have acquired tenant's rights even without a lease, and must then be formally evicted. In this situation, you may want to inform your landlord or consult a knowledgeable landlord-tenant lawyer near you.

Need More Help?

In any roommate-eviction situation, you'll want to be familiar with your state and local landlord/tenant laws. FindLaw has links to state-specific publications on landlord-tenant laws; we've also summarized some of the basics in our State Laws section (find them under "Property and Real Estate Laws," listed under each state).

If you still have questions about how best to proceed with a roommate eviction, an experienced landlord/tenant lawyer in your area can help explain your legal options and find a solution for your housing issues.

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