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How to Deal With a Roommate Moving Out

Although your roommate might be legally responsible for providing the landlord notice and paying rent before leaving, things don't always work out as planned. Depending on your lease, you may owe the rent if your roommate moves out before the end of the lease. While some landlords may be flexible and work with you, many landlords simply won't care.

Protect Yourself from a Departing Roommate

If your roommate gives you any kind of notice that they are leaving in mid-lease, then you may want to get them to sign an agreement stating that the departing roommate will:

  • Pay the remaining rent and utilities for the entire term of the lease. The amount of the rent will depend on the terms of your lease.
  • Find a substitute roommate. Although it should be your ex-roommate's responsibility to find a roommate, be realistic and do your best to be helpful in finding a new roommate to cover costs.
  • Pay for any damage caused.
  • Give up any claim to be a tenant: you don't want an old roommate returning thinking they have a right to still live there.

Unfortunately, sometimes a roommate just bails and shows no sign of paying what they owe. If your roommate leaves the state, you may be out of luck, but if you know that the roommate is still local, consider taking the matter to small claims court. You don't need a lawyer to file in small claims court but it is highly recommended that you consult with an attorney.

If your roommate is on the lease, small claims can be a fairly simple process where you show up with the lease in hand and explain that your roommate left without paying rent. If your roommate is not on the lease, getting a judgment in court can be much more difficult.

If the roommate fails to show up to court, then you may get an automatic judgment in your favor. Be aware that collecting that judgment may be more difficult. Still, it's usually worth it to set aside an afternoon and take your case to small claims court.

If You Want to Stay in the Apartment

If you want to stay in the lease, you may be tempted just to sneak in a new tenant without talking to the landlord. Don't do this, because it generally violates the rental agreement and may be grounds for eviction if the landlord finds out. Chances are the landlord will be amenable to your proposed new roommate anyway, so make sure you do it the right way and have the proposed tenant fill out a rental application.

Be careful because the departure of the existing roommate can give a problematic landlord an excuse to evict you, even if you cover the missing roommate's rent. This is because your lease likely has a term of stay, which would be violated by your old roommate moving out. However, most landlords just want to get paid and not be hassled with having to find new occupants, so it is unlikely that a landlord will evict you unless your landlord already wants you out for some reason.

If You Want to Move Out of the Rental

If you decide that also want to leave the rental arrangement, there are a couple of things you should do to minimize your exposure:

  • Give your landlord notice immediately. Don't wait until the bills pile up and rent is due before informing your landlord that you can't pay and want to move out.
  • Tell your landlord the truth: if you need to move out because you simply can't afford the lease without a roommate and can't find one, then just say so. Some landlords may just say "tough" but many landlords will be more accommodating because they don't want to go through the hassle of trying to collect. In most states, a landlord has a duty to mitigate damages, including advertising the unit for rent.
  • Be polite and helpful even if you're mad that your roommate bailed and left you with the bill - that's not your landlord's fault. Many conflicts and problems can be avoided by being professional and polite. Don't take out your anger on your landlord, and chances are good you'll get a better result.

Have Legal Questions About a Roommate Moving Out? Contact a Lawyer

It can be quite stressful when a roommate who's helping pay the rent moves out, particularly if it's sudden and unexpected. While landlords still have to cover their own costs and make a living, sometimes negotiating for a little wiggle room can help. If you need help dealing with a roommate moving out, consider speaking with a local real estate lawyer to find out how they can help.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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