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How to Deal With a Roommate Moving Out

Roommates are a reasonable response to high living costs. With a roommate, you have someone to share rent and expenses. Assuming that the roommate also signed the lease, if they leave before your tenancy ends, it can raise numerous legal issues for any remaining roommates. Lease agreements are binding contracts, and the departing roommate is breaking the terms of the lease, exposing everyone on the lease to liability. The remaining roommates are likely responsible for the ex-roommate's share of the rent.

This article explores different options you can take if your roommate moves out before the end of the lease term.

Sign a Roommate Agreement Before You Move In

The best time to prepare for a roommate's abrupt departure is before you move into your new apartment. In addition to signing a lease agreement with your landlord or property manager, you and any co-tenants should sign a roommate agreement. The agreement should identify how each co-tenant should handle matters if they leave before the end of the lease.

Issues to Address in a Roommate Agreement

The roommate agreement can address issues such as:

  • Whether the roommate must find a replacement co-tenant
  • Whether the remaining roommate must get the landlord's approval for a new roommate
  • How to handle unpaid rent
  • How to manage the departing roommate's security deposit
  • How to manage any personal property left behind

Month-to-Month Lease

Prior to moving in, if you know your co-tenant has plans to leave before the end of a traditional lease, you should ask the landlord about a month-to-month lease. With this type of lease, you only need to give one month's notice, eliminating the need to find a replacement roommate when your initial roommate leaves.

Notifying Your Landlord

You should let your landlord or the property management company that manages your rental unit know about your ex-roommate's departure. Don't try to hide it from your landlord, as this may backfire on you. Check your lease for more specific information on where to send your notice.

Staying in the Apartment

This rental unit is your home, and you may not want to leave. Unless you and your ex-roommate had a separate agreement with the landlord, you (and any remaining tenants) are likely liable for the total amount of monthly rent. If you can't afford the monthly rent alone, you should consider subletting the open room. If your lease does not allow subleasing, you should ask your landlord for permission to get a subtenant to take your former roommate's place on the lease.

Check your lease to determine whether you need your landlord's approval for any changes in tenancy.

Subleasing a Room in a Rental Unit

If your lease does allow sublets, you can look for a new roommate to sublease the open bedroom in a rental unit. Be sure to vet the prospective new renter, including background and credit checks.

If your landlord does not approve a sublease, do not try to sneak a new tenant into the rental property. This may violate the terms of your rental agreement and subject you to eviction. Instead, you and your landlord can consider a new lease with a new roommate. Alternatively, your landlord can add the new roommate to the current lease.

Move Out

Moving out is an option if you can no longer afford the rent. Talk to your landlord before you stop paying rent or move out suddenly. You do not want to risk your landlord starting the eviction process because you have stopped paying rent. Understand that you are breaking the lease before it ends, and your landlord may assess a penalty for early termination.

Dealing With Unpaid Rent

Unfortunately, a roommate sometimes departs, leaving unpaid rent and bills. If you know how to contact your ex-roommate, small claims court is one option to get the owed money.

Small claims court can be reasonably simple if your roommate is on the lease. You can show the court the lease and explain that your former roommate left without paying rent. You are less likely to prevail if your roommate is not on the lease. You should consult with a licensed attorney if you want to go to small claims court.

Get Legal Help

Having a roommate move out is often distressing. You are still responsible for future rent payments, which can be daunting. An experienced local landlord-tenant attorney can help you.

These attorneys are experts in landlord-tenant law, a niche area of real estate law, and they can provide you with legal advice and explain your legal rights. They can also represent you if you file a legal action against your former roommate. Speak to a landlord-tenant attorney today.

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