Many people have their first roommate during college. Statistics published by Connecticut College indicate that 95 percent of students entering their first year of college have never even shared a bedroom. Then after college, some people choose to continue along the roommate route in efforts to save money — or simply because they enjoy living with friends.
Roommate relationships often involve a certain level of commitment. You place trust in a roommate, relying on them to pay their portion of the bills and rent and to take proper care of your place of residence. Oftentimes a roommate is a close friend. You may see your roommate each and every day, hang out with them, and ask them for advice on relationships, school, your career, or life in general.
But what do you do when a roommate situation goes awry? Oftentimes, lives move in different directions at different times, and one roommate may be ready to leave the living situation before another. In other instances, living together is not the experience you thought it would be. Your roommate may not be as bad as the crazy lady from Single White Female or even Jack Black’s character from the School of Rock. But sometimes, a messy roommate or one who likes to party at all hours of the night can drive you crazy.
If your roommate is thinking about moving out, or if you’re ready to leave your roommate situation, there are a few things you should know first. If you take these steps, you can protect yourself from having to shell out big bucks after a roommate moves out.
1. Sit Down, discuss, and ask for a timeline
If you signed a joint lease, you are jointly responsible. If one person leaves early and breaks the lease, your landlord could actually evict you. However, if you’re a good tenant who can pay the bills, you may still be in good shape.
Your best course of action is to sit down and come up with a plan along with your roommate. Is there any way the situation could work out until the end of the lease? If not, ask him or her when exactly he or she plans on leaving. If your roommate wants to leave in a few days, for instance, ask him or her to provide thirty days so that you can find a replacement roommate.
If your name is the only one on the lease, the situation becomes a lot less bleak. Although you may have trouble covering the rent and bills, your roommate’s departure is generally not considered a lease violation. In fact, many rental agreements prohibit sublets. Therefore, if you’re the only one on the lease, having a roommate without your landlord’s permission may have been a lease violation in the first place.
If you share belongings within the home, MSN suggests proposing a plan to your departing roommate. You can determine the estimated value of each of your shared belongings using sites like Amazon and eBay and then create a list of what each of you will take. Maybe an “I’ll take the TV, you take the bed” kind of thing to get you and your roommate on the same page.
2. Get it all in writing
Once you’ve discussed a plan with your roommate, ask him or her to place it all in writing. The lease and bills were responsibilities you were both paying together — your roommate probably didn’t mind signing documents to move into the place, so hopefully, he or she won’t mind signing a document when he or she is ready to leave.
According to Nolo, the document your roommate signs should include how much rent and utilities your departing roommate will pay and for how long, your roommate’s exact move-out date, and the portion he or she will pay for any damages to the residence.
You may also want to include a statement that indicates your roommate is giving up his or her right to be a tenant, to avoid the possibility of him or her showing back up six months later, wanting to move back in. Lastly, it’s a good idea to include a statement to protect your departing roommate, stating that after a certain date, he’s no longer responsible for any rent, damages, or payments related to the residence.
3. Are you staying or going?
So maybe the idea of roommate leaving has just turned you off the place, maybe you can’t afford the place alone, or perhaps you never liked the house in the first place. If you want to leave too, talk to your landlord right away. Don’t let bills get behind and back yourself into a corner before taking action.
Tell your landlord the reason you want to leave. If you can’t afford the place, tell him that. If you have a decent landlord, he’ll work to find a new tenant for your property as quickly as possible so that you won’t owe as much on your lease.
While your landlord searches for a new tenant, Find Law suggests being as helpful as possible. Keep your house nice and neat and talk to prospective tenants about things you liked about the place. Keep in mind, however, that if you signed a long-term lease, there’s always the risk that you’ll be responsible for paying rent for the remainder of your lease term. If you’re on a month-to-month lease, however, you should be in pretty good shape as long as you provide adequate notice.
If you’re staying, it’s wise to talk to your landlord about a replacement roommate or about living in the residence “minus one.” If you’re “trouble-tenants,” your landlord may take this opportunity to get you out of the place. But, in many cases, landlords will allow you to find a suitable replacement as long as they can pay and they won’t cause any trouble. If you want to live in the place alone, the landlord most likely won’t mind too much if you show you can afford it on your own.
4. Let bygones be bygones? My roommate just left!
Sometimes, roommate departures go really well. One roommate gets married, has a child, or is hired for a job in a far away location, and the other roommates are often supportive and understand the need to move out.
On the other hand, sometimes roommate departures occur as a result of relationship breakups, love triangles, differences in moral beliefs or lifestyles, or simply because two individuals butt heads. These situations don’t necessarily go as smoothly.
Of course, it’s always best to get through these situations as amicably as possibly. But, of course, that’s not always possible. Sometimes, roommates just leave, without saying anything, or paying anything.
If your roommate just left on a whim, you really only have a few options. First, you can try to contact him or her and ask that he or she work the situation out with you. Second, you can take the roommate to small claims court. But, you have to ask yourself if this is worth the time and the hassle. Lastly, you can simply pay the cost yourself — live and learn.
According to Nolo, “if your ex-roommate is still in town and has a source of income, consider taking the time to sue him in small claims court for unpaid rent, damage to the rental unit, unpaid utilities, and your costs to find a replacement co-tenant, such as advertising. Then, if your ex-roommate still doesn’t pay up, you can collect what you won in court from his bank account or wages…[however] If your roommate is long gone or out-of-state, you may want to grit your teeth, pay his share and forget it, since trying to find him, sue him, and then collect the judgment is likely to be more trouble than it’s worth.”