How to get rid of a new roommate who, it turns out, has a rap sheet?
April 16, 2009 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Just signed a 5 month lease with 4 roommates found on Craigslist, then found out one guy has a criminal record a mile long! How should I begin to deal with this so things don't get physically dangerous, or legally murky?

I am a current tenant at an apartment which will soon have 3 new tenants on a lease, and 2 (including myself) who have been there for a month or so. The landlord wants everyone to be on a one year lease, but one tenant is moving out in mid July. So, we signed a lease that's good till July and we will need to find a replacement for the person leaving in July before signing the one year lease.

Anyway, myself and the other tenant staying on found two really cool, nice people for the apartment. Unfortunately, the landlord sort of went over our heads and gave our fifth room to someone we had shown the place to, but had not confirmed as someone we liked.

Turns out that the 5'th roommate got out of jail two months ago, (a fact learned due to alcohol). A quick check of online court records brought up a substantial list of retail theft, drug, and criminal mischief charges. We (obviously) knew nothing about this beforehand.

The 5'th roommate has also made our lone female roommate, (the other tenant staying on from before) very uncomfortable with his lewd commentary. Upon finding out she was married, he said "that must be hard, but you have guys on the side right?" *wink* *wink*

I foresee a very complicated situation developing very fast. I don't want to live with a thief and a creep, but I also don't want to try kicking out a man who's been to jail and has been charged with "resisting arrest", "simple assault", and "criminal mischief".

My landlord may or may not know how to handle this in a mature way.
posted by UrbanEye to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So has every roommate signed an individual lease with the landlord for their room, or just the fifth roommate?
posted by jchgf at 6:57 PM on April 16, 2009

Go tell the landlord, "You went over our head and offered a room to this guy who has a rap sheet a mile long, is just getting out of prison, and has made our female roommate very uncomfortable. You will need to rescind your offer for him to live with us immediately."
posted by 4ster at 6:58 PM on April 16, 2009 [16 favorites]

I meant to add, that he created the mess and it's his job to either [1] fix it or (i.e. dump the chump) or [2] let everyone out of the lease. Your landlord needs to be made to understand that option #1 is the fastest and easiest for everyone, especially him.
posted by 4ster at 7:00 PM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would join up with your other housemates to talk to the landlord and all together let him know that you will not be renewing your lease in July with this person in your house. Does the landlord even know about this criminal record? Because most landlords I've known wouldn't be to keen on renting to people with a criminal record of drug charges. If you do bring it up to him, again I'd recommend doing it as a group so a single one of you couldn't be targeted by either the landlord or other housemate.

But really, if the landlord is presented with a choice of needing to find 1 more tenant or 4 more, he's likely to side with you as it would be easiest.
posted by meowN at 7:00 PM on April 16, 2009

Search for a tenant's advocacy center in your area. If there's one in your area, they will be able to help you figure out what your rights are and what you can do. Or, heck, just search for "tenant's rights" in your state for starters.

We don't know where you live, and we also don't know the details about your lease. You should talk to someone who can give you legal help in the ways you need, as soon as possible. It's nice that your main thought so far is to try to talk it out with your landlord, but, at the very least you should get information about what your rights are.

I don't really know much of anything about the law, or anything. I do know, however, that a friend of mine recently got out of a bad lease situation by asking a tenant's advocacy center for help, and her situation was nowhere near as bad as yours. They had her out of the place in less than a month, with a refund for rent she had paid from the apartment complex.
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:26 PM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the advice to contact a tenants' rights center. If you don't know of one, start with your state's attorney's office. They'll probably have a lead.

Even if you want to start by talking to your landlord, contact the tenants' rights center at the same time; that way, you'll know what you can demand, and if things get to an impasse with the landlord, you'll have the ball rolling on the legal end.

Good luck, and stay safe, even if it means breaking the lease.
posted by palliser at 9:07 PM on April 16, 2009

Agree with everything above, and don't forget to change your locks when he gets kicked out.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:39 PM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I strongly second what other posters have said about seeking out your local tenant-advocacy organization. Before you issue your landlord any ultimatums, it'd be a good idea for you to find out exactly what your rights, obligations, and potential remedies are. Housing law varies widely from state to state and city to city, so getting expert, local advice is really important.

That said, I think there's a good chance that your landlord will prove to be quite motivated to help you get the fifth roommate out. If roommate #5 engages in drug activity of particular types and severity, the landlord could conceivably lose the house. Ergo, if the landlord has two neurons to rub together, the new tenant's criminal record, once learned, will promptly scare the bejeezus out of him or her.

You mentioned a concern that that your landlord might not handle this situation very well. In my jurisdiction, there's a nonprofit organization called the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound* that (among other things) helps local landlords to develop best practices and stay in compliance with the law. If I were you, I'd see if something like RHA-PS exists in your jurisdiction. Then, when you tell your landlord about Skeezo the Housemate's lovely curriculum vitae, you can also give him or her a number to call for advice about how to deal with it. RHA-PS actually used to have a legal help line-- they don't anymore, but the RHA-PS analog(s) in your area might. Do, of course, make sure to get sound advice for yourself before trying to wrangle referrals for your landlord.

Best of luck with this. What a cruddy thing to have to deal with.

*Full disclosure: I know about RHA-PS because I'm employed as a paralegal** at a firm that does quite a bit of work for them. That said, I'll also hasten to note that I don't actually do any direct work on their matters, that no one from RHA-PS knows me from Eve, and I don't stand to benefit in any way from driving traffic toward them.

** Technically, IAAL, but IANYL, and nothing in this post should be considered legal advice.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:57 PM on April 16, 2009

the landlord sort of went over our heads

Kinda vague right there, aren't you? That's pretty much the most important part of the story in order to understand what happened. Can you clarify that part at all?
posted by mediareport at 5:08 AM on April 17, 2009

jchgf: We are all on one lease for the entire building, though we each pay the landlord separately, if one person leaves, the others must make up the difference.

mediareport: I'm not exactly sure how the problem roommate came into the picture. I got home late from work, and the other roommate staying-on told me someone had taken a look at the house that morning and decided to move in pronto. (We had a vacant room at the time) I had no say in the matter, and I'm not sure how much of the decision to let him stay was my roommate's, or the landlord's.

It's been a real mess getting new roommates, as the landlord pretty much left it up to us to do so, but, has not been communicating well about who followed up with him after meeting with us. He basically wants us to find people but then let him approve them. Which is fine. I just wish he would have made sure to talk to all the tenants before letting this guy move in. (As far as I know, he only talked to one, the roommate who showed the house.)
posted by UrbanEye at 5:42 AM on April 17, 2009

Also, I'm in Pittsburgh.
posted by UrbanEye at 5:43 AM on April 17, 2009

We are all on one lease for the entire building, though we each pay the landlord separately, if one person leaves, the others must make up the difference.

I'm worry, what? You have no say in your roommates but you're obligated to cover their share of the rent if they don't pay? Your local tenant advocacy group will have a field day with this guy.

Whatever the resolution to this immediate problem, I think you need to find a more equitable living situation when your lease is up.
posted by mkultra at 7:12 AM on April 17, 2009

Is it possible your landlord wants you out? That he picked this guy intentionally?
posted by adamrice at 7:45 AM on April 17, 2009

If you're a student, I would suggest contacting the University of Pittsburgh (or CMU) to see what advice and support they can give you in getting rid of this guy. Even if you're not a student, they may still give you advice. Or you could pretend to be one.

Also, look into the Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Law to see what your options are there. Here's more information:

Based on my very limited legal knowledge, tenants can break a lease with a landlord if they realistically believe they are in danger. I would find out if living with a career criminal falls into that category.
posted by elder18 at 8:33 AM on April 17, 2009

you need to find out exactly what happened and who said what - this question has gone from "my landlord rented this room without talking to any of us" to "my roommate showed the room, the landlord approved the guy, and i had a new roommate when i got home". those are 2 very different stories, especially in the eyes of the law.

you might also want to put his crimes into perspective - how many were picked up for the same offense? criminal mischief and resisting arrest are often tack on charges - things the cops put on long lists to up the punishment. resisting arrest can be yanking your arm away (or having the cop THINK you've yanked your arm away) and criminal mischief could be kicking a tire. drug charges - what kind of drug charges? was he caught as an 18 year old with a joint and now he's 30 or was he making meth in his basement last year? he just got out of jail, as in he did an overnight stay due to expired tags or a 14 day stay due to a DUI or did he actually just get out of prison after a 2 year stint on robbery?

i'm not suggesting you keep this guy as a tenant (if he's making another roomie uncomfortable and he's just not welcome, then that will suck for everyone), but just because someone has a criminal record it doesn't mean they're a shitty person or even remotely dangerous. with 1 out of 100 of the citizens in the US locked up, finding a non-excon for a roomie will get harder and harder
posted by nadawi at 10:17 AM on April 17, 2009

Pittsburgh? I have a recommendation for you: Neighborhood Legal Services Association.

I can't disagree more strongly with the notion that you should consider living with a guy you don't know with a rap sheet. If you feel unsafe, don't try to talk yourself out of it; pay attention to your gut.
posted by palliser at 12:28 PM on April 17, 2009

I'm not sure how much of the decision to let him stay was my roommate's, or the landlord's.

Really? You should find out, pronto, like nadawi says, before going one step further.
posted by mediareport at 8:12 PM on April 17, 2009

Put a lock on your bedroom door if there isn't one already. (for starters)
posted by marble at 12:39 AM on April 18, 2009

marble: had a lock already when I moved in.

palliser: thanks for the link, I'll check it out.

nadawi: He was in jail for a year for selling cocaine to an undercover cop, (or, referring the cop to a dealer, the details are hazy, and I heard them second-hand). However, he also has been convicted of 4 or 5 counts of retail theft, or theft of movable property (all on different dats over the course of a few years). A local newspaper police-blotter said he stole $600 worth of videos from Blockbuster. My knowledge of the drug charges is limited to what the court documents say, which is just that he was in possession of drugs.

elder18: thanks for the links.

palliser: I'm getting worried this could get unsafe or at least pretty ridiculous.

An update: First of all, here are the characters in this thing (names changed to protect the innocent)

Tim: Our landlord
Sarah: The lone female roommate staying on.
Troy: The new guy with the rap sheet
Will: Roommate on new lease for May, not a current tenant.
Sean: Roommate on new lease for May, not a current tenant.
Melissa: Our other female roommate who will be leaving at month's end
Chris: Our other male roommate who will be leaving at month's end. (But is barely involved in this, as he's almost never home.)

Yesterday, Sarah decided she really wanted to talk to Tim, our landlord about what we had found out about Troy. So, we both went over to Tim's house, which is next door, and showed him the info I had found online and told him what Troy had told Sarah. Tim's reaction was to tell us that if he did anything at all wrong, he would be kicked out of the house immediately.

Now, as far as I know, he has no legal means of doing that. I left Tim's house and went for a long walk. Sarah went back to the house, where Troy very suspiciously asked her where she was. She said she was doing laundry (which is also next door) He said "bullshit".

At this point, I already thought the situation was getting out of hand. Today I find out that last night, my landlord possibly enlisted the help of his friend to try to start some kind of scuffle with Troy and a friend Troy had over (I assume he had the asinine idea of getting Troy to violate his parole). Scuffle, as in, Tim's friend took a swing at Troy.

Melissa, the female roommate who is leaving, is now afraid Troy might find out she knows what's going on, and has been texting Tim about it, and would retaliate somehow.

So, now there are two scared women, an ex-con, an unimaginably stupid landlord, and myself, all embroiled in this.

If my landlord did indeed try to start anything violent, is his lease worth the paper its printed on?

I swear I'm not making any of this up. It's not a soap opera script, it's actually happening.
posted by UrbanEye at 1:40 PM on April 18, 2009

I think I may be speaking for everyone participating in this thread when I say I've reached the end of my expertise and think you should talk to people who do this for a living. Neighborhood Legal Services is very good -- lawyers for top firms in Pittsburgh do pro bono work for them, and their staff attorneys are great, though overworked, as are all public-interest lawyers.

He sounds like an angry dude who feels entitled to work out his anger on others (asking a near-stranger where she's been and then telling her "bullshit" when she responds). I would not live with that guy.

I also would not sign a lease or any other agreement with a landlord who felt entitled to make decisions like this unilaterally.

I would stay with a friend until Troy was gone or the lease was up, and then I would find another place in July no matter how this works out. It's Pittsburgh. There is a lot of housing stock here.
posted by palliser at 3:31 PM on April 18, 2009

At this point, I have to ask how much your lease agreement specifies you would pay in penalties if you (or all of you) break the lease, because honestly, this sounds like whatever it is, it is an amount that would sound like a bargain to pay to get out of this mess if it gets much worse.
posted by 4ster at 9:20 PM on April 18, 2009

Am I missing something? We're still not at all clear about how this guy got invited in. But yeah, you need professional legal help. Just be aware that a lawyer is going to need more detail than you've provided us here.
posted by mediareport at 10:33 PM on April 18, 2009

I talked to "Will", one of the new tenants on the lease. Turns out both his parents are lawyers.

We ("Will", "Sean", and I) are going to tell the landlord that we have lined up another place to move into May 1st, and that we will break the lease and go to court if he doesn't get rid of this guy. Will has already left him a phone message saying that under no uncertain terms, he will not be moving into the apartment with this guy there, and he expects his rent and security deposit back. He also mentioned his lawyer parents and their eagerness to help their son.

Actually finding a decent place to live in two weeks is going to be a challenge...
posted by UrbanEye at 11:09 PM on April 18, 2009

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