What are my rights?
September 22, 2010 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I live in an apartment with someone who was, until recently, a good friend. We're both on the lease. I've been unemployed for some time & he agreed to pick up my half of the rent until I get a new job. That's recently changed & now he's threatening to throw my things out & evict me.

I know this isn't legal, that as a co-signer of the lease I have a legal right to stay in my home as long as the rent is being paid, whether I'm contributing to it or not. It's not a situation I want to be in, but it's better than the alternatives. What I need is pointers to legal documentation & advocacy groups to help me support my position, to keep me under a roof until I can extract myself from the situation under my own terms. I live in Pennsylvania. I've set up an email address for responding to questions, aptgetter@gmail.com. Help me keep my home, hive.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is hard because you're anonymous, but a few clarification points that would help:

- did your roommate agree to cover your half of the lease in writing or email? Do you have any documentation of this?

- are you collecting unemployment?

- is it possible for you to also consider actually moving out of the place and into the home of family/friends? Not to be snarky, but it is extremely kind that your roommate covered you for even a period of time.

- What part of PA do you live in? Advocacy groups would vary greatly by city.
posted by k8t at 9:19 AM on September 22, 2010

I've been unemployed for some time & he agreed to pick up my half of the rent until I get a new job. How long is some time. Do you only want legal advice. When you say "co-signer" are you saying you guaranteed the rent or are you both liable for the lease as equals. How is the lease terminated/how long does it run and are you both equally liable for the full rent.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:19 AM on September 22, 2010

I'm confused...

You want us to advise you as to how you can continue to live in your apartment for free?

I understand that this isn't a situation that you asked for, and I'm sure that you're doing everything you can to figure out how to handle it, and I don't doubt that your roommate is being incredibly unpleasant to deal with. But I can't really see that he's being unfair. If anything, his big mistake was to promise to cover the rent until you found a job, when it seems like he really meant "for the next few months."

Your roommate is not your husband (or even your boyfriend, I assume, given your description) and is under no obligation to house you for free, whatever ill-advised assurances he may have given months ago.

Your question asks for resources to support your position, but I'm not sure your position is supportable. You'd probably be better off making a concrete compromise with him -- "I'll be out by the first of October, please do me the favor of bearing with me until then" -- rather than dragging this out into some kind of legal battle that won't make life easier for either of you.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:28 AM on September 22, 2010 [24 favorites]

I would like to point out that even if you make it impossible for your roommate to throw you out of the apartment which you share with him, he has another option, which is to move out himself. There is no way to force him to provide you with free housing if he does not wish to do so. His offer to cover your rent is not a legal contract, it is just a generous offer. Legal contracts take the form of some valuable item being exchanged for some other valuable item. For example, he could have offered to pay your portion of the rent in return for your services in washing his dishes. That would be a legal contract. Even then, he would be able at some point to say that he is no longer willing, or no longer can afford to hire you to wash his dishes at that price.

So really, you should be looking for other solutions.
posted by grizzled at 9:42 AM on September 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'd be concerned that if you take legal action against your roommate so that you can continue to live in the apartment for free, he's going to take you to small claims court in retaliation, which he'd have every right to do.

What you're doing could ruin your roommate's credit (and yours) if he at some point cannot continue to support the both of you. Consider this: you have a legal right to live there if the rent is being paid in full and your name is on the lease. Is it ethical for you to continue living there, though? Could the two of you find another person to take over the lease?

Here's a link to the Pennsylvania HUD site, which may be able to provide rent assistance or low-cost housing: http://www.hud.gov/local/index.cfm?state=pa&topic=renting
posted by pecanpies at 9:46 AM on September 22, 2010

I assume that as long as you were living there rent-deferred, you planned to pay him back when you could. Now that he's sick of you, you could think of this as your rent bankruptcy and take your things and run and never pay him back unless he jumps through hoops to get it from you.

Note: I don't advocate this. This is just my biggest fear for what my roommate could do to me. I hope he doesn't read this.
posted by oreofuchi at 9:50 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Laws vary by jurisdiction, but generally a co-lessee is jointly and severally liable for the rent--that is, your roommate likely is under a legal obligation to pay the full amount, since you can't pay.

For the avoidance of doubt: I am NOT proposing that you have a legal right to require him to pay your rent. Instead, this is just to observe that roommate is really on the hook for you here--because you're unemployed and broke, the landlord will sue your roommate for any unpaid rent. Landlord could ding each of your credit scores; could theoretically garnish each of your wages etc. Of course, roommate could sue you for the amounts you were obligated to pay under the lease and that he was made to cover. But it's a whole lot of hassle for each of you in equal measure--and really, should the roommate be made to suffer with you, when he's done nothing wrong?

This is not a nice place for roommate to be. If you can't pay your rent, you should probably move out and let roommate find someone new to cover the rest of the lease.

This is not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:53 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having been in a similar situation recently, I wanted to throw in some additional thoughts. The legal and ethical implications have been addressed by other answerers, so I'm not going to bother going into those.

Think about your peace of mind. I was in an apartment with someone who (used to be) a good friend, and I fell on some hard times, and missed a few months rent. While he (verbally) assured me that it was ok, and not to worry, the emotional atmosphere in the apartment went icy.

I've since moved out of the apartment (make sure you acknowledge your debt in doing so - tell them you'll pay them what you owe them), and in with my parents. True, living with parents does carry a bit of a stigma, but the peace of mind I've gained from NOT having the negative energy of an angry roommate is entirely worth it. Now I live legitimately rent-free (I have to help take care of the house for it, but again - worth it), and can focus on getting back on my feet.

That's what I'd recommend to you. You'll sleep better, and just generally feel better, if you close up this situation.
posted by frwagon at 9:54 AM on September 22, 2010

I'd be concerned that if you take legal action against your roommate so that you can continue to live in the apartment for free, he's going to take you to small claims court in retaliation, which he'd have every right to do.

Exactly. He may not have the right to toss you out of the apartment, but he's 100% entitled to the portion of your rent that he's paying. The best thing you could do is move out ASAP and hope he considers the matter closed.
posted by sbutler at 9:55 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

As you stated, while it is highly likely that there are legal precedents in place which allow residence when you don't have a civil judgement, I would have a moral issue about the situation.

I am an able minded/bodied adult, and I would not expect a "mere" friend to put up with nonpayment of bills, rent, etc. for very long, regardless of what was said out of friendship. I might expect more from family, spouse, or significant other, but unless he's VERY comfortable financially, I would be extremely hesitant to ask for, expect or to rely on financial assistance from any one in my circle of friends for long(ish) term support.

I can only assume "some time" means more than two months. That is plenty of time to start building a resentment against you and how you live your life. Whether or not you're still going out, eating out, buying anything other than absolute necessities, even if he invited you to go to McDonalds or whatever. For me, each instance of non essential spending by a "broke" roommate would tally in my head after awhile, and bother me more and more.

You never mentioned how your communication with him was before the "attitude change," but if I were in your shoes, I know that the onus would be on me to maintain continuous communication as to job hunt status, any financial assistance gotten from other sources, what stuff of mine I'm selling, etc. to help out wherever and whenever.

If your agreement is not in writing, which things like this seldom are, he obviously perceives what was discussed differently than you perceived it. In all likelihood, you're probably both incorrect as to the exact nature of the agreement, because we as humans do tend to hear what we want to hear, rather than what was said, and remember what we want to remember, as far as what was actually said.

If it's not too late, some communication as to your understanding of the agreement versus what his understanding was might be appropriate. It may not help the need to you to find other residence, but it can alleviate some stress until you can act on that.

I recently reconnected with a very good friend turned roommate turned bitter enemy after 10 years of not speaking, and I miss the time we could have had, if we had just communicated our feeling about living together. I wish you the best of luck, but like in most things in life, you probably already know what the right thing to do is for you specifically, and no one else can tell you that. Just ask yourself what you would do in his shoes, and combine that with what you think the right thing is to do (not necessarily immediately capitulating to his wish for you to leave) and what will keep you from going crazy with fear and/or homelessness, and you'll have your answer.
posted by Debaser626 at 9:56 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your roommate can work to evict you under the terms of the lease with the landlord's help. Chances are you only have 30 days so it may be time to start making arrangements or find someone to help you pay your share. The only other options you have are here.
posted by JJ86 at 9:56 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Not that I support your position, but I do completely get that most of would go pretty far to avoid being "homeless," especially when the job sitch is such that the prospects for getting in to the new place are poor...does he have a new person lined up? Is that why it's suddenly heating up? Because if he doesn't you might point out to him that kicking your butt out isn't going to put money in his pocket.

But you really need to take the "friend" issue out of this equation. You two were basically partners in a business transaction (renting a house). That has gone sour what with your losing your job. As hard as it sounds, you might get more traction in terms of coming to an agreement about what happens next, if you can set aside the "I thought you were my friend!" bit long enough to discuss what is and is not possible.

If it were me, though, I would check with the company I leased with. That is, "Roommate is asking me to leave. I would like to know what are the practicalities about that request. What are my rights, my responsibilities, and are there any liabilities I should be aware of, should I elect to leave?" You don't need to get into the fact that there is a problem. Roommate situations do occasionally get re-arranged for reasons other than money/spats. There may well be that there are some concrete reasons why it would be to his disadvantage for you to leave. For example, you would have to take your name off the lease --it's really, REALLY stupid to leave your name on a lease when you move out-- and he might not be qualifiable as a single tenant. Even if he were, as the only sign-ee at that point, he would be solely on the hook for any financial responsibilities to the landlord.
posted by Ys at 9:57 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If he stops paying rent out of spite and finds another place to live, will your landlord have the right to evict you then?
posted by 23skidoo at 9:57 AM on September 22, 2010

Your friend could just move out, or he could go to the landlord and tell him/her the situation. It really would be easy as pie for them to put you on the street. Find a new living situation asap. Even if you did have rights and a advocacy group to help you, it would be cold comfort if you were in a shelter, and they were trying to get you back into the house you'd been kicked out of.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 9:57 AM on September 22, 2010

Maybe your friend has had job cutbacks or their employer started layoffs and they are no longer in a position to help you, or maybe they just couldn't stand you hanging around not working and not doing housework or something else (things like that bother even the spouses and parents of the unemployed). No matter what the reason I think you should gracefully move on and be thankful they did help you out for a while.
posted by meepmeow at 10:16 AM on September 22, 2010

Move whatever you have of value to a safe location. Continue living there until they legally throw you out. Be prepared to be on the street at any moment.

But if it were me, I would either get a job at McDonalds if I had to to at least contribute or I would come up with a plan to be out within 30 days.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:19 AM on September 22, 2010

As I was saying upthread though, it is likely that your roommate is legally obligated to cover ALL of the rent; for those suggesting, even hypothetically, that the roommate move out, keep in mind that roomie would be on the hook for ALL of the rent at the place shared with OP AND ALSO any rent at his new place. That really would be the worst of all possible worlds for roomie. That is, instead of having to pay $500 per month, he could be held liable for $1,500 per month.

Again, not legal advice, I am not your lawyer.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:23 AM on September 22, 2010

The anonymous poster has asked that I post the following on her behalf ( I had an email on my profile).
I appreciate the responses but I'd like to limit the discussion to the legal realm. My need is immediate, the "eviction" is planned for tonight. I understand my solution may have a negative impact on both our futures and that it's only a stopgap measure but we are where we are. I need to look to today and tomorrow and use the time I've bought to work on something more permanent.

To answer some of your questions: We're both equally on the lease, which has several months left on it. Our agreement was oral, nothing in writing. Eventual payback was assumed but no explicit terms were agreed on. As a practical matter he's not in a position to jump to a new place, at least not quickly. For those trying to persuade me that what I'm doing is wrong, it's not a situation or solution I'm happy about. It's just better than all the others. I'm looking to protect my near-term safety and comfort, to buy me the time to find a way out of here.

Again, I appreciate all the advice but I've made my decision and what I need is legal support for it (thanks JJ86!). If you really need to say something else to me, you have my email address.

posted by rmhsinc at 10:53 AM on September 22, 2010

In many states it is not possible for one co-lessee to evict another co-lessee. Only the landlord can do this consistent with your contract and appropriate laws. I am quite confident the police/sheriff will not honor or help him enforce a "private eviction". I hope you can resolve this in a timely manner for both of your well being. Unless I am mistaken your apartment mate should be advised that what he is doing is illegal and he would be subject to criminal prosecution for taking your possessions (eg malicious destruction of property) and assault if he should attempt to forcibly remove you.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

What your roommate is doing isn't an eviction in the typical landlord - tenant sense. You're not his tenant after all; you're just a roommate who's not holding up her end of the bargain. What he intends to do is throw you out, much as a married person might throw out an estranged spouse. You might be able to appeal to the police to prevent him from doing this, since it's still your home too, but only at the cost of really driving your relationship into the ground and making life even more miserable. You might very well be better off striking some compromise as was suggested upthread, e.g. you will leave peacefully on X date.

IANAL and this is all speculation and instinct, not knowledge.
posted by jon1270 at 11:08 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I appreciate the responses but I'd like to limit the discussion to the legal realm. My need is immediate, the "eviction" is planned for tonight. [...] I need to look to today and tomorrow and use the time I've bought to work on something more permanent.

I understand that what you want is legal justification for staying put, which you could then present to your roommate to persuade him not to forcibly evict you from the apartment. But what a lot of us are saying is that you may not be looking at your situation in the most practical or helpful way. You may be able to seek legal recourse if he goes through with "evicting" you. But that would take weeks or months to have any effect -- if it ever does -- and in the meantime you would be in a really shitty situation.

Part of what people are saying is that ANY solution would serve you better than falling back on legal technicalities. Arriving at a short-term compromise with your roommate would be better. Crashing on a friend's couch for a week or two while you figure things out would be better. Borrowing money to buy a bus ticket and going to stay with your parents/grandparents/cousins/siblings/whatever would be better.

Things have gotten very bad, and I'm truly sorry that you're in this situation. But trying to intimidate your roommate by telling him it's illegal to throw you out is probably not going to make things any better, and may very well make them worse. He has every right to be angry with you right now. You'd be better served to ask for kindness than to threaten him.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

My need is immediate, the "eviction" is planned for tonight.

What are you expecting to happen? Because if he is looking at getting some large friends to pick you up and physically remove you and then change the lock, you are for practical purposes on the streets tonight no matter what; advocacy groups are not going to go around busting down doors at 9pm. What the letter of the law is is really not immediately meaningful in this sort of situation.

Homeless Information: Pennsylvania

I would piss off even if it means sleeping in a bus shelter tonight, and if I was insistent on "buying time" as a "stopgap measure" try to appeal, kindly, to your roommate's sympathies tomorrow morning. But there is just so much here that is wrong -- your position is morally indefensible; this is not the best option. You refer to this as "my home," but it is clear that this stopped being your home some time ago.

Really, if you are "looking to protect [your] near-term safety and comfort," you need to get out of where you are now. It would be far too easy for this sort of situation to turn physical.

Is there something else involved here? Depression? Drugs? Extreme youth? I ask because (1) one has to have some not insignificant problems to let one's life get to this point, (2) you would be well served to look into what options exist to assist in those areas. If this is a depression issue, perhaps you want to be looking for a social worker who has experience with finding housing for the mentally ill. If drugs -- in-patient rehab. If you are very young, a foster or group home is the way to go, no matter how disagreeable that sort of thing probably looks in comparison to having a roommate. If you are indeed a teenager, your name is not really on the lease in a legally useful way; one can't enter a legally binding contract under 18.
posted by kmennie at 11:40 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

What if you explained to him how he can legally evict you? Or, rather, how he can work with your landlord to have you evicted? He can approach the landlord, explain that you've stopped paying rent and he'd like to find a replacement roommate, and ask the landlord to evict you. That's a process that would ultimately force you out, but could take weeks and could damage your roommate's relationship with the landlord. Then, offer an alternative: you and he draw up a written agreement saying you'll be fully moved out by date X, say, one week from Friday. It buys you time, and possibly some good will.

It would probably also help to tell him the list of steps you're taking to move out--line up a couch to crash on, rent storage for your belongings, place craigslist ads to sell furniture you can't or won't take with you, etc.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:46 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

[folks, OP has commented, please stop with the "if you were my roommate I'd be pissed" and either stick to the "help me with what is going to happen" or move on please. thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:54 AM on September 22, 2010

Narrative Priorities has it. "Legal rights" mean diddly squat unless you have the means to enforce them. And even then, enforcing a legal right (or threatening to enforce a legal right) just because it's there isn't always the best way to achieve your ends.

Do you plan on threatening legal action against your roommate? Threaten all you want, but law suits take months to come to a result. That is not an immediate or short-term solution. And like many others have pointed out, your roommate could very well come back at you with a counterclaim for the rent you owe.

Do you plan on calling the police on your roommate? If I were you, I'd put in a call to your local police right now and inquire as to what kind of help would be available to someone in your situation. I don't know about the area where you live, but in some parts the police have much better things to do.

If you truly cannot avail yourself of any other solutions (which have been suggested upthread), then there you are, but really take a good look at your planned course of action and ask yourself how realistic your expected outcome is. If I were you, I'd take what little time I have left to find someplace else to be "safe and comfortable" rather than plotting a legal standoff.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

IANAL and I have no aquaintence with the PA landlord-tenant laws but I know that if this was New York, your roommate could not do what he is doing. Your agreement to pay rent is not to him, it is to the landlord. The landlord is the only one who can evict you. If you are on the lease equally, then he can't do squat. If he does change the locks or throw your shit on the street you can call the cops. But I would look that up.

More practically, here's a suggestion: offer to live on the couch for the next 2-3 days so he could rent your room to someone who can pay. Say, "Listen, I'm sorry, and I appreciate everything you've done, but if you toss me out I have nowhere to go. Can I move onto the couch until Friday, and I promise I will find a solution and get out first thing Saturday morning??" That would buy you time for an alternate solution.

I don't think he can throw you out. I really don't. But you have to check that with someone who knows PA landlord-tenant law. So offer to move onto the couch and turn up at Legal Aid or a homeless shelter and tell them that you will be imminently homeless unless you find out if what he is doing is legal.

After that, you still won't have a place free and clear, just so you know; he'll likely tell the landlord who can begin his own eviction proceedings against you. If your roommate is paying and continues to pay the landlord will likely let him replace you with someone else.

Also, whatever you did to piss off your roommate that he issued this ultimatum, stop doing it. It's not helping. You have no leg to stand on here, at all, zero, none, zilch.
posted by micawber at 12:19 PM on September 22, 2010

There might be some useful information on lawhelp. They have both legal information and contact information for legal services providers.

You might try contacting your local police precinct and asking how they respond to self-help evictions.
posted by Mavri at 12:31 PM on September 22, 2010

If you want to buy some time, you need cold, hard cash. Give your roommate every dollar you have, and do your best today to make that amount as big as possible by selling stuff.
posted by sageleaf at 12:43 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Give your roommate every dollar you have

This is probably not the best idea. You should plan on being homeless eventually, whatever happens in the short term with your roommate. This means selling everything that won't fit in a single backpack, and being prepared to nurse what ever money you got from that as long as possible.
posted by nomisxid at 1:22 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

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