Shes finally leaving! Now what?
May 24, 2012 12:14 PM   Subscribe

This question is part law, part human relations. I need to know how to handle a situation when only one person wants to break out of a lease. Are they allowed to break out without the consent of the other lessees? And if not, should we let her? Details inside.

Throwaway email:

Here's the situation, I'm sorry it's long but it's causing me a lot of guilt and I need advice as to whether I should just swallow it or not. If you're here just to answer the question about lease breaking, then skip to the end, and it'll save you a bunch of drama.

Me, and my partner ("Ann") went into a lease with my sister ("Angela") and Angela's partner, "Liz". Angela and Liz had been rooming unofficially for a while, Liz staying over at Angela's place several nights a week, etc. So when my and Ann's lease ended, we decided it would a be a great idea to try and find a place together. So we did! The first few months were great. Then problems arose between Angela and Liz, and eventually lots of lies that Liz has told came to the surface, including lying to her parents about who Angela was. Not only that she was her partner, but how old she was, whether she smoked, how they met, if she had any tattoos, had ever dyed her hair. Lots of tiny little things were lied about, all without Angela's permission. Liz also lied about Ann and I. All without telling us until we're 5 seconds from meeting them [her parents], so we would have no real choice but to play along. Needless to say, none of us were very happy about this.

As time goes on, things get more and more strained between Liz and Angela, until my sister is miserable, and completely not acting affectionate or loving towards Liz. I could tell she just wasn't in love any more. Liz, in return, starts flinging wild accusations [seriously wild, with no basis. Like, along the lines of: She would snoop through things, find a piece of jewelry that she had never seen before, and accuse Angela of having a secret lover. (this exact situation never happened, but something very close to it did).]

This past week, there's been nothing but fighting, with Liz getting more and more petty, to where even Ann and I are just fed up with her. She's getting angry at everything, for no reason. She even starts attacking Ann and I behind our backs, over things that don't make any sense. It was her turn to buy some communal goods for the apartment, and after several weeks of her putting it off, Angela approached her about it. She flew off the handle, saying: "It's not fair for me to do it, it's not like I have loads of money. I don't have a stash of credit cards, like I'm sure they do." Well, no, Ann and I don't have any credit cards. We just budget well.

So, finally Angela and Liz break up. Thank god. Liz tried to hold it over Angela's head that she makes more money, so how is she going to afford it by herself? Etc, and through this ridiculous argument, it comes to light that Liz believes that she's not responsible for her share of the rent anymore. Angela informs her that no, she's still legally responsible. I think, oh no, there's going to be a battle over this.

So, this morning Liz comes to me, saying how she's got to move out, and she can't move back in with her parents. [They've discovered about the lies, and kind of disowned her for her sexuality. This is the part I feel the most guilt over.] She's looking for a new place, maybe out of state. She says she can't afford to pay rent here at this apartment, and there, wherever she's moving to. She says she'll forfeit her security deposit [which is good, because her two cats have already caused some minor damage to doors and things]. She then says that if she was moving out voluntarily, it would be different, but since she's being forced to move out, she doesn't feel she should have to pay her share of the rent any more. Now, to clarify: We never said she had to leave. We even offered to convert the library/den to another bedroom. She doesn't want that. She wants to go. She then states that she's going to go down to the office and get her name taken off the lease.

So, here's my guilt problem: I don't want to be the bad guy and tell her, no, you still have to pay rent even though you're leaving. I especially feel sorry for her, because of her crazy religious parents disowning her. That's happened to a couple of people really close to me. But, at the same time, I feel like she's a grown ass woman, and it's not really fair to make any of us absorb that rent, especially because right now, none of us can afford it. We also can't get another roommate. It would put us in financial instability to try and cover Liz's portion of the rent.

Here's the law part: Can one person, legally, in Virginia, break out of the lease without the consent of the other lessees? Wouldn't they technically have to void the entire lease, and then re-write another one with just us three up there? Or am I thinking about this the wrong way?

If it's legal for her to back out on her own, then I don't even have to worry about what to say to her. But if she can't, then how do I go about doing this?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (11 answers total)
You're overthinking this.

The main problem is basically that Angela and Liz shared a bedroom, and with Liz moving out, you can't just replace her with someone else.

So your two solutions, really, are these: one is to make arrangements with the landlord for all of you to end the lease early, possibly by finding subletters, and the 3 of you remaining find a less expensive apartment. The other solution is for you to, possibly, get maybe a month more of rent from Liz, draw up a new lease with the landlord with Liz's name not on it, and for the 3 of you to "eat" the average increase in rent that you all have to pay now that Liz no longer lives there.
posted by deanc at 12:33 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is not legal advice and I am not your lawyer. You should consult a competent attorney in your jurisdiction. Landlord/tenant law varies greatly by jurisdiction.

Legality has nothing to do with breaking a lease; a lease is a contract and the penalties for breach will be provided in the lease document, as supplemented by the laws of your jurisdiction. "Legal" means not criminal; this is not a crime.

You'll want to review carefully the terms of the lease. For instance, it seems likely that you, as a group are liable for the combined rent, rather than your prorated shares of the rent. As such, it's not necessarily clear (consult a lawyer) that she has breached the lease by moving out. You may have a legal claim against her for her share of the rent, but in some jurisdictions, this claim would be "ripe" only as and when rent came due and she failed to contribute. Thus if her share is $500, it could be that you have a claim against her for $500 (and only $500) in June. Then another $500 in July. And so on. That could make it uneconomical to collect against her.

But if you were offering to turn the library/den into a bedroom for Liz, can't you do that for a new room mate? If presented with the alternatives--i.e., you default on the lease, or break it en masse--a landlord may be happy to waive a no-subletting clause in the lease.

Again, not legal advice, and I am not your lawyer. Talk to a competent Virginia lawyer. Perhaps someone from the Virginia Legal Aid Society? (Link to tenants' rights FAQ PDF).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:43 PM on May 24, 2012


Assuming you end up on the hook for her share of the rent as the Admiral suggests, I think small claims is probably a good idea (assuming you know the risks inherent in the fact that she appears to be judgment-proof). But please don't do it the way the wolfdreams01 suggests. That's a terrible abuse of the system, and I'm sure you could be in for some trouble if you were caught, and I'm even more sure that you don't want to do anything that icky.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:11 PM on May 24, 2012

Is it possible for you to rent the library/den for Liz's share of the rent?

You have a responsibility to off-set any damages. Make Liz responsible for finding you all a new roommate. But of course you should post the room on Craigslist.

So while she has a legal obligation and a moral one, if she's going to go, there's not a lot you can do about it.

If Liz leaves out of state, good luck tracking her down, let alone getting her to pay up (although you'd all look AWESOME on People's Court).

If you'd rather not bother, and would rather move again (and honestly, is that what you REALLY want?) Everyone should be equally responsible for the cost of breaking the lease.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:33 PM on May 24, 2012

Seems to me that the easiest thing to do is accept her offer to forfeit her share of the security deposit, but get that in writing! Just move on with your lives --- no matter what you do, it sounds like Liz is moving out (and who cares where: just out of your hair) and the best option for all the rest of you is to just cut off all her drama --- it's pretty unlikely you'd ever actually manage to get any money out of her anyway, small claims court notwithstanding.

I'd make her pay for June, though: 30 days notice and all that.

(And because I had a sneaky liar as my own last roommate: make sure Liz doesn't leave with anything that doesn't belong to her, like jewelry or checkbooks or cash or your coin collection or personal identification; make sure she takes her cats, and change the locks after she's out.)
posted by easily confused at 2:40 PM on May 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you all signed a lease together you are all responsible for paying rent, including her. Unfortunately for you, your landlord does not care how you divide the rent or where the money comes from - you will have to pay all of June's rent on the 1st, with or without her. So even though you can take her to small claims court for her share, it could take a long time to see that money. If you can't jointly cover her rent, you need to move to a cheaper place. Sorry.

On the human relations side of it, she should really pay you for June so that you can get another roommate or have time to give your landlord notice. If her deposit was a month of rent, then that's that. After that, no, I don't think you should really go after her. She shouldn't have to keep paying for a place she's not living in (especially if she has to pay rent somewhere else). Look, I know you feel like you were screwed over. But when you move in with couples, you ALWAYS have to be prepared for the possibility that they'll break up, and have a plan for how things will go down. She's not responsible for the fact that you guys can't stretch your budgets to afford this place on your own.
posted by ke rose ne at 2:49 PM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Oh, I was in a similar situation last year, and our solution was for me to move in to the den/office, so that we could find a roommate for the real room. We knew we probably couldn't find a taker for the den, but we didn't want to move, and the bedroom was nice and we got a lot of responses. Would your sister consider moving into the den?)
posted by ke rose ne at 2:54 PM on May 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are you asking about June's rent?

If so, I think you should accept her forfeiture of her deposit money as her June rent, and decide how the 3 remaining roommates are going to handle the remainder of the lease.

First off, go to the rental office and ask what the procedure is for getting a roommate off of your lease. They'll probably tell you something expensive (like penalties or fees for executing a new lease) and also alot of stuff that isn't exactly legal, because that's how those big outfits do business. Confirm whatever they tell you with your local landlord tenant bureau - that's a government thing, call your county offices to get the right office and phone number.

Sounds like Liz had a shitty upbringing, where lying and hiding were necessary for her survival. Be kind towards her. It may be years until she discovers she doesn't have to lie to stay safe. Or she may never learn that. Be kind towards her. You might be the first person to ever be kind towards her AFTER knowing all of her secrets. Know what I mean? Send her a positive message as she leaves because it is the right thing to do here.

Now. Ladies.

I'm sure you realize it was shortsighted to pin all the financial stability on romantic relationships, mixed with a large apartment-share, remaining positive. Roommates ALWAYS flake. Sadly, people break up. Just, keep this under advisement for future apartment shares - someone always flakes, budget accordingly - OK?

I say that because if you can find a new roommate for the den before mid-June, then you guys will have gotten out of this very very cheaply.

I'll explain.

Let's say you three can NOT absorb Liz' rent share for June, then I suggest you get prepared to all move out, the sooner the better. And definitely before eviction occurs.

If you can not pay whatever penalty you 4 will incur as a result of breaking the lease early, you'll probably all have a massive ding in your credit ratings. The penalty could be the equivalent of 3 month's rent, but the landlord might be able to sue you all collectively for the full year's rent - so check the law and your lease to know what you'll be facing if you all break the lease early. Again, don't wait to get evicted, that's even worse. Also, keep an eye on your unit after you move out. Note the date a new tenant takes possession. In some (most?) jurisdictions, a landlord can only sue for the length of vacancy after a lease is broken early, plus back unpaid rent, and maybe some penalty fees. IANAL, so check with you local tenant/landlord government housing authority or bureau about all of this!

One last thing to consider.... it doesn't sound like Liz has any assests, so pursuing her in small claims court for anything under, say, $800 is kinda a waste of effort. Just because you win, she doesn't have to pay you. I think it costs money to have the sheriff seize assests or do a garnishment of wages, so check into that.

Seriously, I think you should accept her forfeiture of her deposit money as her June rent, and decide how the 3 remaining roommates are going to handle the remainder of the lease. To worry about a couple of hundred buck or a phone bill is kinda peanuts compared to the possibility of being collectively sued by your landlord.

Put your energy into finding a new roommate for that den, hopefully by the first or second week of June, so you're not out too much money. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 3:38 PM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Upon preview - yes - your sister should take the den and you should rent out her old bedroom.

ke rose ne really has it!
posted by jbenben at 3:42 PM on May 24, 2012

Mod note: Folks, question is not how to screw someone using the legal system, it's how to try to resolve this particular issue.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:12 PM on May 24, 2012

I share your expectation that Liz is responsible fot her part of the rent for either the extent of your notice period (its 60 days here) or until you find a new housemate, whichever is less.

Realistically, Liz is going through a hard time: she's losing her gf, her home and experiencing conflict with her parents. Given those things, she might not have any cash to give you right now. I would make a push for as much rent as you can and then resign yourselves to learning an exPensive lesson & getting a new housemate.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:16 PM on May 24, 2012

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