I'm leaving, but what do we do about the lease?
December 12, 2012 8:14 AM   Subscribe

BadRoommateFilter: Last night, I came home to my roommate ranting about a dirty kitchen. The rant culminated with him throwing a jar candle at the window, at which point I left. There's broken glass on the kitchen floor still, this morning. I'm seeking new housing, but what to do about the rent for the remainder of the lease term?

My roommate clearly has anger-management issues. The rant involved anger at me for not cleaning up the kitchen, and when I pointed out that he had left many messes in the kitchen, his response was, "You know what I think of that argument?" And then he threw the glass jar.

Bottom line, I no longer feel safe in the apartment, and I spent this morning actively looking for other housing options. I feel mad at myself that I can't get over this and that I'll pretty much have to eat my share of the rent until our lease is up.

We are both on the lease and I understand I have joint and several liability for rent. So if I simply stop paying rent and my roommate defaults, I'm screwed even more. Other than paying my half of the rent as it comes due, can you think of any other options for mitigating my obligations?

SuperSpecialSnowflakeDetails: Roommate is my brother-in-law. My wife, his sister, fully supports my move-out. And , many years ago I co-signed his student loans. Sending him into financial ruin or default will really screw me above and beyond my share of the rent for the remainder of the lease term.

I am not looking for legal advice and I agree that nothing posted here will form an attorney-client relationship.
posted by QuantumMeruit to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to the rental office about what it would take to remove yourself from the lease. Tell your brother in law that you're planning on leaving and that he needs to find a new roommate.
posted by empath at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

How would the landlord feel about one of their tenants throwing heavy, fragile objects at a window? My guess is not favourably. So are you sure you're the one who has to move out?
posted by mippy at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

Is there someone who can mediate this for you? Perhaps your wife would be a good person for this. Clearly the time to talk about this is when you're both calm, preferably away from the apartment.

What is the remainder of the lease term? If it's a couple of months, then I'm thinking you can tough that out, perhaps couch surfing, or agreeing on a way to split the apartment. If it's longer than that, speak to the landlord about breaking your lease. The penalty may not be all that much (one month's rent.)

Or, if he's unhappy, perhaps he'll want to move out and you can get a new roommate, someone who's not so impulsive.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:20 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kick his ass out! Find a new roommate.
posted by hamandcheese at 8:30 AM on December 12, 2012

This is a bad situation, and I am glad that you are planning on moving out. However, because of your economic and social ties to your brother-in-law, I would strongly recommend that you tread carefully, cover all your bases, and document everything in writing.

1. Read your lease. It may include some clause for breaking your lease early.

2. Document any evidence you have at your disposal that demonstrates why your BIL makes you feel unsafe in the house. Your evidence should be in hardcopy, and I’d suggest keeping it all together somewhere safe. You want emails, phone calls, pictures of the kitchen*, etc. Another good source of evidence would be witnesses. For example, would your sister if she would be willing to corroborate your story? If so, keep a copy of her contact information in your file.

3. If your lease turned up nothing, talk to your rental agent. Explain why you want to move and show them your evidence. If they won’t budge, consider offering them your security deposit or an extra month’s rent to break your lease early.

4. You moving out may escalate your BIL’s anger. You should absolutely be prepared for this to happen by getting advice from:

-the Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker
-your local police department (please call their non-emergency number)
-a domestic violence hotline (such as 1−800−799−SAFE(7233))

Good luck!
posted by emilynoa at 8:41 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take pictures of the broken glass and window asap!!!!!

Document the argument for our landlord in writing. Beg for mercy to be let out of the lease. Provide the photos.

I can't think of what else to do.

That said, you need pics just in case andfor all sorts of reasons. Pics!
posted by jbenben at 8:43 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you quietly let the landlord know that he's causing property damage?

It's pretty fucking ironic that he'd accuse you of leaving a mess, then throw a jar and leave the glass all over the floor.
posted by SillyShepherd at 8:44 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stay and report it to your landlord. Eviction for this sort of property damage is standard, so you have a good chance of the landlord evicting the roommate. Of course, then you would be on the hook for full rent until you get a new roommate (such as your wife?) or move.

If you decide to leave, your lease probably has notice provisions. You might need to give a month's notice or more (or pay that value of rent), but a sympathetic landlord might cut you a break. You're a lawyer, you know how contracts work, so read the lease.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:52 AM on December 12, 2012

I missed the part where he is your BIL. This is easier.

Go to the landlord and say you'd like to find a replacement roommate. Find a replacement roommate.

Keep the pics and the story about the window to yourself.

Tell landlord, newroommate, and BIL that you mean no offense, it is just too difficult living with family. Repeat that phrase as necessary.

If you can't get yourself off of the lease with the landlord's permission, maybe you can sublet your room until the lease is up??

Good luck.

(This advice only works if you think the BIL will be on good behavior with a new roommate who is not family. You can judge this better than me.)
posted by jbenben at 8:55 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Shouldn't you get the police involved? Throwing a glass jar is not normal behaviour and because of the familial relationship it may be considered domestic violence.

Are his parents/your in-laws a resource? Can they take the loans out of your hands? I am confused about your wife supporting you moving out - is she moving with you or staying with her brother? Where is your child in all of this?

You said he has anger management problems; if he is reasonable he would not expect you to pay rent after last night. Is he not reasonable? If not, then again I think the police need to be involved, if only to prevent things escalating further.
posted by saucysault at 9:45 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kick his ass out! Find a new roommate.

No. This person is potentially violent and the risks are too great. It is an order of magnitude easier to leave and find another place versus trying to kick someone out of a place you need to live in (and feel safe in).

I am assuming that your wife, his sister, is not also living in this location.

I'll pretty much have to eat my share of the rent until our lease is up.

Perhaps, perhaps not. I would urge you to seek advice from a qualified tenant assistance agency, if you can't afford a lawyer -- VA Legal Aid, perhaps.

I would also urge you to file a police report about the incident, which may prove necessary if you need to invoke legal protections for victims of domestic violence.

because of the familial relationship it may be considered domestic violence.

Domestic violence is generally defined by *household* relationship, and as such a roommate potentially qualifies.
posted by dhartung at 10:08 AM on December 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments. Evicting my roommate / brother-in-law out of our current place would (1) increase anger issues and (2) threaten his current job and financial stability. Which I don't really care about any more, but if he loses his job, I am liable for his student loans, which amount to (literally) over nine times the remaining amount owed on the lease.

My wife understands her brother's anger-management issues, having grown up with him, and she was (and is) concerned for my safety. She lives 2 hours away with our kids; I am in my current housing arrangement because my job is here and we didn't want to move the family.

Regarding a subletter, I don't see how I could do that in good conscience. "Hi, I'm moving out because I'm afraid for my safety. How would you like to live in the same place?"
posted by QuantumMeruit at 10:55 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't be mad at yourself for not being able to get over this. His behavior sounds pretty beyond the pale. I think paying your half of the rent for the remainder of the lease term is the most likely option to be acceptable to him, not endanger his job or the student loans, and to get you out with the least amount of drama (of course I say this not knowing how much money we're talking about here and what your means are).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:25 AM on December 12, 2012

If your wife (his sister) grew up with him and already knew of his violence as you said, why in the world did she let you sign a lease with him??

I would suggest she handle this exclusively.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:29 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel mad at myself that I can't get over this and that I'll pretty much have to eat my share of the rent until our lease is up.

Are you serious? You have a wife and kids, Even if you were single, getting out of your apartment would be the smart move. Do not be mad at yourself. If I were in your wife's shoes, I'd be upset if you didn't get out of there.
posted by anthropomorphic at 7:18 AM on December 14, 2012

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