How to ask my roommate if I can break the lease before it ends?
February 12, 2013 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I live in Cambridge, MA and share a two-bedroom apt with one roommate. We are women in our early 30's. I've been in the home for 2.5 years, with a different roommate each year. I loved my first two roommates. I invited my current roommate to move in this past Sept (met her through Craig's List) and we're a good fit. I have a sudden, burning urge to move into my own (1 bedroom) apt. Do I ask her permission, or just tell her I'm moving?

There was one precipitating incident/conflict that happened about a month ago and we talked it through. It is still stuck in my craw, however. Moreover, it just symbolically brought my interest in living alone to a head and - as I recently paid of my student loans - I can finally afford to.

My lease ends in at the end of August, but that seems a a long time to wait. I can just sense the freedom of living alone and don't want to feel constrained for six months more. My landlords like me and would be OK with my breaking the lease, I think, so long as my roommate agreed and found someone new.

How do I frame this conversation with my roommate? I'm inclined to say ~ "I have wanted to live alone for a long time [true] and, when I recently paid off my student loans, realized it's now financially feasible. I've started to look at apts. Though we didn't discuss the possibility of one of us moving mid-lease when you moved in, I'd like to hear your thoughts on it you want to take a few days to think on it?"

The apt is very desirable and I'm confident she could fine someone to fill my room (though far fewer people will be looking now as compared to Sept 1), plus she could rule the roost once I left. I would offer to screen potential roommates. If I tell her now, I'd propose an April 1 move-out date. Giving a month's notice is standard practice around here, though we never discussed the terms when she moved in and I assume she was not expecting I move out mid-lease for a reason that's within my control, like this one.

From your perspective, is this a reasonable request? Do I ask her permission or just tell her it's happening? I'm nervous she could look for a new roommate, but tell me I'm stuck with the lease beyond April if she doesn't find anyone she likes within the ~6-weeks notice I give her. There are vulnerabilities here, of course, like creating more awkwardness if I don't end up moving until Sept.
posted by AlmondEyes to Human Relations (14 answers total)
It sounds like offering to talk it over with her would be a wise move - it's better than you saying "welp, I'm outta here, sucks to be you" or anything. (And people do actually do that, so you're already ahead of the game.)

One thing that could help "soften the blow" is if you are able to sign the lease over to her name, if she's not on it now. That would be a means for her to stay on after you go and renew the lease herself as if it were her with the lease all along - and that can be a VERY good thing (I am on a lease that was signed over to me when my roommate moved out, and it was signed over to her when HER old roommate moved out and I moved in; so it's an unbroken 8+ year lease that I've only been here for part of, and that affects the rent renewal VERY well). Obviously check with your landlord as to whether he'd be willing to do that first, but if he is, that could be a way to leave her at an advantage.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you both on the lease? If so you ARE stuck with the lease if you don't find a mutually acceptable replacement leaser. Acceptable to the landlord too.
posted by fshgrl at 5:42 PM on February 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would not ask her per se--I don't see how that could end well. I would tell her some version of what you said about how you have been wanting to get your own place and how it's feasible now, then offer to help her find a replacement roommate. You would be on the hook for the rent if you can't find someone acceptable but there isn't anything you can do about that. You have to decide if that risk is worth moving out.
posted by mlle valentine at 5:48 PM on February 12, 2013

Also, I would not tell your roommate that you have begun to look at apartments already; that makes it sound even more like you've got one foot out the door regardless of how you frame the situation.
posted by mlle valentine at 5:50 PM on February 12, 2013

Tell her and talk to her about it it rather than just springing it on her. You probably don't have a good advantage legally since you're on a lease, so the best thing is to be super nice about the whole situation and hope that she is the same.
posted by radioamy at 6:08 PM on February 12, 2013

IAAL, IANYL, TINLA. I do some landlord/tenant law, mostly representing landlords.

If your lease is like every other residential lease, it makes both you and your roommate jointly and severally liable for rent. (assuming you are both on the lease). That means that you are both responsible for the full amount of the rent, whether or not you live there. If you leave and old roomie can't find a new roomie and can't make the rent payments, a rent collection lawsuit could be coming your way and old roomie's way. Can old roomie afford to make the monthly rent payment by herself? Probably not, or else she would have her own place. Even if she can afford it, you are about to double her housing expenses. Don't expect her to plan your moving party.

Your landlord might like you, but does he like you enough to let you off the hook for rent?
This questions assumes that your lease does not allow you to terminate at will. Some leases will allow you to terminate upon a certain notice period, some don't.

How do you feel about paying rent for one and a half apartments until your roommate finds a new roommate?

One thing that could help "soften the blow" is if you are able to sign the lease over to her name, if she's not on it now.

If I were the roommate's advisor, I would tell her the exact opposite in most cases. If she's not on the lease now, she's not going to be liable for rent. Signing the lease over to the roommate (assuming the lease permitted it - many do not) just exposes her to 100% of the rent and other liabilities.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:12 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Obviously, it's entirely possible that you can make this work and do what you want and so forth. You're getting lots of good advice about how to pursue that and make that happen, and it could certainly be no problem at all -- maybe everybody reaches an agreement. There's nothing that's unreasonable about how you're feeling at all.

But August is really not that long to wait, and if you're genuinely asking about reasonableness, as a general rule, I think it's reasonable to be prepared to do what you said you would do. To me, the fairest thing to do is stay until the end of your lease unless there's a fairly compelling reason to break the agreement you have with your roommate and your landlord. (You'd want the landlord to abide by it and the roommate, right?) If you had some big reason -- you were changing jobs, you could no longer afford it, an opportunity opened up elsewhere that would be gone in six months -- then sure, no problem, life requires flexibility. But if you're asking about reasonableness, and because you framed it that way, I have to tell you, to me, when you make an agreement, you stick to it unless you have a better reason than preferring to do something else. So I guess to my eye, the fair thing to do is ask your roommate how she'd feel, and if she says she really doesn't want to take up a roommate search at a time when she wasn't expecting she'd have to, wait until August and move out then. That's not a legal answer or anything, that's a "things go better when people can rely on agreements they make with other people" answer.

If you did wind up stuck with the rent, it would presumably be because you entered into an agreement with the landlord in which you agreed to pay the rent. If you can make everybody happy including yourself and you can move out sooner, then that's obviously the ideal solution, and maybe nobody will mind and it will go great. Here's hoping! But I think you should expect to be pretty solicitous to the people to whom you've assumed an obligation you're now asking to walk away from.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:28 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

> The apt is very desirable and I'm confident she could fine someone to fill my room (though far fewer people will be looking now as compared to Sept 1), plus she could rule the roost once I left. I would offer to screen potential roommates. If I tell her now, I'd propose an April 1 move-out date. Giving a month's notice is standard practice around here, though we never discussed the terms when she moved in and I assume she was not expecting I move out mid-lease for a reason that's within my control, like this one.

Um. If I were in her shoes and heard this, I'd have your photo on a dart board before you were done talking.

Your opinion that the apartment is desirable doesn't magically make a good roommate for her appear. Oh, and you just admitted that it's not exactly peak apartment hunting season. And it would be very weird for you to screen roommates on her behalf when you're not going to be living there.

And woohoo, "ruling the roost"...while paying twice the rent and utilities as the pressure of finding a new roommate...are you effing kidding?

If you want to discuss moving out, that's fine, but the decent thing to do is agree on a plan.
posted by desuetude at 6:31 PM on February 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thanks, All, extremely useful. I'd never truly just decree that I'm moving. The better way to have framed this would have been "do I ask her permission or ask decide on a plan together?" Anyway, I promise I'm not a A-Hole. By "rule the roost" I mean she could have seniority with her new roommate (pick which bedroom she wants to live in, etc) and not expect her to carry the full rent, of course.

Yes, Tanizaki, she and I are both on the lease and are both responsible for the full amount of the rent. I believe in the integrity of honoring agreements, but also respect an adult's right to exit non-workable situations, and right now it feels like my inner space would bloom if I had total privacy. Your comments have helped me to see that this early move could cost me $$ and I should think that through more carefully. I know people who have had to live with significant others for months in the course of splitting up and this is surely better than that. Maybe I can look for a cheap, furnished sublet and pay both rents until Sept, or make a point to be away from home even more. Plan for now = thinking and kind/fairness.
posted by AlmondEyes at 6:52 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my experience of the Cambridge rental market, you'll have no problem finding a roommate any time of the year, if the apartment really is desirable and the rent is fair.

You'll need the landlord's permission, but if you have a good relationship with them that is not likely to be a problem. If it's a big company as a landlord, call the leasing office and ask what the procedure would be, requirements for the new tenant, etc. If it's an individual landlord, talk to them about your plans before you start looking for a new roommate. Find out whether there's an application fee. (I've heard of landlords asking for a "lease change fee" as well, which strikes me as slimy but probably within their rights, especially if it's in the lease.) You've been in the apartment for a while, and if you've been a good tenant you've built up a stock of goodwill with the landlord that should help here.

Your plan is feasible if you can get landlord and roommate to agree to it; it's not too much to ask. And it sounds like a bit of effort now might save you from unnecessary months in an apartment where you no longer feel comfortable.
posted by unreadyhero at 7:33 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can your roommate also leave early, or would she have to stay and serve out the term of the lease? Basically, I'm asking if your landlord would agree to release her as well. If not, then I think you should stay until the end of the lease.

If you leave on April 1, you're putting your roommate in a somewhat difficult situation vis a vis finding a new roommate. Even though it may not be hard for her to find someone in Cambridge to take the room, the fact that it would only be a 4-5 month sublet limits the pool of people who might be interested (unless she already knows she wants to be there another year after that). She could end up stuck with a less than ideal roommate because she needs the money and has to fill the room for an awkward amount of time.

And think about how you would feel if you had to spend time and energy on a new roommate search because someone suddenly decided they wanted to live by themselves. You allude to "non-workable situations," but it doesn't sound like that's the case here. Your financial situation changed making new options available to you and now you want to take them, but this is a change you could have anticipated. I imagine you knew or could have guessed that you would pay off your loans this year.

I know what it's like to be eager to move out on your own, but I think that unless your roommate will be free to leave too you should use this time to save money to buy some awesome new furniture and decor for when you strike out on your own.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 8:49 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd clear it with the landlord first, so that you don't have a potentially awkward conversation with Roommate, and then not even end up getting to move.

I do not think that you need to ask her permission. Discussing how you could be most helpful to her in this process (helping her write the CL ad, making sure the apartment is clean and pretty for pictures and prospective new roomies, being good about clearing out when she has interviews set up, etc) is enough. Six weeks is a generous amount of time for Roommate to find a replacement, even in not peak season. (I don't know what the Cambridge market is like compared to SF, but here, it is way easier to be on the renting-out-a-room side than the looking-for-a-room side.)

Also, frankly, if things are already a little rocky with Roommate, better to get out while things are still civilized. Things can go downhill fast (trust me), and an extra four months of living in a shitty situation will feel like forever, and you will want to cry and pull out the hair of people who tell you August isn't that far away. No fun for you or Roommate.
posted by tan_coul at 8:49 PM on February 12, 2013

Don't forget the deposit/damages issue. Who will get the deposit back if you leave mid lease? If there are current damages to the property will you pay your share before leaving?
These issues were big headaches when I was a property manager. The easiest way to do it was have the tenant moving out sign a release of their deposit and the tenant staying sign a statement accepting full responsibility for the current stat of the apt.
posted by Crashback at 9:15 PM on February 12, 2013

My experience has been that the etiquette for this is as follows:

1. If you've got a timeframe for moving out, let her know what that is. Don't get into why you're moving out. Make something up if you have to. Don't ask permission.

2. Clear this with the landlord.

3. If last month's rent is already paid, the usual Done Thing is to have the new roommate send the final rent check to you, not the landlord. Then you get your money back. Your situation may be different.

4. In situations like this, the lion's share of the work in finding a new roommate goes to the person who's leaving. You find someone, they get vetted by the old roommate, and you're good.

Again, these things are etiquette, not rules.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:34 AM on February 13, 2013

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