horrible evil roommate from hell
September 24, 2007 3:50 PM   Subscribe

horrible roommate filter: can she evict me? she can't- right?

long story short; my housemate and i don't get along. since we're medical students together, i didn't want things to get too ugly. i found a new place, and we agreed that i would use the deposit i gave her as last month's rent. a week later, she says she 'changed her mind' and wants another month's rent in addition to the deposit. when i asked how i would be sure to get my deposit back, she threatened to have the locks changed while i'm on away rotation for a few weeks. she's the only one on the lease and i didn't sighn anything. she can't get the locks changed on a property that she's renting- can she? what on earth should i do ?
some things i've thought of so far:
1. call the landlord
2. enlist the help of the other housemates who aren't on the lease either
3. check into mediation/the ombudsperson(sp??) at school

anything else, at all, would greatly be appreciated
posted by genmonster to Human Relations (20 answers total)
In the US, generally renters can legally change locks as long as they supply the landlord with a key. As you are not on the lease, the landlord is not obligated to help you in any way. The school is also very unlikely to want to get in between an off-campus dispute, but who knows.

Since it sounds like you had an oral roommate agreement and not a sublet, you should treat this as a landlord-tenant dispute and send her a letter informing her of your rights under the law (check with a local tenant help line, or the state attorney general website, for what the law is where you are).

Otherwise, I would see what I could do to move out before she can change the locks, and leave her with what you agreed on. This is probably the most practical solution, but depending on the availability of your new place (Oct. 1?) she holds several cards in her favor, namely your stuff.

It IS illegal to lock up your stuff without giving you access, of course, but whether you're talking about your body or your stuff, you may have to go to court to get back into the apartment, so you want to either slip out from under her, or intimidate her with your ability to marshal the law in your favor.
posted by dhartung at 3:57 PM on September 24, 2007

you're not on the lease right ? then just leave. screw her. let her keep the deposit for the last month's rent and just get your stuff out of there. leave it at a friend's place while you wait to move in to the new place. you don't want to get too embroiled in a dispute with a psycho.
posted by dawdle at 3:59 PM on September 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you've found a new place to live, and moved all of your stuff there, what does it matter if she changes the locks on the old place? What hold, if any, does she have over you?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:59 PM on September 24, 2007

Yes, she can change the locks. At her expense, and she must grant access to the property owner.

You have no lease, which gives you very minimal rights. In fact, since she is leasing the property from the owner, I wonder if she even has the right to sublet, but that's besides the point. If she won't give you a written agreement that you can both sign and agree to abide, find a new place to live ASAP, yes I know you have almost no free time that doesn't involve sleep or studying.

If she does lock you out, enlist one of the other verbal-lease roommates to help you get in just long enough to get your stuff and get the heck away from this nut. After all, a) she doesn't have a right to keep your stuff and b) her tenants have a right to have guests. Oh, and what is said nut's name so I know never to let this person be my physician? j/k. ok no i'm not

Good luck.
posted by ilsa at 4:05 PM on September 24, 2007

If she does change the locks, just get one of your other roommates to give/mail you a copy of the new key. (I'm assuming you're out on rotation now?). The evil landlord never even needs to know, until she runs into coming back in to get your stuff. Otherwise, use whatever means necessary to get in, get your stuff and get out. Previously.
posted by cgg at 4:15 PM on September 24, 2007

Talk to your dean of students at school. You are both under a lot of stress and most med schools have a support staff to help you deal with these kinds of issues. No medical student wants to be labeled as a troublemaker or "can't play well with colleagues;" you can probably leverage this to good effect with your problem ex-roommate and your dean, especially if you remain professional and polite.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:27 PM on September 24, 2007

a clarification: between when we made the first agreement and when she 'changed her mind" i agreed with my new landlord to move in oct 20...mostly because i'll be away the first two weeks of oct. ..plenty of time for her to get up to all kinds of mischief with my stuff...now that rent is almost due, my roommate probably realized that she'll have to cough up twice this month as well as find someone new to rent a room.
posted by genmonster at 4:55 PM on September 24, 2007

Wait, if you're not moving out until October 20, then you are basically living in your place for two months (minus a week and a bit) - so what's unreasonable about her asking for another month's rent?

Seems like this could all be solved if you could just amend your agreement with you new landlord to move in ASAP.
posted by Dasein at 4:59 PM on September 24, 2007

Okay, so considering landlord-tenet law varies from state to state, you need to ignore anyone who says anything definitive without knowing exactly where you live.

There are a lot of issues here, and out of the options you presented, the ombudsmen will be most likely to either help you, or direct you to someone who can. Also consider talking to a Dean, but I imagine they would be likely to direct you to the ombudsman.

IANAL, but I'm finishing my last year of law school. The most important thing I've learned, is how dangerous it is, in the American legal system, to shoot from the hip without confirmation. It's the stuff malpractice is born from. At the very least try looking for a website run by a Tenet rights organization that has information specifically about your state.

One thing to realize, is that technically she can do whatever she wants; the law only forces her to deal with legal repercussions later. The best advice on here so far is to investigate your rights, and inform her of them in a manner you can prove.

Lastly, don't give up on that earlier agreement about your deposit as the last month's rent. I'm not saying it's a valid agreement, but if it is under your state's laws, she can't just change her mind because she wants to.
posted by JakeLL at 5:07 PM on September 24, 2007

You didn't mention what jurisdiction you live in.

While your housemate may be able to legally change the locks with respect to her obligations to the landlord, that doesn't mean that it's legal for her to change the locks on you. To you, she.

Document everything. Write her a letter memorializing your previous agreement in discussions on this. Say that despite the fact that she "changed her mind" this does not affect your previous agreement, which you relied on in making new housing arrangements. Find out what the law on self-help evictions and illegal lockouts is in your state and cite it if applicable.

If she is still going to act crazy then your school's mediation program sounds like a good start.
posted by grouse at 5:10 PM on September 24, 2007

Sorry, I meant to say "To you, she is the landlord and she may be prohibited from locking you out without going through a formal eviction process."
posted by grouse at 5:12 PM on September 24, 2007

Write her a letter stating your position on the matter and going through the course of your dealings in detail, including dates and accurate statements. Include a sentence which says that you ask that she reply in writing and that if she fails to do so, that you will assume she agrees with you. Tell her specifically, firmly and courteously in the letter that you expect her to honor your earlier agreement. Check on your rights at the local tenant's association.

I am not your lawyer and this is not legal advice. Seek help from a competent attorney in your jurisdiction.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:50 PM on September 24, 2007

If you do get to the point where you are locked out most locksmiths can get you in with just a few minutes effort. It'll cost you $65 or so for the call out but at that point it is up to her to take you to court rather than vice versa.
posted by Mitheral at 7:14 PM on September 24, 2007

What month is your deposit scheduled to cover?
posted by rhizome at 7:47 PM on September 24, 2007

I was in a similar situation not long ago, allowing someone to move into my apartment with no contract. In the end they left owing me a month of rent. The only way I would have been able to get that back was through the courts.. and even if I had won, I probably wouldn't have been able to get the money. I didn't bother with it.

If I were in your situation I would leave without paying the last months rent. You both made a verbal agreement that the deposit would cover the last month. Verbal agreements can hold up in court.

It really depends on your states laws, but she probably can change the locks legally. What she cannot do is hold your possessions hostage or dispose of them.
posted by Sufi at 8:58 PM on September 24, 2007

I am not a lawyer. What I am is a 4th generation apartment manager with experience in multiple states who is going to take and pass the real estate licensing exam in a couple weeks, both the national and state portions.

Verbal. Contracts. Are. Useless. Sure, laws change from state to state, but you know what? If you can't prove you have a legal right to live there, you don't have one. A locksmith can let you in, but then she can have you arrested for breaking and entering -- assuming he'll let you in without proof you live there in the first place. That is why I suggested a friend on the inside to help you retrieve any belongings; you would be the invited guest of the friend.

I stand by my view that you need to force a written agreement that says exactly who owes what to whom and who has what rights/duties to whom; and if you can't get it just walk away.

Your school has no jurisdiction over what adults do off campus. I would not want to go to a school where they did have such jurisdiction.

Consider yourself lucky you found out she was a nut before you really got behind the 8-ball. I know med school is stressful. I lived with a med student, I rented to many others. You do not need the kind of stress she represents, and you do not need the additional stress of finding and retaining and paying a lawyer. Take your stuff and walk away.
posted by ilsa at 10:05 PM on September 24, 2007

You probably still have tenant's rights even without a physical lease. A google search of your location + "tenant's rights" should help you find more info, and hopefully a local organization dedicated to tenant's rights.
posted by garlic at 6:40 AM on September 25, 2007

Verbal. Contracts. Are. Useless. Sure, laws change from state to state, but you know what? If you can't prove you have a legal right to live there, you don't have one. A locksmith can let you in, but then she can have you arrested for breaking and entering -- assuming he'll let you in without proof you live there in the first place.

To be pedantic in an important way, she can request the police arrest you for breaking and entering. However she cannot force them to do so and if there's any sign you DO live there - mail with the address and your name, a clear living space, etc - most cops aren't going to comply.

However you can't really predict, can you? JakeLL has said the most sage thing here, "she can do whatever she wants; the law only forces her to deal with legal repercussions later." Being right isn't going to make you feel better if your stuff ends up in a dumpster.

In your shoes, I'd compromise with her. She wants money, you want assurance you'll get your deposit back. Neither is unreasonable given that your things are going to be there for 2/3 of the month, even if you aren't.

Present her with a document stating you're up to date on your share of the rent and she's in possession of $x amount of deposit and there's currently no reason it will not all be returned to you upon move-out. If she's willing to sign it you're willing to pay last month's rent rather than using the deposit for it.
posted by phearlez at 6:52 AM on September 25, 2007

Phearlez has an excellent point that there is no reason whatsoever *you* can't draw up the written lease, basically documenting what you already agreed to ("Rent is $X, payable on the 1st without demand, and rent for the month of September has already been paid; a security deposit of $Y has been paid and will be returned less damages within 30 days after move-out"). While I have never seen this done, it would show that you are a reasonable person who tried to come to an equitable solution.
posted by ilsa at 7:56 AM on September 25, 2007

I agree with dawdle- get you stuff out of there before the end of this month, in fact as soon as possible. Move it into a storage unit and stay with a friend or at a hotel until you can move into the new place. You're never going to get your deposit back from her, and it's very likely she'll do something to your stuff while you're away. Your sanity is worth more than one month's rent.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:13 AM on September 25, 2007

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