Do I have to cover my absentee roommate's rent?
October 23, 2007 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Am I responsible for my roommate's rent?

My roommate is moving out. He's leaving this week, and we are having trouble finding someone to rent his room. Both of our names are on the lease. I am worried that once he is gone, I won't have any way to make him pay his share of the rent. If he doesn't pay, am I responsible for covering him? What can I do to make him pay, if it takes a long time to find a new roommate? What are my options here?
posted by shotgunbooty to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think you have any options. If you are on a dual lease, either of you is responsible for the full rent. If you had separate leases with the landlord, you will only be responsible for your portion. The only bad thing with that is that your landlord gets to choose the roommate.

You could try to sublet the whole apartment and move to a less expensive place, if you can't afford the full rent yourself and can't find someone who wants to share it with you.
posted by rocket_johnny at 10:12 AM on October 23, 2007

The keywords to look for in your lease are "joint and several liability." This means that each tenant is separately liable for all of the rent. If you're roommate's name is on the lease, then he has a moral obligation to find somebody to sublet the place or else cover it himself, but legally you are probably responsible for all of it. This is also highly dependent on location, of course.
posted by number9dream at 10:16 AM on October 23, 2007

I'm not a lawyer. This is not legal advice, so do not rely on it as such.

I had a roommate once who went to Atlantic City and spent his entire semester-long budget gambling. Yay for addictive personalities. So once I told him to leave, I was left holding the bag. The fact is that a lease is a contract, which you are both liable for together, and as individuals.

Here's what I tried: I wrote up a contract between us, explaining that I would start looking for a roommate and try to get one as fast as possible. Did it work? No. Of course not. And even if your roommate is silly enough to sign something like that, he certainly wont continue paying rent without living there.

Eventually, the best I got was that he repayed me the back-rent that he owed from when he was still living there and not paying rent (unbeknownst to me). My boyfriend moved in, and we've been living together ever since. Happy ending.

In short, what can you do to make him pay? Nothing practical. Will you be responsible for the full amount? Yep.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:17 AM on October 23, 2007

What's your relationship like with this roommate and when's the lease term end? At this point if he's not going to take responsibility and if you can't find someone else, then you need to hie yourself over to your landlord and strike a deal before he does.

as r_j says, both of you can be legally pursued to make good on the rent. A smart landlord/management company is going to go full bore after both of you till they think they have the maximum amount they can recover.

Strategically it's in your interest to commit to paying your half in full on time. Eviction is expensive and an empty property brings in 0% of the rent rather than 50%.

There's a thousand variables here than need considering but no matter what you need to start taking action NOW.
posted by phearlez at 10:17 AM on October 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies, guys!

if you can't find someone else, then you need to hie yourself over to your landlord and strike a deal before he does.

Can you expand on this?
posted by shotgunbooty at 10:28 AM on October 23, 2007

Well, what I think phearlez is saying is that landlords and property owners are really just trying to look out for themselves. They don't want to screw you, they just want to get value out of their investments. So don't avoid them and lay low hoping that they wont notice.

Be straightforward, tell them the story, explain that you realize that you are responsible for the rent, and ask them what they can do to work with you. Depending on the options available to them, they could do any number of things - including moving you to a smaller unit that you can afford alone, putting you in touch with a rental agent, putting feelers out for themselves, or suggesting that you continue paying half of the rent until you find a roommate, and then establishing a payment plan to pay off the extra rent over time in smaller, more manageable chunks. You'll still have to pay the rent, but it will get paid, you will be spared the indignity of eviction, and they will be spared the expense of getting their attorney involved. Furthermore, they will be maximizing their income given the reality of the situation. It's all about damage control. So go talk to them- post haste!
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:09 AM on October 23, 2007

Unless you have separate leases, you are stuck with his portion of the rent. It sucks, doesn't it?

Is it a financial issue for him? Could you two work out a payment plan?

You don't say how old you are, but if you are in school you might be able to get some advice from your school's legal services.
posted by radioamy at 11:17 AM on October 23, 2007

Generally, what happens that the landlord wants the money from you and you have to take your roommate to small claims to get it back.
posted by klangklangston at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2007

Depending on your relationship with your roommate, you could ask him for a few months worth of post-dated rent cheques, with the understanding that you will destroy them once you find a new roomie. He may or may not be into that. If I was him I would not be into it because it gives you no incentive to find someone new. At the same time it would make me feel guilty.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:51 AM on October 23, 2007

if you can't find someone else, then you need to hie yourself over to your landlord and strike a deal before he does.

Can you expand on this?

If the terms of the contract you're bound by - and a lease is a contract - indicates that either of you can be held liable for the full amount of the rent, then they can twist you both till they get their money.

In this situation it's unlikely your roommie has any incentives to offer the landlord but let's say he goes to them and says "look, the lease is up at the end of December but I have to go. I'll give you half of November's rent and 25% of December's if you'll relieve me of further responsibility in writing."

If the landlord thinks that the alternative is 0% of November's and 0% of Decembers from your roommie and that suing him is unlikely to every produce any money, then the smart thing to do is demand you pay 75% of December's rent. After all, you're the one who needs a place to live in December - what's their leverage against your roommate? A nebulous threat of a lawsuit. You? Eviction.

You're on weaker ground, but you have three things in your favor.

One, eviction is expensive.

Two, you could leave willingly before the end of the lease term and then they have an empty property. You're having trouble finding a roommie, maybe that translates into them having trouble putting someone in that unit/house. In which case it's in their interest to cut you a break for two months rather than have it sit empty for three.

Three, so long as he's still bound by the lease they can go after him too. They're going to want to walk a balancing act between getting their money and not alienating the guy who is paying them and wants to keep paying them.

You can't predict how they're going to react but the worst that can happen is they refuse to work with you at all and have a few week's head-start in drafting eviction papers. You'll know better than us if they seem likely to go that way or to try to work something out with a good tenant.
posted by phearlez at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2007

As others have already commented, much depends on what your lease says. Other things depend on what state and city you live in, and how tenant-friendly the laws are.

I preface my advice by saying that I am a New Yorker and I was a rental agent in this city. So my advice and perspective will probably be extreme to someone who lives in, say, Omaha, Nebraska, which has different laws and different housing situations. This is why it is important to know where you live.

Eviction may be expensive, or it may not be. Even in NYC, though, where eviction is 1) expensive and 2) takes 6 months before it sees the inside of a courtroom, the landlord isn't going to care much about your roommate problems. They would rather see you leave and re-rent the apartment, probably for more money. So don't assume you have any kind of advantage here.

But even if you tell us what the lease says, there's a big difference between what the law says, and what you'll realistically be able to make actionable.

Chances are that the landlord will not care about your problem, unless you live in an area with a rental glut (say, certain parts of Florida). If you live in an area with a rental glut, where properties stay unrented for months at a time, then the landlord would rather have 50% of the rent than having you leave and go somewhere else. I always advocate approaching your landlord in advance, with a well thought-out proposition, instead of waiting until your roommate is gone and the rent is due and you just ignore the letters and hope they go away. They won't.

I would approach the landlord with the issue, explain what you have done to find a replacement tenant, and if it wasn't adequate, what you will be doing to amplify that search to find one.

I would also be interested to know why it is so difficult to find a replacement tenant - is the rent expensive? Is the place a dump, or dirty? Are you in a bad area, or an area with a housing glut? What has been done to find a new roommate, or did you just leave that up to the roommate who is leaving? Did you advertise? Did you leave it until the last minute (e.g., this week) and the roommate is leaving next Thursday? There's a lot of holes here that you will need to have answers to before you talk to the landlord. (If the rent is expensive for the area or for the time of year or for the size of apartment, perhaps talk to them about an overall increase to make it more attractive. But you would have had to do the homework to be able to make this point to the landlord.)

Finally, did you have to provide a security deposit? If so, who did that go to? If the landlord has it, well, they can use that to cover his rent for one month while you get another roommate. But I know in some areas of the country security is, like, $50, as opposed to the one, two or three months NYC landlords ask for. But, again, it may be something.

Hope this was helpful.
posted by micawber at 2:08 PM on October 24, 2007

Oops. That should be "overall decrease," not overall increase.
posted by micawber at 2:10 PM on October 24, 2007

« Older Things About Fruit   |   Advice for big hike in Yosemite Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.