The Straw that Broke the Lease
January 3, 2008 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Roommatefilter: Do I lie to my landlady and say I'm being transferred out of state, or tell her the truth...that my new roommate is a possibly dangerous alcoholic?

A little background. The setting is Chicago. I met her through a coworker I don't know very well. At first, this roommate seemed fine. But people unfold in strange ways. Her behavior changed drastically whenever she got drunk, which happened with increasing frequency. After I had an honest discussion with her about this disturbing trend, an accord was reached, but the accord was to prove temporary. The drinking resumed, along with the scary, self-destructive, and threatening behavior.

Her behavior is not up for argument. It is unacceptable and unlivable. I need out of this lease. I will not live somewhere that feels unsafe. Please do not respond if you are going to tell me to work it out with her. She has serious emotional problems and paranoia, and you cannot argue or rationalize with desperation.

Now here's the situation with the lease. It was my place first. She moved in a while after. The landlady drew up a new lease to include both of us, but the roommate lost the copy that was to be mailed in. Anyway, I am meeting up with the landlady soon to discuss all of this, and I can't figure out if I should tell her, "Hey, this girl might be dangerous, let me out of the lease", or would it be easier to lie and say I'm getting transferred out of state, therefore making the breaking of the lease seem less like a personality clash and more like a necessity? If I merely let her know about the problems I have been having with this roommate, I'm afraid she'll say "Suck it up, I'm not letting you break the lease".

Or, given the fact that the lease has yet to make it to the landlady, is it possible I might be able to have the roommate booted, even though she's paid a few months of rent? Seems unlikely to me, as she has really dug her heels in and wouldn't leave without a fight. Subletting would be very difficult, as I'm paying a lot more than I should in rent.

Thank you for your honest and thoughtful advice.
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posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total)
You might want to talk to the Metropolitan Tenants Organization in Chicago, to find out what your rights are.

What do you want to have happen? Do you want to move out and let your roommate keep the apartment? If so you might be able to get out of the lease by finding a suitable replacement tenant.

If you want to get your roommate evicted, that will most likely be harder to do. Again, MTO should be able to answer questions better than most of the people here.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:47 AM on January 3, 2008

Lying has the potential for making things so much worse. What if your landlady called, and ended up speaking with your roommate? "What? Out of State? Not that I know!"

Go to Nolo and look up applicable state laws on breaking your lease. Then go talk frankly with your landlady. Breaking your lease is still breaking your lease - you'd still be subject to whatever applicable penalties regardless of your reasons for doing so.

Did the roomie sign the new lease? If not, you've got options for getting her booted. I'm not sure what the legalities would be if she's signed it, but lost it, and the landlord doesn't have it - you'd want to check with a local tenant's rights organization before you assume that would give you the ability to kick her out.

In short - seek appropriate legal tenancy law counsel, and then talk honestly with the landlady.
posted by canine epigram at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2008

Your situation really sucks. I am sorry. You are right that there is no bargaining with someone this much of a train wreck. Here's the thing: regardless of what you tell a landlord/lady they can still say "suck it up and deal," even the moving out of state thing. When I lived in Chicago I had to break a lease to move home because I was really sick (not like flu sick) and broke with no health insurance and my landlord, who had been a prince of a guy up until then, with whom I'd had a good relationship, turned into a greedy, vindictive shithead. So, there is no telling.

I think what you do depends on how much you want your share of the security deposit back because it's my understanding that that's about the most she can stick you for. I might be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's all you have to lose. So, if you can part with it, I would just bounce with whichever explanation (although I really don't see why you would make something up, it can only messify things), and hope for the best.

I think if I were you I would cut and run and hope for the best, security deposit-wise. I think the truthful explanation will help you more though. It also might be a nice gesture to warn the landlady that her tenant is a disaster, particularly if she is as dangerous as you say.
posted by sneakin at 8:52 AM on January 3, 2008

I think in a case like this the truth is more likely to help you than hurt you. The getting transferred out of state story may make her agree to let you break your lease, but I doubt it will prevent her from requiring you to pay the fine associated with breaking a lease. If you're thinking coming up with a story like the one above will let her allow you to break you lease, no questions asked, no fine involved, I think that's pretty unlikely. (In which case, there really is no reason to make up a story, if you want to break your lease just break it, as the end result will likely be the same whether you lie or tell the truth)

The truth might make her more likely to evict your roommate and work out a new lease with you, so you don't have to move. I would imagine a property owner would not be too fond of the idea of having a "dangerous alcoholic" on the property and provided you are willing to work out a new lease with her (the landlord), you may be able to get the end result you want (getting rid of the roommate) while being able to stay in the apartment . I would think her loyalty would be with you since you've lived there longer, have a longer payment history, etc.
posted by The Gooch at 8:56 AM on January 3, 2008

Here's the thing: regardless of what you tell a landlord/lady they can still say "suck it up and deal," even the moving out of state thing.

Depends on the state, but usually being transferred by your employer is grounds for dissolving a lease. But what if she asks for written proof? I wouldn't lie.

I think what you do depends on how much you want your share of the security deposit back because it's my understanding that that's about the most she can stick you for. I might be wrong

Yeah, you're wrong. OP can be stuck with her share of the rent for the remainder of the lease.
posted by amro at 8:59 AM on January 3, 2008

The truth might make her more likely to evict your roommate

On what grounds? The landlord can't break the lease any more easily than you can.
posted by amro at 9:00 AM on January 3, 2008

I would think her loyalty would be with you since you've lived there longer, have a longer payment history, etc.

You would think, but you might be wrong. Not to be a huge downer, but in my experience, landlords tend to want to avoid trouble, and as long as the roomie is paying rent, may not be all that interested in taking sides. This is not to discourage the OP from talking with the landlady after appropriate counsel, just a warning.

I would imagine a property owner would not be too fond of the idea of having a "dangerous alcoholic" on the property and

My own experiences with having alcoholic neighbors upstairs (thankfully not roomies!) was an education in realizing that some landlords (thankfully not all) really don't care, as long as the rent is paid.
posted by canine epigram at 9:03 AM on January 3, 2008

The drinking resumed, along with the scary, self-destructive, and threatening behavior.

Without the specifics of this behavior, it's hard to tell if it's actually dangerous (good grounds for breaking a lease) or just annoying (not good--or even fair---grounds for breaking a lease). Has she harmed, or threatened to harm, you or your possessions? Is she harming herself?

That you're considering lying about it says to me that you don't have a very convincing case. And that you're going to have to pay to break your lease, if you decide to leave. Even if you lie.

If your roommate is as bad as you say, getting her booted should be easy. But you haven't given us her actions. You've just told us that she gets drunk and is paranoid. That alone isn't going to get you out of a lease OR get her booted.
posted by almostmanda at 9:14 AM on January 3, 2008

Don't lie. It will be found out. Your roommate will tell the landlord just to piss you off. Tell the landlord you need to move out. Only tell her why if pressed. Then tell her you are not getting along with your roommate because of certain of her behaviors that you feel may put you in danger.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:32 AM on January 3, 2008

amro, generally speaking the tenants win out here. I've never heard of a tenant breaking a lease and being required to finish paying out the rent on the remainder of the lease. Doesn't mean it can't happen ever, but of all the people I know who have broken leases (including me in Chicago where the OP lives), none have ever had to forfeit anything other than their deposit.
posted by sneakin at 9:54 AM on January 3, 2008

If there is threatening behavior, perhaps, you can call the police and have the roommate removed and a restraining order enacted. This of course would open a whole different can of worms. But, here again, perhaps the possibility of this happening could be worked into the conversation with the landlord, not as a (overt) threat to them but as a statement of what the situation may come to if you are not able to leave, as you feel unsafe. Depending on the person (landlord) they may not want to have their property associated with that level of drama.

just another thought
posted by edgeways at 10:04 AM on January 3, 2008

From the Chicago Tenants' Rights Pamphlet:

Can I be charged anything for moving out early?

If you move out early, your landlord must try to re-rent the apartment at a fair rent. If the landlord is successful in re-renting the apartment, then your obligation is ended. It is beneficial to both the landlord and the tenant to work out a mutually agreeable solution.

If the landlord re-rents the apartment for less than what you were paying, you will have to pay the difference between the amount the new tenant pays and your rent. For example, if you move out 3 months early and your rent is $400 a month and the landlord finds a tenant who pays only $350 a month, you may owe the difference between what you would have paid ($400) and what the next tenant is paying ($350), which is $50 each month for three months.

What if my landlord cannot re-rent the apartment?

If your landlord makes a good faith effort but cannot find someone else to rent the apartment, you will owe the amount of your rent just as if you had stayed until the end of the lease. If you paid $400 a month and you leave three months before the end of the lease, you will owe the landlord $1,200. You will also owe the landlord any reasonable amount that the landlord spent advertising the apartment.

Of course, the same can't apply if you have a roommate. I'm not sure how that changes things.
posted by amro at 10:07 AM on January 3, 2008

You could pursue the strategy of removing your roommate, instead. Have you looked into filing a restraining order?
posted by Justinian at 10:25 AM on January 3, 2008

Lying will ruin any chances of positive rental history with your landlady in the future.
posted by Industrial PhD at 10:31 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

If your roommate is as bad as you say, getting her booted should be easy. ...

Where do these ideas come from? What, the OP is going to have the roommate arrested? For what crime? The OP can somehow get the City to commit the roommate to a mental hospital? Does the poster think the landlord is going to come up and physically push the roommate out the door? The roommate isn't even on an existing lease! It's the OP who is harboring the fruitcake. If the landlord takes any action, it will be against the OP, who is the only signer on the only lease that actually exists. Which part of this is supposed to be "easy"? Arggh.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:55 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how things work in Chicago, but whenever I've leased an apartment, the landlord has always wanted names and phone numbers of former landlords to call for references. If you make up a story about being transfered out of state, you may run into reference problems if you seek another apartment within the state.
posted by geeky at 11:24 AM on January 3, 2008

Where do these ideas come from? What, the OP is going to have the roommate arrested? For what crime?

Well, trespassing, for one. Her name isn't on the lease; she has no legal right to be there.

Aside from that, if the roommate isn't committing any crimes or posing a serious threat to the OP, describing her as "dangerous" and "threatening" is disingenuous. It sounds more like the OP finds her drunkenness annoying, and is hyping it up to get out of her own obligations.
posted by almostmanda at 12:05 PM on January 3, 2008

You should never lie. I also suggest looking into any tenancy laws in your area.
posted by tacita nox at 12:49 PM on January 3, 2008

Well, trespassing, for one. Her name isn't on the lease; she has no legal right to be there.

This is not an accurate portrayal of tenant legal protections. A person is not trespassing just because they are residing somewhere without a written lease, and were you to call the cops with that kind of claim and they showed up to find clear evidence of tenancy (ie, all that person's possessions there) you would find yourself getting at the bare minimum a stern talking to, if not your own citation for making a false claim/call.

That said, I concur with others that honest is the best policy. Were I in your shoes I'd contact my landlady and confirm that the new lease was not sent in, and if so inform her that this person is behaving erratically and I intend to ask them to leave. I'd tell her I'll continue to honor the term of the original lease and pay the rent myself.

Then I'd go home and tell the person I didn't think it was working out and I'd like them out at the end of the month.
posted by phearlez at 2:01 PM on January 3, 2008

I've had some legal problems with apartments, landlords and roommates, and it blows. If you're at the point where you are willing to abandon your apartment and start over due to this person, that's what you should do. Even if there is some kind of legal way to get her out, it will take longer than you want it to and you will be stressed out (or possibly in fear of your safety) the entire time. It's really not worth it. If you can afford whatever you will be charged for breaking the lease, tell the landlord that you're scared of your roommate and that you need to move out. If you can't afford it and think you can get out of a fine by lying then lie, but accept that there might be repercussions. But get out.
posted by smartyboots at 2:02 PM on January 3, 2008

First, a landlady can end up being a lot more kind than you would ever expect; I can say this from experience. Just because they don't have to let you break your lease doesn't mean they won't actually be a human being and be kind enough to let you out of it. Second, if you fear for your health or life the next time she is drunk, you should not be afraid of calling the police. Preventing you from being hospitalized or killed is, indeed, one of their functions. Third, if your landlady does not let you out of the lease, you see if you can either get the Tenants Rights Organization or a landlord conversant with the Chicago Landlord-Tenant Ordinance (if you Google that phrase, some lawyers have it on their website) to assist you in legally breaking your lease. I don't know as the Chicago Landlord-Tenant Ordinance has a clause covering this kind of situation, but I'm sure it's not an entirely unheard-of circumstance amongst that branch of law.

If you have any large, muscular, imposing friends, you might consider meeting with her and kicking her out, although the fact that she's paid rent ... dunno how that affects her formal, legal status. With a thoroughly irrational person, however, I'm not sure how that could be done safely, barring police intervention. It would also depend on how insane she is. If she is dangerously insane, you don't want to make violent nutballs your enemy if you can at all help it.

All of the above is based on the assumption that she is a dangerous and violent drunk with whom you fear for your life or welfare. If she is, as someone else posited in this thread, merely a sloppy, annoying, messy drunk, then you have a different and less unstable set of circumstances. In other words, if she's pounding on the door saying "I'm gonna kill you!", that's obviously a different circumstance than stumbling around in the living room and vomiting on the floor.
posted by WCityMike at 2:10 PM on January 3, 2008

Frankly, just because I'm rereading my answer and rethinking one particular point:

If she is a violent drunk with whom you honestly fear for your life, then what you do is right now, this very second, you try to identify your best friend in town. You approach him/her and tell her you need to live with her for a little bit for your own safety, explaining the situation. Then you rent a storage unit, get a burly muscular friend or work colleague to protect you while you get your stuff out of that apartment, put the stuff in the unit for a week and pack a suitcase for the interim, and go apartment-shopping. Ask Matt or Jessamyn for an emergency question and see if you can get rent recommendations for your situation, and THEN you worry about the legality of breaking your lease.

All of that is based on the presumption that your roommate is violent and is an immediate and significant hazard to your life when drunk, however.
posted by WCityMike at 2:15 PM on January 3, 2008

If you were dealing with someone you considered rational, you'd probably just have a conversation saying, "You know, this isn't really working out."

But the best way out of this situation is likely to have that conversation, while covering your bases for the potential crazy-factor fallout. Probably the two things you're most freaked about losing: your physical safety, and the well-being of your possessions.

Thus, I like combining the "large muscular friend" plan with a public setting, and then have the "I don't think this is working out and I want you gone next month" conversation. You're protected with both witnesses and someone who'll ride in to break up the fight. Follow that up by pressing charges and it'd be pretty easy to have her removed as your roommate. Assuming there's an altercation.

I presume you'd stay with friends and never enter your apartment alone until she was gone if you genuinely fear for your safety.

However, that doesn't really secure the well-being of your stuff. Given your roommate's irrational and dangerous behavior, you likely worry if you have a direct conversation, you could come home to find your stuffed animal collection sodomized and your iPod floating in the toilet. Or vice versa.

I can't think of a good way to truly safeguard your stuff from the freak-out factor. Documenting your apartment/possessions with a camera/camcorder would only really help if you sued her, and then it'd only help replace your stuff. You'd still have the hassle of dealing with that. You have renter's insurance, right? If not, it might be a good time to get that anyway.

Hmm. But yeah, being dishonest won't solve anything. In fact, reading tenants and roommate issues section of NOLO, it appears that being truly honest with your landlord might let them evict her and not you. Esp. if she's done something to break the lease and you're the master tenant, whatever the hell that means.

Good luck. Stay safe.
posted by thomsplace at 9:40 PM on January 3, 2008

Mmm.. ask your landlord for a copy of the existing lease. (Was it lost before it was signed? Would that matter?? What are you legally bound with here?)

Then, no lies, just briefly explain and gradually unfold the hellish situation as necessary (touching on the unpredictable possibility of damage to property *...a crime scene...*) You have been happy there but your personal safety is, naturally, a non-negotiable priority (*It is important to project this either gently or firmly as needed so your landlady immediately gets on board with the idea that this is all over, end of story and straight on to so how do we make this work for us both.)

Look into restraining order/AVO type stuff, you'll have to check what the go is in your town. (eg. DVO's in my part of town have a rent payment aspect to them for those that can't) You don't have to make a formal complaint but it's a good idea to be familiar with practice and procedures - mostly so if your landlady doesn't want to do this the easy way, then whatever, you're out of there! So let's get cracking on the hard way. If she's being agreeable you can use it as evidence to support the idea of her help being the simplest/best solution for you both.

Perhaps you have a verified normal person who could take over Psycho's share?? It would possibly be sensible for you to appear to be also moving out... Just a standard normal everyday thing and not a 'Get the fuck away from me you insane freaky bitch' kinda thing.

Either way - Landlady applies gentle pressure from the outside. You monitor and play along in a complimentary manner from the inside. House and lass - sane and sound :) and then you can proceed from there. Certainly preferable to o_0

Also it gives you the option of if that doesn't work to THEN bring in the big guns.
(Just a guess but the law is likely to offer a victim (or nutter??) loopholes to freedom and a landlord would be wise to make decisions with the possibilities of these allowances in mind)

Take it easy and keep safe, Chick :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 12:23 PM on January 4, 2008

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