A roommate is a specific type of tenant, who is responsible to either the property’s landlord or to the tenant named on the property’s title or lease. Overall, roommates may be categorized as one of the following two categories:

  • Joint Tenant: When a roommate is considered to be a joint tenant, each roommate named on the lease is completely responsible for the amount of rent owed to the property’s landlord each month. This also means that each roommate named on the lease has an equal share of tenant rights; and
  • Subtenant: When a roommate is considered to be a subtenant, this means that they are subletting the property. Renting apartments or houses generally involves signing a lease for a set amount of time. If during that time one tenant is planning on not living at that apartment or house for a while, they may be able to rent the space out to someone else. This process of renting out an apartment or house without being the landlord is referred to as subletting. When a roommate is not named on the lease agreement, they are responsible for their share of the rent to the roommate who is named on the lease.

In terms of roommate laws, these vary from state to state. An example of this would be how in Texas, a landlord cannot simply evict one non-paying roommate if their name is on the lease. Other roommates would need the landlord’s permission to change the locks on the door; however, Texas roommate laws state that everyone named on the lease is entitled to receive a new key, which would include any non-paying roommates.

What Should A Roommate Agreement Include?

A cohabitation agreement is a specific type of contract between two individuals who are living together, and are a couple. This agreement clarifies what will happen between the couple during the relationship and after a breakup in terms of their living arrangements. People who are living together who are not romantically involved generally draft a roommate agreement instead.

A roommate agreement is separate from a lease. It is a contract that is made between two or more people who reside in the same rental unit. Roommate agreements are generally intended to govern any areas of contention associated with living in a shared space, as well as to ensure that all roommates’ rights are being respected.

Some examples of items that a roommate agreement should generally contain include, but may not be limited to:

  • Which roommate will collect rent in order to give the payment to the landlord;
  • The amount of rent that each roommate owes, and when;
  • Which roommate will claim what bedroom;
  • Who is responsible for household chores, and which chores each roommate is responsible for;
  • Whether everyone agrees to share food, and how food should be marked or stored if not;
  • Acceptable noise level which may vary depending on time of day;
  • Whether overnight guests are permitted;
  • How moving out prior to the lease termination should be handled by the remaining roommates; and
  • How quiet time is to be respected.

You may not need to put a roommate agreement in writing if it is possible that the agreement will last for less than one year. An example of this would be if the rental is on a month-to-month basis, or if it will only last for an academic year. However, it is advised that you have your roommate agreement in writing, as oral contacts are easily misinterpreted or forgotten.

Additionally, some states will not recognize oral contracts as being legally binding or enforceable. It is better for all roommates to have their own signed copies of the roommate agreement to ensure adherence as well as to reduce the likelihood of future disputes.

In order to avoid serious and repeated violations of a roommate agreement, you should include possible penalties. These penalties may range from a fine to requiring the roommate to move out. It is important that all affected roommates contribute to this conversation and agree to the proposed penalties before committing them to writing and enforcement.

Can a Roommate Get Out of a Lease Early? Can I Sue My Roommate for Breaking the Lease?

When a roommate attempts to get out of a lease early, it has the effect of leaving the other roommate(s) “holding the bag.” If the roommate has been named on the lease, they cannot get out of the lease early and is legally responsible for their share of the rent. Unfortunately, the only way to enforce this may be by threatening to sue the roommate for their remaining share of the rent. However, if a roommate is not named on the lease, the named roommate may be held responsible for the full rent that is owed to the landlord.

You may have many reasons to sue your roommate; however, whether or not you can depends on the state in which you live. Generally speaking, yes, you can sue your roommate if they break the lease. You will need to first review your lease in order to determine whether it contains any provisions regarding potential penalties for breaking the lease.

Filing a civil lawsuit against your roommate will likely be most successful in a local small claims court. Each state has its own limits for small claims; however, if the amount you are owed exceeds this limit, you may wish to consult an attorney instead.

Other reasons to sue your roommate may include:

  • They have failed to pay their portion of shared bills;
  • They damaged your furniture;
  • Their dog damaged your fence;
  • You lent them money that they did not repay; and
  • They hit your vehicle, and you needed to repair it.

What Are Your Options When Dealing with Roommates Regarding Lease Issues? Can I Evict a Roommate?

If your roommate attempts to leave you holding the bag, you should check your lease agreement to determine if there is a provision that lets you end the lease early by paying an extra fee. Should you decide to do so, you will no longer be responsible for the lease; however, you must find another place to live.

Joint tenants cannot be evicted by their fellow tenants. This is due to the fact that their contract is with the landlord, and not with each other. Subtenant eviction differs by state. While some states do not permit tenants to evict their subtenants without the landlord, other states will treat the tenant as the landlord in relation to the subtenant.

The property’s landlord may evict any of the roommates, regardless of their status as joint tenants or subtenants. When a tenant is unhappy with their subtenant, the tenant should speak with the landlord about the situation before taking any other action. Although the landlord has the power to evict all the roommates, they may reverse the evictions of certain tenants under specific conditions. These conditions vary by state.

It is important to remember that all evictions made by the landlord must be legal. Meaning, “self-help” evictions are illegal, as the landlord must provide prior notice and obtain a court order to have the police remove the tenants.

Do I Need a Landlord-Tenant Attorney?

If your roommate wishes to leave a lease early, you may want to consult with an experienced local landlord-tenant lawyer. Because much of real estate and roommate law differs from state to state, an area attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s laws and your rights under those laws.

Your lawyer can provide you with advice regarding the best way to avoid being held responsible for your roommate’s share of the lease, and will also be able to represent you in court as needed.