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What is a Roommate?

A roommate is a type of tenant who is responsible either to the landlord or to the named tenant: 

  • Joint tenant - roommates named on the lease are each fully responsible for the amount of rent owed the landlord
  • Subtenant - a roommate who is not named on the lease is responsible for his share of the rent to the roommate named on the lease

What Should A Roommate Agreement Include?

Common roommate agreement provisions discuss:

  • Rent – how much the rent is and how the rent should be divided
  • Space – division of bedrooms, bathrooms and/or kitchen space
  • Overnight guests – limits on number of guests and for how long
  • Pets –determine what kinds of pets, if any, are allowed
  • Moving Out – leaving before the lease is over
  • Disagreements and arguments – have a procedure for resolving disputes before they arise
  • Chores – division of labor in maintaining the home
  • Food – determine if food should be shared and who should be in charge of groceries or cooking

Can a Roommate Get Out of a Lease Early?

When a roommate tries to get out of a lease early, it has the effect of leaving the other roommate(s) "holding the bag."  If the roommate is named on the lease, he cannot get out of the lease early and is legally responsible for his share.  Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to enforce this is by threatening to sue the roommate for his share of the rent.  If a roommate is not named on the lease, however, the named roommate may be responsible for the full rent owed the landlord.

What Are Your Options when Dealing with Roommates Regarding Lease Issues?

If a roommate tries to leave you holding the bag, you should check the lease agreement to see if there is a provision that lets you end the lease early by paying an extra fee.  If you decide to do this, you will no longer be responsible for the lease, but of course, you will have to find another place to live. 

Can I Evict a Roommate?

Joint tenants cannot be evicted by their fellow tenants because their contract is with the landlord and not each other. Subtenant eviction will differ by state. Some states do not permit tenants to evict their subtenants without the landlord. Other states will treat the tenant as a landlord in relation to the subtenant.

The landlord has the power to evict any of the roommates, regardless of their status as joint tenants or subtenants. If a tenant is unhappy with a subtenant, the tenant should speak with the landlord about the situation. The landlord has the power to evict all the roommates but may reverse the evictions of certain tenants in certain conditions which vary by state.

Remember that all evictions made by the landlord must be legal: “self-help” evictions are illegal, the landlord must give prior notice and the landlord must obtain a court order to have the police remove the tenants.

If the Original Tenant Moves Out, Can the Roommate Stay?

This will depend on the landlord, although the answer will typically be yes if the roommates were joint tenants. Subtenants should consult the landlord for a lease, thereby making the subtenant into an actual tenant. Subtenants should make sure that the landlord is aware that the subtenant is living on the property and that rent is being paid to either the original tenant or the landlord. This creates a stronger claim to tenancy as the subtenant was already acting as a tenant before the original tenant left.

Do I Need a Real Estate Attorney?

If your roommate wants to get out of your lease early, it is a good idea to talk to a real estate attorney.  The attorney can advise you about the best way to avoid being responsible for your roommate's share of the lease.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 10-06-2017 02:20 AM PDT

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