What to Do When Your Roommate Bolts

Our guest blogger Katherine tackles an all-too-common roommate situation.


Uh oh. Your soon-to-be-roommate got cold feet at the altar, pulled a Julia Roberts a la Runaway Bride and is now halfway to Canada on a FedEx truck. This leaves you in a lurch, with the caterers to pay, the guests to feed and gifts to return. What do you do now?

Well, that depends on how close you came to going to the courthouse. Okay, mediocre wedding analogy aside, this situation does happen and it happens more frequently than you might imagine. And if it’s happened to you, you know there aren’t many options available to remedy it.

If someone leaves you stranded 3 days before you’re set to move you have a few options:

1. Stay in a hotel/couch surf while you search for a studio apartment or a new roommate. You likely will have to move out of your current situation as planned, but may have to move into a hotel or onto your friend’s couch instead of the cute 2 bedroom you had your heart set on. While you’re hoteling/hosteling/couch surfing, see if there might be a studio in your budget and you could avoid roommates all together. Or, use that time to find another roommate. 

2. Move into an already furnished apartment. You could look for a furnished apt/room on Craigslist, most likely a sublet. This option has the advantage of fewer hassles; you don’t have to find furniture, kitchenware etc. You can also use a website like roommates.com to find a suitable partner: it’s like match.com for roommates.

3. Improvise. No roommate? No problem, if you’re creative, aggressive, and fearless. You could move into that 2 bedroom as originally planned, provided you have the income (or the help) to foot the bill until you scramble to find a roommate by any means necessary. This could mean Craigslist, college friends, friend of college friends, cousins of friends of college ex-boyfriends. Whatever you can find, make it work. Again, roommates.com could be helpful here.

All three of these situations can become  real budget-busters, but you can be on the hook for even more money if  your roommate of 3-months bolts on you (and your landlord) 9 months before your lease is up. This is a very serious matter because both of you have signed a contract and breaking this contract, even if you aren’t the one doing it, could give the landlord license to kick you out as well, or make you pay the full rent. If this happens to you there are a few things you can do:

1. Ask your roommate to sign an agreement. You and your roommate got along before he or she decided to peace out and “find herself in Nepal” right? I hope so, because a good roommate relationship will make this process a whole lot easier. Ask your roommate to sign a contract of sorts that says he or she will find a subletter that meets your approval, will be responsible for any damage he or she caused to the apartment during his or her stay, and in the event he or she cannot find a subletter will pay their portion of the rent until the lease is up. The more you can get him or her to agree to, the better.  Both of you should sign and date the document and keep it for your records. Now you will have something if you  need to take your ex-roommate to court.

(Ed. Comment.  As a practical matter, this “roommate pre-nup” should be agreed to and signed before you move in.  You can verbally cover all other typical roommate living issues, but major money items should be in writing.)

2. Take them to small claims court. Do this only if the roommate in question is still in the city and the amount in question isn’t miniscule, otherwise it could be more trouble than it’s worth. But, if you are on the hook for a lot of money, legal action might be just what you need.

3. Scramble. People have been doing this for years when these types of things occur. You can find a subletter on Craigslist, or ask all of your co-workers, barbers, friends, cousins etc. Or roommates.com as mentioned above.

Over the course of your apartment sharing life, this is bound to happen at least once. Accepting that and keeping calm are your best friends in this situation. Above all, choose carefully when selecting a person you want to live with.

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Comments (2)

  1. Tyler Deitz

    Great tips, I know of a few friends who have been in similar situations. Just one question though, if it’s so close to moving in (3 days in the article, but even a few weeks before) wouldn’t the roommate have signed a contract with the property manager so they would be responsible for their share of the rent? Getting ready to look at new places myself, so this is very interesting.


  2. Mike

    Great article Katherine,

    To touch on your third point (scramble) we often forget how many people we know who may be able to help us out in any aspect of our lives. Given the reach of social networking, emails and word of mouth, it is often very possible to find someone even if it is last minute. Just because you can’t think of anyone off the top of your head doesn’t mean a connection of yours isn’t scrambling at the very same time. But you’ll never know unless you put it out there.

    Mike Camerlengo
    Licensed Real Estate Agent