Having a roommate is one of the easiest ways to keep living costs low. You’ll split the rent and utilities, and you might share responsibilities for stocking household goods. If you’re especially apt on making your roommate situation as financially fair as possible, you might just wind up splitting all expenses with your roommate – perhaps even some common space belongings such as furniture and the TV.
There’s just one drawback to this arrangement: If your roommate decides to move out, you’re stuck with a hefty financial burden. It’s one thing if your roommate is moving out at the very end of your lease term, but it’s a far more precarious scenario if your roommate needs to move out mid-lease. Whether your roommate is leaving to move in with a partner, tend to an ill family member, or relocating for work, here’s what you should do if your roommate is moving out mid-lease.
Make sure your roommate is on the lease
When you first sign the lease for your apartment, make sure your roommate is on it. If you’re partway into your lease and realize your roommate’s name never quite made it onto the lease, ask your landlord to add it in and your roommate to sign the lease. Without your roommate’s name on the lease agreement, you have far fewer legal protections if they leave before the lease ends.
Set up an agreement with your roommate
Write a legally binding agreement that outlines the costs for which your departing roommate will be responsible after they leave. The document should state how much, if any, rent and utilities your roommate will pay in the time between their departure and the end of the lease. It should make clear that your roommate will pay for any damage they caused, and it should fairly divide any possessions you purchased together. Most importantly, the document should indicate that your roommate, upon returning their keys to you, gives up their right to live in your shared home.
Alternatively, if your lease permits subletting, you can make an arrangement with your roommate to find a replacement. This replacement will, upon moving in with you, cover your former roommate’s share of expenses. Your roommate should lead the hunt for a new roommate using search engines, social media groups and listings, and word of mouth, but you should be prepared to help nonetheless – you’ll want to do all that you can to ensure that your expenses don’t multiply once your current roommate is gone for good.
Tell your landlord
Not telling your landlord about a roommate change likely goes against the terms of your lease and may even be grounds for eviction. When you speak to your landlord or property manager, try to bring your roommate or have them on the phone with you. Ask your landlord what their policy is on subleasing. If they’re amenable to you finding a new housemate – and they may well be, especially if you have a history of paying rent on time and generally being a good tenant – they might give you thorough guidance on what sorts of roommates and roommate search methods will and won’t fly with them. They’ll also tell you what info you’ll need from your new roommate to ensure their name makes it onto the lease.
If needed, head to small claims court
Drafting and signing a written agreement may not be possible if your roommate leaves unexpectedly or on bad terms. Nevertheless, an unamicable split shouldn’t stop your roommate from continuing to pay their share of the bills until your lease ends. You can take matters to small claims court, where you can file claims without much preparation and don’t need a lawyer to do so. Just bring your lease with you and state that your roommate moved out without continuing to pay for his share of the expenses through the end of the lease.
Should your roommate not even show up to your small claims hearing, a judgment will automatically be rendered in your favor, but this judgment doesn’t mean that actually getting the money owed to you will be simple. Some experts say that, if your roommate has relocated so far away that there’s very literally no chance of their showing up to small claims court, you may just want to figure out how, if possible, to cover your costs yourself (unless you’re willing and legally able to find someone to sublet your roommate’s portion of the lease).
Stay in constant communication
Up until the time your roommate moves out, stay in constant contact with them and your landlord. Though a seemingly obvious step, proper communication can help to ensure that no bills go unpaid, no lease commitments go unaddressed, and no party involved emerges in a far worse situation than they were previously.