Question: My roommate and I don’t get along and she’s moving out before our lease ends. I only need to pay my half, right?

Answer: Wrong. No matter who is left in the rental, the rent has to be paid in full, for the amount stated in the lease, each month. Even if you each wrote a separate rent check, the lease is for a total amount. Why? Known as “jointly and severally liable,” all lease terms are “all for one and one for all,” including paying the full rent. Everyone is responsible, even if one player leaves the game and you’re left holding the ball.

Other suggestions to keep in mind when a roommate departs:

  • Notify your landlord. Always a good idea, since they may let you out of the lease or have suggestions on finding another roommate. If you think you can afford the place yourself (or want to) then let the landlord know of your plans. Don’t be surprised if they run your credit anew and demand clearing any new tenants.

  • Beware of deposit woes. Since deposits are also usually are joint and several, the dollar amount remains with the unit until vacated. As a result, the departing roommate may ask for you to “cash them out.” Once again, ask the landlord for guidance. Deductions for cleaning, damage or unpaid rent may apply and will be ultimately taken from the deposit at move-out, possibly leaving the remaining dwellers with less than anticipated.

  • Know that some landlords won’t get involved. Some roommate situations are handled “in house” between residents, with the new cashing out the old, less deductions from the previous tenant. Landlords or managers may prefer not to get involved in roommate disputes, unless the property or a person is at risk.

  • Check utilities. In whose name are the lights, cable or phone bill? If the deserting roommate is planning to shut any or all utilities off, be prepared to put them in your name before you run out of hot water.

  • Get written notice. Be sure to get the departure date and details in writing from the roommate before he/she leaves. Get an exact date the rent will be paid through, too.

  • Consider the keys. If the parting is particularly hostile, you may want to consider changing the locks. Be sure to ask the landlord first (laws vary by locality) and provide a key promptly for owner/management.

Question: What should I look for in a roommate in the future?

Answer: Start with a list of your own personal habits. Set out from the beginning of the day and move forward. Do you rise early and bang around the kitchen while making a big breakfast? Do you have certain food allergies or dietary choices to adhere to? Other helpful tips:

Does your routine include smoking or drinking? Be sure your roommate won’t be offended by your habits. Speaking of habits, longtime roommate Drew Tewksbury notes, “Be sure they mention any personal habits that will keep you awake at night.” One roommate was nocturnal and swore in his sleep as he wandered about the apartment. Another liked jumping on the bed.

Decide how to handle overnight guests. Are sweethearts allowed overnight? All weekend? Not at all? Can mom visit for a couple of weeks? Be sure the guest limit, both time and space – is spelled out clearly.

What about pets? Some people bring a dog or cat, when the lease (or allergies) prohibits pets. Ask if they plan any pet sitting, too. One tenant brought his parent’s dog over for a weekend, and ended up keeping the critter for six months.

Who parks where? Decide in advance who gets the parking space (if available) and when. Adjust the rent accordingly if only one person gets assigned parking. If the parking is tandem, be sure the early riser takes the back space. Consider making an extra copy of keys for cars, just in case.

Cable, telephone or DSL? Decide which service you’ll prefer and how to share the costs. Share the utilities so everyone can build up his/her credit history with a utility, if possible.

Got furniture? Some people come with extra sofas and chairs, while others bring a paper bag – and not much else. If you are providing the furniture, be clear on where food can be eaten, etc. Grandma’s rare antique chair should not be subjected to stains that can’t come out.

Found Someone? Next step is to set up rules in writing. Several roommate contracts are available, via Internet search engines, bookstores and housing offices.

***

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