What do you do if your roommate breaks the terms of your lease agreement?

If you have a roommate who is a co-tenant and has signed a lease they have several options.

First they can give notice and offer to find a new tenant. Assuming the landlord gave them permission to leave, allowed them to find a new tenant and you and the new tenant were able to make timely payments, nothing would happen.

Landlord can evict everyone

Consider, however, if the roommate makes an unauthorized departure the landlord may have the legal right to evict all parties, even if you can make full rental payments. This action could be considered a violation of a key lease term, for which all tenants are liable.

Filing a lawsuit in small claims court

What if your roommate simply leaves, does not talk to the landlord, and refuses to pay for the remaining months on your lease? You may have the legal right to sue them in small claims court for unpaid rent, unpaid utilities, and any costs you incurred to find another roommate and for damages done to the apartment.

Whether or not you should sue, however, will depend on whether they have a source of income and the costs and effort it will take to make your case. If your roommate only owes you a couple a hundred dollars it will not be worth your time.

Type of case you can file in small claims court

You may file a case against your roommate if the money owed is between $3,000 and $10,000 (amounts can vary by state). Legal disputes resolved in small claims courts can include a failure to repay a loan, breach of contract, personal injury or intentional harm. Cases which are not handled in small claims court include divorces, guardianship, bankruptcy, libel or slander.

To file a claim in small claims court you will need to do the following:

1. Give notice to the defendant.
2. Determine in which Justice of the Peace Precinct it is appropriate to file your claim.
3. Obtain a Petition from the appropriate Precinct
4. Fill out the Petition and file the petition
5. Serve the defendant
6. Attend the hearing and receive the judgment

You decide to break the lease agreement

If your roommate moves out, you cannot find another roommate and you cannot meet the obligations of the lease, you should notify your landlord. Legally, however, the landlord has the right to keep your security deposit and charge you and your roommate for unpaid rent.

The good news is the landlord is supposed to mitigate financial losses when a tenant breaks a lease, which means they must make all "reasonable efforts" to rent the property to a qualified tenant once you move out.

If the landlord finds a new tenant you will not have to pay rent, even if your initial contractual period has not expired. You will, however, owe all rent from the time you gave notice until the new tenant moves in. If you don't pay, your landlord can take you and your roommate to small claims court.

Never sublet without approval

It's tempting to simply find a friend to move in if you are struggling to pay rent, but lease or rental agreements generally prohibit unauthorized sublets. Make sure to get your landlord's approval before moving another person into your apartment and have the new tenant sign a rental agreement.

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