Roommate Issue, Legality Question

So a bit of background information. I’m in a living situation with 2 other girls. We’ve been living together since January of 05. In February of this year, we decided to move and were into a new house by the beginning of March. We all three signed a year lease. Well, now one of my roomies decided that she’s going to be moving down to southern california in July. Needless to say this didn’t go over well especially since she had signed the lease too. I told her she can’t just leave but she had her mind set. So I told her she HAS to call the landlady to make sure it’s ok. When I asked her what she’d do if the landlady said no, she said “I’m still going to move”. Well if she does that, she’s effectively breaking the lease for all of us and possibly getting us kicked out without getting our deposit back (over $2000). My question is, if she does this, do we, as tenants and as her roommates have any legal recourse to regain the lost deposit? I’m really grabbing at straws here since neither my other roomie or I can afford the rent without her and the house is so ghetto we’d never find someone to take her place. Hopefully I explained it clearly enough :stuck_out_tongue:

Every state is different. I would say she should try and find someone to replace her. Either way, here is a helpful link:

Legal recourse? Like what - suing your roomate? Cause (I’m not your lawyer disclaimer) generally tenants are individually liable for the entirety of the rent. Your landlord doesn’t care who she gets the $ from, as long as she gets the money.
Subletting would be your best option, but if you break the lease, you may well kiss the deposit goodbye.
Best answer is to read your lease closely, but chances are it was a form drafted to favor the landlord.
There may be a local legal clinic that can provide basic legal info.

Subletting’s specifically prohibitied in the lease. And it wasn’t ‘drafted’ up for her, it looks like a generic lease agreement she downloaded from the net. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing we can do to get anything from her, but I didn’t think it could hurt to ask.

If you’d like to contact me offlist – email in my profile – I can give you contact info. for a San Francisco landlord/tenant attorney who you might like to talk to.


Yup. Look for the phrase “jointly and severably liable” in your lease.

It’s always better to negotiate, than to litigate. I’d talk to the the landlady and see if you can get her to agree to a replacement roomie, or possible lower the rent a bit (she may compromise to avoid more problems, if you’ve been good tenants, you’ll have to sell her on the idea). If she won’t go for it, or you can’t find a replacement, then you need to go after the current roomie in small claims court, sue her for her share of the remainder of the lease. As was already pointed out, each of you is responsible for the entire amount of the lease and the landlady can go after anyone of you for the entire amount, the only burden the landlady has, is to mitigate her loses by trying to rerent the place if you all move out. If she can’t find a new tenant, with reasonable effort, or has to take less than what you were paying, you are on the hook for the difference. The landlady does not have to find you a new roomie.
Just a suggestion, but if each of the two of you agreed to pay 20-30% more each month, the landlady might agree to lower the rent by that much, it’s better than losing everything.

Wait…if we have to leave, she can sue us for the rent for the rest of the term of the lease? I had no idea it could be that bad! I thought we’d be losing the deposit at most! I guess it makes sense now that I think about it…ugh This is getting more and more complicated. :frowning: I really really don’t want this to go to court, I was just hoping I could present her with some legal scenarios to scare her into not doing this. And I highly doubt the landlady would lower our rent since the last rent check bounced because said roomie was a week late gettign me her share and didn’t tell me till after I mailed out the check.

How long have you been in the house? Is the bounced check a first problem?
I don’t know where you stand w/ the landlady, or how reasonable she may be, but you could turn the bounced check incident into a positive. Talk to landlady, explain that you made a mistake in choosing the irresponsible roomie and getting rid of her would benefit everyone. I don’t know if you can work out a compromise or not, but it’s better than ending up in court, either w/ the roomie or the landlady. The landlady may agree, but you have to sell the idea. Yes, you signed a lease and each of you could be responsible for all of it. Again, your best choice is to find some kind of compromise, or sue the departing roomie. She’s the problem, but blaming her is not going to solve things. Even if you find a compromise w/ the landlady, you can still sue the roomie for any additional cost to the two remaining signers on the lease.

I hope you realize that regardless of the outcome this, the chances that a friendship will continue with the roommate leaving town are practically non-existent. Just be aware with what you say and how you act around her from now on. If things go badly while she is in the process of skipping town, don’t be surprised.

We’ve only been there since March of this year and yeah this is the first problem we’ve had. I guess I could call the landlady but I wanted my roomie to have to do that. I guess this way at least I can make her departure into a positive thing. But the landlady is really kinda weird in that I can never read her mood. It doesn’t help that the same check bounced a second time even though the money was in the bank. I highly doubt she believes me when I tell her that it’s a mistake her bank made. :\ I really don’t think we can get the rent decreased even though the house has horrible electricital problems, gas leaks galore and water leaks when it rains. She doesn’t seem the type to get those things fixed and we just don’t want to cause problems. I really truly don’t want to actually take her to court. She’s doing us the ‘favor’ of paying for the month of July even though she’s moving out on the 15th. She’s acting like this is no big deal and still acting nice and friendly which makes it harder for me to be angry with her! i do realize the friendship won’t be the same after this too… If we get royally screwed though, I will probably pursue something.

Well, you present new aspects. If there are truly conditions that make the house uninhabitable, gas leaks, electrical dangers, roof leaks, then you should notify the landlady, preferably in writing w/ some record of when the notification was made. If she doesn’t correct the deficiencies in a timely manner, you may have grounds to break the lease. Something like a gas leak should be taken care of immediately, no less than a day or two later, even if it’s a minor gas leak. An electrical problem, or a leaky roof, might be OK for a few days, depending on the severity. If these are real problems and the landlady doesn’t respond you should contact the local gov’t. office responsible and the local gas company, maybe even the fire dept., depending on the circumstances.
On the other hand, your bringing these things up after explaining the roomie problem, raises some suspicion about their validity. If you confuse these conflicting issues w/ your landlady, or eventually in court, it’s going to cast doubt on your veracity.
Being a nice person and not pursuing this w/ the offending roommate is just foolish. She signed a contract and should be held to it. You should make it clear that, if she breaches the contract, you will take legal action.

You make a good point about bringing up the issues with the house at the same time as the roomie leaving. I think the gas leak is the biggest concern. The electrical system is probably the original wiring (1920s) becausee none of the outlets have the 3rd hole for grounding and you can’t have all the lights on at the same time without flipping the breaker. Same goes for using the microwave if any lights are on. I really don’t want to pull the legal card with any real intention of following through because we’ve been friends a really long time. I know she’s not going to stay because she’s got a great ‘oppurtunity’ down south. I guess making this thread has made me realize that no matter how bitter I get, I’m probably not going to pursue legal action cause I’m too damn nice.

Oy! This is complicated! Much too complicated for a message board. And, besides, the mods don’t permit this forum to be used as a clearing house for legal advice. So, I’m going to make a few GENERAL comments, but this is no substitute for getting real legal advice. Take up Tabula Rasa’s offer, if you can. If not, look around for a tenant’s rights group in your city (your profile says Bay Area but not which city). At a minimum, get the Nolo Press book on tenant’s rights (available in any good bookstore), which will at least give you an idea of how this game is played. So, some general comments.

First, the practical solution is to find a replacement roommate. Yes, your landlord must consent. But she’s in this for the money. If you find a credible candidate, it’s likely she will. I take your point that it’s a “ghetto” property and not attractive. I assume, though, that it’s priced accordingly. The three of you aren’t the only ones in the Bay Area willing to live with that bargain. Post on Craig’s List. Be candid with your prospects. Not only is that the right thing to do, there’s no point getting in someone who powders after a month because she didn’t realize what she was getting into.

Second, if you are unable to find a replacement and/or the landlord won’t consent, you aren’t defenseless. For one thing, she would have to sue you. Possible, but not likely. So, your original fear that it’s just your security deposit that’s at risk is probably (but only probably) correct. Even if she does sue, you could argue that it was the sub-standard condition of the property and/or her presumably-unreasonable refusal to consent to a sublet which caused you to be unable to keep your end of the bargain. What a judge would decide is more than anyone could predict even with full command of the facts (which we don’t have), but it’s not a hopeless position.

Third, it’s not necessarily true that you’ve lost the security deposit. True, to get it back you will probably have to sue. As a tenant-in-breach, your position is not a strong one. But, depending on the facts and how the small claims judge viewed those facts, you might win. Be aware, though, that if you sue, your landlord can and probably will counterclaim for breach of the lease. So, there is risk in this maneuver. OTOH, if she sues you, you likewise can counterclaim for the deposit.

Fourth, to confirm the obvious, yes, you have a claim against the roommate who is leaving. As others have pointed out, each of you is responsible for the rent, but you are also responsible to each other. I-changed-my-mind or I’ve-decided-to-change-cities is not a defense to her liability under the lease, nor to her liability to you. The problem with this claim, of course, is that it doesn’t actually solve the problem, nor does it necessarily translate into money.

I hope that helps. And good luck.

Thanks so much for the advice, thanks to everyone too. And yes, we’d be hard pressed to find a roommate. The house is 2 bedroom, 1 bath and not very big. The bathroom is between the two bedrooms, so you have to walk through one to get to the bathroom. Also, the third ‘room’ is a modified laundry room with linoleum floors and a washer dryer. All this for a mere $1850 a month :stuck_out_tongue: The combination of this and the lack of heating or a/c means I highly doubt we will be able to find someone. And for the record, we weren’t aware of any of the larger issues till we moved in. I guess we just do what needs to be done as the situations present themselves… Maybe I will contact Tabula Rasa…but I’ve never really done anything ‘legal’ before and don’t even think I have the money to do it. I’ll talk to my other roommateb(the one who’s staying) about everything.

There’s a big difference between being “nice” and being a doormat. Your roomie is leaving you and the other person on the hook for $4300.00. If you breach the lease contract and the landlady comes after you, I doubt your complaints about the condition of the house are going to mean much in court, unless your on record as having complained about them beforehand. You really should handle this like an adult. Small claims court costs very little and it isn’t difficult to file an action. Of course you still have to collect, if you get a judgement, but that’s not impossible to do.
I’d guess that your landlady got enough personal information about you, before she rented to you, so that she can make your life difficult if you try to break the lease w/o cause. You have to meet your responsibilities in life, you can’t just ignore them and hope they’ll go away.
I’d suggest that you write the landlady a letter explaining the gas and electric problems, as well as the leaky roof and keep a copy. Mention that you’re wary of the danger involved, also note in your letter that the July rent is enclosed and then send the letter when you send the check, that way you can demonstrate that she received it. Then check your local landlord/tenant laws, you can probably find them online, maybe at a city/county web site, I’m sure they’ll include some habitability language. At least you’ll have some basis for breaking the lease.
Just being “nice” in a situation like this will be very costly, be smart also.

Hey Aunt Flow. You’re welcome. What-you-knew, what-you-could-have-known and when-you-knew-or-could-have-known are among the facts that make this complicated. What you say suggests that you indeed may have a good defense to liability under the lease (and likewise a good claim for return of the deposit), but litigation is inherently unpredictable and there are many other facts one would need to hazard even an intelligent guess.

As for your next step, I like the landlord letter-with-rent-check-enclosed idea, but I’d use a different spin. “Dear Landlord. Roomie has received a can’t-turn-down job offer in SoCal; she’ll be leaving July 15th. We are, of course, in the process of getting a replacement, but are having difficulties because of the gas and electric problems we’ve discussed. Could you please arrange those repairs as soon as possible? Frankly, no one we’ve spoken to so far was willing to move in with those problems unresolved. And do let us know if we can do anything to expedite things.” Note that I’m including no threat of any kind. IMHO, that’s very important. But, if a lawyer or tenant’s advocate with better command of the facts suggests otherwise, take their advice.

As for the sketchy third bedroom, the obvious solution, I’m afraid, is that one of you takes it (or you take turns), making one of the “premium” rooms available for the new roomie. Yeah, that sucks. But you’re in a tough spot. You do what you gotta do. IMHO, 'most anything is worth getting through this with no ding on your credit history and, if possible, a postive reference from the landlord.

Finally, as regards the rooommate, I’ll respectfully disagree with A.R. Cane, at least to an extent. Although friendship does not preclude you from suing, I too would be hesitant. Personally, I would draw the line at if-landlord-sues-me-I-sue-her. (Thus, not suing her if all I lost was the deposit.) You may draw the line wherever you feel most comfortable.

BTW, what city are we talking about?

Hang on: you’re staying in a house with a gas leak? :eek: Can I humbly suggest that you vacate the premises ASAP before you blow the house up and / or kill yourselves?

I think I will send her a letter with July’s check. Unfortunately, can’t afford to send the money till the end of the month so maybe I can just send a certified letter? As for the gas leak I’m not sure if it’s the appliances or the actual gas connections. It’s just that whenever you walk past the stove you can smell very strong gas smell. Same goes for the ‘heater’ which doesn’t really work anyway. I guess we never were that worried about it since…well because I guess we’re kinda dumb! Didn’t really think about it blowing things up, only as a nuisance. And the city we’re in is Point Richmond, kinda like Richmond (which is half a mile away) only with less murders :stuck_out_tongue:

Surprising as it may seem, no, don’t use certified mail. Not a legal issue, a negotiating one. Certified mail screams litigation planning. Will put your landlord in fight mode. Whereas what you want is the repairs done. So, send a mild letter by ordinary mail and follow up by phone if she doesn’t respond.

And, not to rub it in, but not being able to pay rent till the end of the month hurts both your legal and negotiating position. I assume you know that.