Tenants ended relationship

15 Replies

Hello, I am hoping someone can help provide some feedback/advice on my current situation. My husband and I own a multi-family home, that we bought about 2 years ago (so we are new to being landlords).  We live on the 2nd and 3rd floor and rent out the first floor. 

In July we had a couple move in, both signed the lease for 1 full year. We were informed by the male tenant last week that the female had moved out. She did not notify us that she was breaking the lease, nor did she turn in her keys. She did send an email to the male tenant stating that he either needed to agree to take over the entire rent or find a roommate to cover the other half. (The apt is only a 1 br/1ba). She also stated if he refused, she would take it up with us, the landlords. 

The male tenant asked us to reach out to the female and request that she continue to pay half the rent as she did not give us notification that she would be vacating the premises. The lease states that if abandonment were to occur during the 1-year lease agreement that the we can hold the tenant liable for any difference between the rent that would have been payable under the PA lease agreement during the balance of the unexpired term. With that said, the lease does not contain any agreement on how much each tenant owed, only the total amount due per month. 

I am trying to look into PA tenant/landlord law to find out what we can and cannot do here. Do we reach out to the female to notify her she must continue to pay rent until the male sublets  or do we stay out of it entirely and notify the male tenant we cannot get involved?

Thank you so much for your help in this situation! 

Tell them you can't get involved. Then change your lease to make all tenants 'jointly and severally'  responsible for payment (i.e. the rent is due in full, no matter if it's coming from one or both) so that  if it happens again you'll be covered.

Medium team zen logo vJean Bolger, 33 Zen Lane | http://www.solidrealestateadvice.com

Basically, you have one tenant.  Think of it like that.  Your "one tenant" happens to be two people.  But, your "one tenant" must pay the rent and honor the contract.

What happens between any of the members of your "one tenant" is between them.  You can sue either or both of them, though.  

Perhaps you could just put that into an email to your male tenant that he could forward to her?  I might be willing to do that, in case she thinks there will be no fallout to her and doesn't believe him.  

Something like: Dear Male Tenant, per your request to explain how you and your GF are jointly and severally liable on your lease, what that means is that the contract must be honored, and as a landlord I can collect from you or your GF or both of you.  This is what "jointly and severally" means.  If you must pay the full rent in order to be sure the lease is honored, you would then have to sue your GF to reimburse you for anything she owed you.  If your GF wants to contact us to explain the contract again, we'd be happy to talk to her.  Cheers, you.

Or something like that.  It might help you get your rent paid.  If not, you might want to just let them out of the lease.

This is a big reason why I only used month-to-month contracts.  I hated roommate situations.

They both signed the lease , both are responsible . Think of it this way if you and your husband are on a loan . And you split up does the loan  company get into your problems .  They want the full payment  .You rented them an apartment for a price , they owe the rent .    DO NOT TAKE 1/2 payment .    You arent renting rooms to separate people.

Hopefully your lease has a clause in it stating that both tenants are jointly and severally liable for the lease. If it does not then perhaps your state has a law that addresses the issue. All that said, generally this is not your problem strictly speaking. Both tenants must pay rent. If rent is short you evict both tenants. It is up to them to work out who pays what and to deal with finding roommates etc. I would send a written response stating that the property was rented to both parties and if rent is not paid in full both parties would be issued a notice of non-payment and if that is not corrected, you would file for eviction and if taken to completion, both parties would have an eviction on their record and you would pursue payment in-full through the courts and get a judgement from both parties. 

Hopefully your tenants care about their credit and will decide they can work this issue out like adults and you will get rent without further drama. 

If not, then you are likely to get drug into this drama.

An early termination agreement maybe called for in this case since it's a one bed and it's not too likely that the guy will get another roommate and perhaps can't afford the place on his own. The other tenant maybe willing to pay an early termination fee. In this case you get the property back and rerent it. Everyone moves out and moves on. 

Generally speaking you want to negotiate something that doesn't cost you money. Eviction and Court is mostly saber rattling to let them know the severity of the case. Ultimately if they can't pay and won't live together so they can afford the place you are going to have to figure a way to get your property back and rented to someone who can afford it.

This happens all the time and it's not generally productive to try and make them fulfill the term of the lease. The law usually allows them to move out and you charge them for direct expenses and lost rent. You have to make a concerted effort to rerent the property after they move out (you can't just let it sit empty and charge them for lost rent).

Medium rre 1to1 small sizeBill S., Reliant Real Estate, Inc. | 720 207‑8190

If you are afraid they will default, you might as well accept half payment, because you can begin eviction on the second of the month even if they are one dollar short.

If their credit is good , you can explain to them that negitive reports , and or evictions make it much harder to rent or buy in the future . 

@Erin B. is spot on. Take heed to what he said. All parties are jointly and severally liable (provided the lease states such) until you regain possession of the unit or you negotiate with them to change the lease to release one person and/or add another.  When we do this, we make it clear that even though one party is moving out, the entire security deposit stays with the unit until after the unit is vacant and we have regained possession. Any reimbursements for a share of the security deposit will need to be worked out amongst the original parties to the agreement. We will only release a person from the rental agreement if the remaining party qualifies on their own. If the remaining party requests to add a new person to the household, the new person must qualify. Therefore they would need to go through the application process.

Marcia Maynard, Fischer Properties | Podcast Guest on Show #83

Thank you so much everyone for your feedback - this has all been extremely helpful! I am going to notify the male tenant in writing that we cannot get involved and from now on if dealing with a roommate situation, include it in the lease how much each party is paying toward the lease. 

Originally posted by @Sue K. :

Basically, you have one tenant.  Think of it like that.  Your "one tenant" happens to be two people.  But, your "one tenant" must pay the rent and honor the contract.

What happens between any of the members of your "one tenant" is between them.  You can sue either or both of them, though.  

Perhaps you could just put that into an email to your male tenant that he could forward to her?  I might be willing to do that, in case she thinks there will be no fallout to her and doesn't believe him.  

Something like: Dear Male Tenant, per your request to explain how you and your GF are jointly and severally liable on your lease, what that means is that the contract must be honored, and as a landlord I can collect from you or your GF or both of you.  This is what "jointly and severally" means.  If you must pay the full rent in order to be sure the lease is honored, you would then have to sue your GF to reimburse you for anything she owed you.  If your GF wants to contact us to explain the contract again, we'd be happy to talk to her.  Cheers, you.

Or something like that.  It might help you get your rent paid.  If not, you might want to just let them out of the lease.

This is a big reason why I only used month-to-month contracts.  I hated roommate situations.

It is much better to negotiate a win-win than to talk about parties suing one another. We try to resolve matters without taking it to court. The wording of your suggested email concerns me. I also would not open myself up to getting overly involved in the matter between the two parties. I do agree with you that MTM rental agreements make it easier when situations such as this arise.

Marcia Maynard, Fischer Properties | Podcast Guest on Show #83

@Erin B. personally unless you are renting by the room don't do roommate situations and don't break out the rent in your lease. You rent to the group and the group is responsible and the group must pay. You don't want to specify who pays what. You want to specify that the group pays. It's up to them to work out the sharing component. I will, as a convenience, debit differ accounts for different parts of rent but it's only a service we offer. It's not part of the rental agreement. I suppose it might come back to bite me but so far it has not.

If you don't do that. You might end up evicting one tenant in a one bedroom and being left with a tenant fully occupying the unit but legally only paying half rent. You would be stuck not being able to rent the other half and you can't evict them.

Medium rre 1to1 small sizeBill S., Reliant Real Estate, Inc. | 720 207‑8190

@Marcia Maynard it's okay to disagree with me :-)

I would send the email just to make sure everyone is clear on the fact that both parties can be held fully responsible.  The GF has told the BF that she's not going to be responsible.  Making sure she understands that she is, can actually help avoid court.

I'd do it this way because it might get them to work it out without further problems.  At minimum, it would get the negotiations started.

I've had great success in avoiding court by letting people first know that I could take them to court - and win.  So, now let's sit down like adults and work this out.

There's more than one way to skin a cat - and to stay out of court.

In addition to your lease including the term "jointly and severally", consider including a clause about who gets the security deposit back. Even with married couples, my leases state that the security deposit will be returned to <whoever>, that person being the only person. 

This avoids the argument from each tenant as to who the money belongs to, or who provided most of it. Before they sign the lease, they need to agree on that.

I've had 2 instances of non-married couples breaking up and requesting early release. I'm fine with that, if they cooperate with showings, keep the place in good condition, and I can rent it without vacancy time. I'm totally fine if a tenant wants to leave early because they can't afford to stay when one moves out, as opposed to having them dig in and being evicted. Our contractor shows our properties and the cost of that is now passed on to the tenant until it's re-rented.

Aly NA while your approach works. If someone does not do that, the check that returns the SD should be made out to all parties on the lease. They can then figure out how to split it up when they sign the check to deposit it or cash it at the bank.

Medium rre 1to1 small sizeBill S., Reliant Real Estate, Inc. | 720 207‑8190

It definitely works for me, because I don't do it any other way. One named person for the security deposit. They agree before they sign the lease, and that's how it's written.

If it's made out to all parties, and one disappears....presumably the others can't cash the check without their signature. Then again, I've had the experience where the bank cashed a check I wrote to an entirely different entity, when it was made out to a condo association.

I've looked into the lease and while it doesn't contain any statements about the tenants being jointly and severally responsible for the rent payment, both of their names are listed then followed with a statement that considers them one tenant, "____<Both Names> ___(hereinafter referred to as "Tenant." For and in consideration of the covenants and obligations contained herein and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged, the parties hereto hereby agree as follows:" 

Could this alone allow us to consider them jointly and severally responsible?