2/3 roommates broke the lease, how to handle?

10 Replies

2 of 3 roommates in our house-hack duplex left unexpectedly last month. Roommate A gave no notice (to us or the other roommates) and just bounced, Roommate B is moving back to Colorado because he got in a car accident and ended up with a concussion requiring ongoing care, which isn't covered by his insurance in Texas-a crappy situation.

Roommate A has done nothing to fill his vacancy, and no one can get in touch with him. B posted ads and found an acceptable replacement, but those ads had roommate C's contact info so we were under the impression that roommate C had done the legwork. Now we are left with a vacant room and we decided to release A and B from their obligations under the lease, but keep their security deposits. B is complaining "I found a replacement and cleaned! I'm leaving for medical reasons, and A just left one day and hasn't done anything! Not fair!"

My take on the whole thing is that, yep, it's not fair, but the alternative is that we keep both of you on the lease and you pay rent from afar. This way you're free and clear and I'll even give you a good recommendation for another place to live when the time comes.

BP hive mind, are we in the right here? I think that if you break a lease, you should pretty much be expecting to lose your deposit no matter the circumstances.

What say all of you?

@Eddie Lehwald . The roommate who Just left keep his deposit. Typically you want a lease break clause in your lease. Maybe it says one month rent or half month rent or two months rent. If it doesn’t say in the lease I’d probably give some back to tenant B. Also make sure if you’re keeping it as lost rent you’re not double dipping with the new tenant coming in. A lot of this depends on the state

@Caleb Heimsoth Yep, definitely adding that moving forward. I'm torn because roommate B told us verbally he was leaving, but not when. I was under the impression that the new guy was a replacement for roommate A and B wasn't leaving until he found someone. Now yesterday (when I was at work all day long) he tells me "oh wait! I actually did all that work and by the way today's my last day" so I'm a little pissed that he didn't communicate anything to me until literally hours before he left and now we're stuck in a kind of confusing situation.

I think what we may do is keep B's deposit until we find someone to fill that room and then prorate the difference. That feels fair.

You lease should include a "joint and several liability" clause that essentially says each tenant is 100% responsible. They can't just walk away from their agreement and expect the remaining tenant to suck it up. Likewise, the remaining tenant can't say, "I'm paying my share" and not pay the rest. 

This is the problem with unrelated roommates. They have nothing to tie them together and no sense of personal responsibility. In my experience, most roommate situations go south and result in more problems, which is why I won't rent to more than two unrelated people without them meeting much higher requirements.

My recommendation? Get rid of the remaining tenant, use the deposit, charge them for anything unpaid, send them to collections if they refuse payment, and find a stable tenant.

@Nathan G interesting. We do have the JSL clause, and have pointed it out to these guys. It's one of those things that they don't seem to take seriously until the time comes. The remaining tenant is great and has lived there for 2 years, so I wouldn't feel good about kicking him out. We did decide last night that we're keeping both deposits.

I'm curious about how you have different requirements for unrelated applicants though, can you go into more detail there? Austin is a roommate town, but it would definitely be great to minimize situations like this in the future. 

We're also altering our lease to include clear language and penalties (forfeit deposit + 2 months rent) for a roommate leaving early.

I've never been in your exact situation and this must be a pretty big duplex for 3 tenants to be living in the other side but in the future I would require all rent to be paid in one payment. One deposit also and if returned, made out to all tenants on the lease. If they can't come up with the rent together then they all have to go. You can have something in your lease if a situation arises where one wants to leave but this way the other tenants would have to pick up the slack. I know Austin and other college towns can be tough because of these exact situations. 

My lease break clauses are below. Note that it says I do not have to accept their request to break the lease early however if they do move out without permission, Texas property code requires the landlord to mitigate damages. This means the landlord has to try to get it rented. This seems common sense but it prevents bad landlords from purposefully leaving it empty for the entirety of the lease and claiming the old tenant owes the entire lease amount. You don't have to take less rent or unqualified tenants, you just have to attempt to get it rented out. Honestly though, going after a tenant who abandons your unit for back rent is going to be a waste of your time and money. If you have to go to court to evict them, yes add the rent onto the judgement but going to small claims after the tenant is gone rarely results in you getting the money.

(1) Tenant may not assign this lease or sublet the Unit without Landlord’s written consent. This includes AirBnB, VRBO, and other similar house sharing/swapping services.

(2) If Tenant requests an early termination of this lease under this Paragraph 28B, Tenant may attempt to find a replacement tenant and may request Landlord to do the same. Landlord may, but is not obligated to, attempt to find a replacement tenant under this paragraph.

(3) Any assignee, subtenant, or replacement tenant must, in Landlord’s discretion, be acceptable as a tenant and must sign a new lease with terms not less favorable to Landlord than this lease or otherwise acceptable to Landlord;

(4) If Tenant requests termination of this lease agreement early, notice of no less than 60 days must be given to Landlord. Landlord is not required to accept the request.

(4) At the time Landlord agrees to permit an assignee, subtenant, or replacement tenant to occupy the Unit,

Tenant will pay Landlord:

(a) $ ______________ lease cancellation fee; and

(b) any prorated rent prior to the new lease Commencement date.

(5) Tenant agrees to vacate the unit more than 7 days prior to the new lease Commencement date and further agrees to move out as per all conditions set forth in this lease.

(6) Unless expressly stated otherwise in an assignment or sublease, Tenant will not be released from Tenant's obligations under this lease because of an assignment or sublease. An assignment of this lease or a sublease of this lease without Landlord's written consent is voidable by Landlord.

Rent Payment:

4.) Landlord requires Tenant(s) to pay monthly rents by one payment.

Security deposit return:

C. Refund: Tenant must give Landlord at least thirty (30) days written notice of surrender before Landlord is obligated to account for or refund the security deposit. Any refund of the security deposit will be made payable to all Tenants named in this lease.

@Eddie Lehwald everything that @Nathan G. said. I've rented to over 1,000 college students and have only had 4 that have not paid their entire lease contract in full. The way I'm able to get that kind of collection rate is almost exclusively due to the fact that each roommate is jointly and severally liable. It's the only way to deal with unrelated roommates IMO. 

I've seen way more than my fair share of roommate issues over the years but I always let them know it is their problem to solve. I do not care who pays the rent but it must be paid. And paid in full.

Easy- keep deposit and pass on releasing fee in lease they signed. Roommates are always a gamble but usually more profitable.