Couple on the lease breaking up

21 Replies

I've got new tenants that have only been in the house for one month. It's a couple and a roommate in a 3 bedroom house. I see the girl in the couple emailed me asking to get off the lease because she and the boyfriend has a "bad breakup". All three of them are on the lease, and she makes as much money as the other two combined.  Without her income they wouldn't have qualified for the home.

How do you handle this situation? Obviously I can't make her stay in the house if they breakup.

Yes you can. She's on the lease, she has an obligation to satisfy the terms. She certainly doesn't have to live there, but she is responsible for paying for it.

Do you have an option to sublet? If so, I recommend initiating that process with her. Tell her she can find someone to sublet for the remainder of the term, assuming they go through the vetting process with you as you would do for any tenant.

Otherwise, sorry to hear about the situation. But you're on the lease. You just spent a lot of time and money to fill that vacancy, why would you let someone who agreed to pay you X dollars over the next year to simply walk away?

I tend to think I need to hold her to the lease also.  Maybe I should have mentioned this in the original post, but I'm wondering if there was some violence involved... which is why I'm asking.  Her email mentioned the "bad breakup", and she said she's still at the house, but was scared he would come back.  I replied to the email this morning asking her to call me to let me know exactly what's going on, but that if she feared for her safety that she should call the police first.  

Like @Joe P.    says....correct....you don't have to live in the house....nobody has to live there....but the 3 of you are on this lease so the payment per month is due. If you don't pay this, you risk having this adversely affect your credit when we report this.

Tell her she can do as she pleases however she is on a lease and is responsible for the rent regardless. You need to draw out this transition as long as possible and expect to be releasing them all from the lease, with penalties, and find new tenants. You may have to threaten legal action but regardless situations like this never work out for the landlord.

Get rid of them all and hope for the best but anticipate no further rental income from this group.

In the future do not rent to unmarried couples or couples needing/wanting a room mate. It is all about risk aversion and in this case you walked right into this problem.

Landlord lesson learned. Screening is about more than simply financial qualifications.

Originally posted by @Shaun R. :

I tend to think I need to hold her to the lease also.  Maybe I should have mentioned this in the original post, but I'm wondering if there was some violence involved... which is why I'm asking.  Her email mentioned the "bad breakup", and she said she's still at the house, but was scared he would come back.  I replied to the email this morning asking her to call me to let me know exactly what's going on, but that if she feared for her safety that she should call the police first.  

Shaun, this would be terrible. Therefore if you need to, alert the authorities.

But this still doesn't change the fact that she has a signed financial obligation to meet. While the situation certainly tugs at my heart strings, if I were a hospital, or a creditor, or anyone else...would they simply say "no problem! Someone else can pay your bill!" I don't think so.

This is rough, this is life, and this can happen. But you can't let everyone out of their obligations every time a problem comes up.

Your goal right now is to limit your financial damage. There is no "out" clause in your lease -- she signed it, she's obligated to pay it.

You are also forgetting that there are two other people on the lease. Again -- its up to them how they want to play it. Either they sublet, get a second job to support the rent, etc., but this just isn't on her. There are 3 people on the lease and its up to them how to solve the problem.

If one defaults and the other two cannot pay, then they're all affected. All three should be reported to the credit bureaus and be taken to small claims...that's the point of three people signing a lease.

I'm also (respectfully, of course!) not so sure I agree with @Thomas S. as it can be difficult to find tenants as it is, and while the possibility exists that non-married couples will break up, I think with less skin in their relationship game, they have an easier time subletting or paying to get out. If it happens with a married couple, there may be children involved, assets frozen, lawyers, etc. While perhaps the chance is lessened if they are married, the hole you may find yourself in as one of many "creditors" might be deeper than you want to deal with. Just my $0.02.

I think he makes some good points, but I have rented to dating couples in the past. Some of had problems, but we're all adults. You pay your bills or you find a way to make it work, or you don't and you go to eviction court/small claims.

Talk to all three of the roommates and find out what they, as a whole, would like to do. If 2 of the 3 wish to stay, I would not release the third from the lease. It's either release all three, or keep all three on the legal paperwork. However, I would not fight to keep them in your property. You want to fight that fight every month for the next 10-11 months? If they are uncertain, let them know you can attempt to find a new tenant, but they are all responsible for the rent until you can fill a vacancy. Why do this? Because this is exactly what you'd have to do if a tenant broke the lease and moved out early. And, if you force them to stay, and they end up not being able to pay the rent, then no rent and/or eviction is what you just forced yourself into. One of my units is rented to a couple and a young child, and they are not married. I had no problem renting to them, and would do so in the future as well. My criteria doesn't include their marital status. It includes credit score, income, eviction history, etc. 

I notice somebody said "get rid of them all". I'd like to ask a simple question on that idea...HOW??? Have they broken the lease? Violated the lease? Missed rent payments? Illegally subletted? Sounds like, as of today, you have a valid lease with one person requesting to be let out of the lease. I don't see how you can evict anybody at this point in time. 

Originally posted by @Shaun R. :

I've got new tenants that have only been in the house for one month. It's a couple and a roommate in a 3 bedroom house. I see the girl in the couple emailed me asking to get off the lease because she and the boyfriend has a "bad breakup". All three of them are on the lease, and she makes as much money as the other two combined.  Without her income they wouldn't have qualified for the home.

How do you handle this situation? Obviously I can't make her stay in the house if they breakup.

This is a tough one.  The “bad breakup” isn’t your concern.  You can ask If there is a police report that’s how it falls under the domestic violence requirement to let them out of their lease.  

But it’s a legal document they need to uphold their end of it and as such need to keep the rent in good standing.  

Sorry to hear that you might be out more money to turn a unit right away.  

One option maybe Let them all want out Of the lease.  Charge them until you turn the unit the rent and any costs associated with turning the unit. 

Or just keep collecting rent and it’s more tough cookies for her, unless there’s a police report.  

@Shaun R. regardless of what your contract says, there is a practical reality here. If two of the three people move out, it is unlikely you will get rent for the next 11 months. That is where the practical part comes in. @Joe P. gave the analogy of a hospital creditor, but this situation is different. It would be more similar to a car loan. Stop making your car payment and what happens? They take the car back and sell it to someone who will pay. The point is why wait until they default on rent? It is better to get the property back and rerent it.  

I would contact all three tenants and tell them, they signed a joint contract to rent the property. I would remind them they are collectively responsible for rent for the entire remainder of the lease. However, tell them you are willing to work out an agreement to release them from the lease.  Tell them you are willing to rerent the property and they would only be responsible for rent and utilities until a new tenant moves in (plus a rerental fee and any other deposit deductions if applicable.)

You could just go the hard nose route and demand they pay rent for the remainder of the lease, but here is what will happen. The tenants will move out and disconnect utilities. Some or all of them will stop paying rent, so you may get 1/3 or maybe 2/3 of rent for a month or two. Meanwhile your property sits vacant. The tenants who are paying tell you to chase the other tenants. You will end up taking all three to small claims court. Not just one month, but every month they don't pay. They will tell the judge they moved out and you will tell the judge they had a lease. The judge will ask, why you are not attempting to rerent the property. 

Details of the "bad breakup" are not material to the situation for your purposes. If violence was involved, she needs to work with police. Just keep in mind if this ends up in court later, the judge will be sympathetic to her situation if it was domestic violence. All the more reason to work out some type of move-out arrangement, so you can move on.

Sorry to hear about this Shaun,

Above all, I would make sure you know the law in LA, because that will supersede whatever is in your lease.

For example, here in Oregon, you would have to let her out of the lease if there's an allegation of DV. It does not have to be physical. It would not necessarily require a police report. Qualified third parties to sign a report attesting to this include a health care professional, victim's advocate, LEO, and attorney.

https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/90.453

Would also exercise caution discriminating against non-married persons for future leases. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that some states laws (not many) consider marital status a protected class. Make sure you know your state's law.

But I'm not a lawyer. Just a new landlord who watched a lot of Suits and doesn't want to get sued by the likes of Mike Ross and Princess Meghan. :-)

I get others arguments on this being a business. This is a business for me too. But personally, I don't want to be the business owner holding somebody to their signature when they're living scared that an ex will show up. It's not for me.
(I didn't say I was a good business owner)

Decide what works for you.

Good luck,

-Kevin

@Shaun R. I’m in San Diego and going through the same thing. I bought the place 4-5 months ago thanks to BP encouragement. got a trio in and 3 months later the couple is breaking lease to get out due to domestic violence/ harassment from other roommate. Was getting texts emails and phone calls almost daily from female tenant about situations about roommate. police were Involved as well. The roommate paid late all 3 months and no way could afford place alone. He insisted on staying and wanted to find a new roommate. Told him when couple moves out i would create new m2m and he was to cover 100% and come up wIth difference of dep from couple. He didnt like that. Gave him a month to find someone. Only one he found lied on a few things on application so I denied him. Then He called back 2 weeks later begging to rent room so told him to give me additional financial info and never heard back. So on sep 30th reminded roommate that on 10-1 old lease was void due to couple breaking It and he would be taking over. On 9-30 I texted him asking him what his plan was and he said he would be out in 3-4 days. Awesome!!! RIght? Then on 4th he emailed asking for his deposit back. I told him I found damaged closet doors. Ac unit he pulled out was half *** installed that I had to give him a 3 day right or quit to put back 2 weeks earlier. All walls that I painted 3 months ago needed repaint and carpet was heavily stained. Not to mention the broken microwave door that woman claims he broke. All in 3 months I remind you. So I told him I what I found and would have to further access and let him know. Of course he deserves nothing but I hadn’t told him yet. So now yesterday he emailed me saying “I don't know about the about the microwave, there many isn't much point in my discussing it with you since you already presented me with a bill for Mike and Noolie s security deposit on September 29 before they'd moved out. Clear bias in print, or maybe just inexperience on your part. Maybe just thinking with the wrong head. I don't know myself. I sure hope things go smoothly considering the unnecessary emotional trauma me and my child have been through. Not to mention the unnecessary financial pain I've suffered. As far as what you could have done to remedy it, I'll be sure to have someone explain that to you.” So now Its all my fault apparently. All I could do Is ask If before I contInue the conversation If I needed legal representation. So far no response. Sounds lIke I need a lawyer. So just waItIng to see what happens next .

Seeing some of these responses, and I'm tempted to adjust my own advice! Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

It is true you cannot get blood from a stone, but you also don't want the stone thrown at you.

I think there is a middle ground -- assuming no DV -- where she moves out, the other two make ends meet month to month (I would adjust the terms in your favor, but also gives them a chance to meet adjusted financial/lease obligations), and look to get a new tenant in.

If the other 2 think they can find someone to help pay, great, but timebox it. They need to still pay current rent and that new person should be in "X" time.

Not a fun situation, for sure, and I'm not sure there is a magic bullet answer. But you know these three people better than all of us, even if its limited.

  • Any DV involved (whole different ball game - consult a lawyer)
  • Can the two remaining "get by" on their income?
  • Could they find a third to supplement the rent?
  • Will the other two be in the same situation as the person leaving in a month or two? Do they even want to stay now?

I'd start to build a new profile of what life is like for these two based on current conditions, and then go from there.

@Shaun R. I have dealt with this twice in the past 6 months. Both times, I ended up letting one person be removed from the lease. They had to find a suitable new tenant or the remaining tenants needed to qualify based on 3x gross monthly rents. If they couldn’t, I had them get co-signers to help with the payments. Both times it worked out just fine. I personally don’t want a toxic relationship in my Homes. In the past this has caused a lot of property damage and I really do t want any physical stuff going on with the people. I realize this is not the most popular perspective, but I would rather have tenants that want to be there paying rent in time and causing minimal damage.

@Shaun R. Very tough situation for sure. I'm assuming she's already out? Talk to her ASAP and get the whole story, find out if it's DM or just a bad relationship that ended. Next talk to the other two guys and figure out their situation. Hopefully, the other 2 guys have someone they know to fill the spot and between the three of them, they can come up with the money to cover rent. Good luck trying to collect from these guys...

If none of this works, I'd try to convince all of them to terminate the lease and move on.  Then get new tenants in there ASAP. This option will be tough also!

Well none of this may matter.... they paid $1200 of the $1500 rent before it was due... but now the other $300 plus late fees are late and I'm getting ready to give them a 5 day pay or vacate notice.  

Originally posted by @Joe P. :

Yes you can. She's on the lease, she has an obligation to satisfy the terms. She certainly doesn't have to live there, but she is responsible for paying for it.

Do you have an option to sublet? If so, I recommend initiating that process with her. Tell her she can find someone to sublet for the remainder of the term, assuming they go through the vetting process with you as you would do for any tenant.

Otherwise, sorry to hear about the situation. But you're on the lease. You just spent a lot of time and money to fill that vacancy, why would you let someone who agreed to pay you X dollars over the next year to simply walk away?

Why would you waste your time and money in a stupid legal argument for somebody who doesn’t want to live in your house and will most likely do what they want to do anyways.   Especially coming off a break up where she’s probably very emotional and I doubt would want to take legal threats

Place it for rent online, find someone who wants to live there, let the current tenants go when you find new ones, problem solved.

Originally posted by @Chris Purcell :
Originally posted by @Joe P.:

Yes you can. She's on the lease, she has an obligation to satisfy the terms. She certainly doesn't have to live there, but she is responsible for paying for it.

Do you have an option to sublet? If so, I recommend initiating that process with her. Tell her she can find someone to sublet for the remainder of the term, assuming they go through the vetting process with you as you would do for any tenant.

Otherwise, sorry to hear about the situation. But you're on the lease. You just spent a lot of time and money to fill that vacancy, why would you let someone who agreed to pay you X dollars over the next year to simply walk away?

Why would you waste your time and money in a stupid legal argument for somebody who doesn’t want to live in your house and will most likely do what they want to do anyways.   Especially coming off a break up where she’s probably very emotional and I doubt would want to take legal threats

Place it for rent online, find someone who wants to live there, let the current tenants go when you find new ones, problem solved.

Chris - I saw other perspectives in the thread and responded in kind. It was helpful to see what others dealt with. My hard line was softened over time. :)

I certainly wasn't advocating for legal threats, rather, its her obligation to fulfill the contract or make a concerted effort to mitigate, e.g. subletting.

My second post -- after seeing advice from others -- was finding a middle ground. Speak to all 3 as adults, get their plan of attack, modify the lease accordingly, let them know the plan should they pay or should they not, and get moving accordingly.

It sounds as if the OP is already dealing with the problem of not receiving full rent and delivering a pay or quit notice, so I think they will be on the path to re-renting soon.