Living with roommates is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. In 2017, 31.9 percent of the adult population resided in shared households (Fry, 2018). This refers to households that have at least one additional adult who is not a spouse, partner, or head of the household. While parents living with adult children represent lots of these households, many of the households consist of roommates. The roommates might be friends or strangers when they moved in, and now they are cohabitating.
Some roommates live harmoniously together. They might enjoy hanging out and having fun, or maybe they completely ignore each other and live separate lives because that is what they want.
For every positive roommate story you hear, you will find a handful of negative ones, though. Many of the roommate horror stories go beyond finding dirty laundry in the living room or someone leaving the toilet seat up. Countless stories are downright frightening. From drug use to violence and so many things in between, some people are in awful situations with their roommates.
The question is what do you do when you have a horrible roommate? Is it possible to remove that roommate and get a new one?
You do have options for removing your roommate. The option depends on the situation. Look at some common situations and solutions. Then you can finally break up with your roommate.
How to Get Rid of a Sublessor
You moved into your rental property with the idea you would handle the rent on your own. Soon, though, that extra bedroom started looking like a way to make some money. If you could find a sublessor to fill it and pay a portion of the rent, you would have so much extra money.
You thought you did everything right. You asked your landlord if you could sublease the extra room and received approval. You had the new tenant fill out a sublessor agreement and then let the person move in. By the time your head hit the pillow that first night, you were already thinking of all the money you would save.
Then all of a sudden, your sublessor’s worst qualities came out. Maybe he or she stopped paying the rent or started using drugs in the house. Whatever the case may be, you are miserable.
Misery loves company, and you have lots of it if you are in the middle of a subleasing nightmare.
Take Julie Gerstein, a former senior lifestyle editor at Buzzfeed (Heaney, 2014). She has a subleasing story that will make you cringe.
She was living in an apartment that she loved, but she needed a sublessor to help her pay rent. She found someone she thought was the perfect candidate. Mary offered to pay the five month’s rent in full. That was the entire length of the lease, so Julie was sold. This was going to be a dream situation.
Once Mary moved in, things got weird quickly. She spent her days sleeping and her nights doing cocaine. In case that wasn’t bad enough, Julie woke up one night to find her new roommate sitting on her bed and whispering strange things at her.
Even if your situation isn’t as bad as Julie’s, you still need to have a way to evict your tenant.
When you legally sublet a room to someone, you are the master tenant (Coble, 2015). You are responsible for paying the rent to the landlord and managing the tenant. That means you have to handle the eviction process.
You must have just cause for the eviction. Just cause varies from state to state, but typically, you can evict a sublessor if he or she stops paying rent, breaches the rental agreement, or conducts illegal activities on the premise.
In Julie’s case, the tenant did pay rent, but she was doing cocaine in the apartment. That would be just cause for eviction. Your roommate might not be doing drugs around you, but you still might have just cause.
You must begin the process by notifying the subtenant of your intent to terminate the tenancy. States have varying requirements for how much time you must provide with the notice. However, regardless of the state you live in, you can’t just send a notice and expect the tenant to leave that day.
When you create the notification, you have two options. You can give the tenant a chance to fix the issue, or you can simply provide a notice that the lease has been terminated. Include the amount of time that the tenant has to vacate the property.
If the sublessor refuses to leave, you will have to take legal action. You will need to file an unlawful detainer suit. If you win the suit, the court will demand that the tenant leaves the property. A law enforcement officer will escort the tenant off the property if he or she still refuses to leave. Then you will finally have the property to yourself once again.
How to Remove a Sublessor Without a Legal Agreement
You made a huge mistake.
You decided to sublet a room in your rental to earn some extra money, but you didn’t disclose it to your landlord. You basically just made a verbal agreement with the sublessor. You shook hands, and he or she agreed to pay you a certain amount of money each month.
What could go wrong, right?
Well, quite a bit can go wrong with this type of arrangement. First of all, you are in violation of your lease agreement if you sublet the property without letting your landlord know. The rare exception is if there is a clause allowing you to sublet to anyone without notifying the landlord.
Second of all, when people are in a property without a lease, they usually aren’t on their best behavior.
Take “Bob,” for instance (Project Sentinel, 2008). Bob lived in the same place for years and always paid the rent on time. He seemed like a landlord’s dream of a tenant.
Bob decided to get some help paying the rent, so he invited “Joe” to move in. Joe was a friend, so Bob felt confident that it would work out perfectly.
Joe stopped paying his share of the rent, and he also started behaving pretty badly. His bad behavior made it very difficult for Bob to continue living with him.
Bob decided to complain to his landlord to get help evicting Joe.
This wasn’t very wise of Bob. Bob had violated the tenant agreement, so his landlord could have started the eviction process that day, even though he’d been the perfect tenant in the past. In fact, no one would blame the landlord for going this route. Once the rental agreement is void, the landlord can force everyone to leave.
Instead, Bob should have gone through the eviction process on his own.
If you find yourself in this situation, you have to go through the court system. You must follow the same eviction process as if you had legally sublet the space. Just keep in mind that your landlord can evict you before you are able to evict your sublessor. That is why it is always wise to get the landlord’s permission and to have a subleasing agreement in place before opening up your rental to someone else.
How to Evict a Roommate on a Joint Lease
Let’s say you don’t have a sublessor living in your rental property. Instead, you signed a lease with someone else. It might have been a friend or a stranger, but the two (or more) of you have the same legal rights as tenants. You are not the master tenant. You are a co-tenant, so you can’t just walk over to the courthouse and start eviction proceedings.
Things might have started out just fine, but then, you started to realize that your roommate is a bit of a nightmare. The idea of continuing to live with your roommate is enough to make you break out into a cold sweat.
Sadly, this happens more times than you might think. Carli Evilsizer, the marketing director for Roomi, has quite the roommate horror story (Laliberte, n.d.). She and a friend moved into a rental with three strangers they found on social media. That is the first red flag, and it gets worse.
Everyone got along, so they all signed the lease. They were all legal renters of the property.
Things took a turn quickly. One of the housemates decided to use the living room as her bedroom. Just imagine living somewhere, only to have the main living area taken over. That is far from ideal, but that’s just the beginning of this story.
Then another decided to stop paying her share of the utility bills. Since she was still paying the rent, the landlord didn’t notice.
Things got even worse when one of the housemates stole Carli’s bike and sold it. To say that Carli wanted out of the situation would be an understatement.
Then there’s the renter who wrote to the Star Tribune for advice (Klein, 2015). Her situation was equally bad. She had a joint lease with a roommate. The first seven months were fine, but then the roommate did something that so many others do.
She moved her boyfriend into the rental.
He was initially going to stay for two weeks, which was allowed in the lease agreement. The roommates were allowed to have guests for up to two weeks every six months. However, the two weeks came and went, and he never left.
He didn’t just bring himself, either. He also brought his two cats, which further violated the lease. It was a horrible situation, and the renter was trying to find a way out.
If you find yourself in a similar situation with a co-renter, it’s normal to feel helpless. You are in a joint lease agreement and do not have power over the other tenant. What can you do?
It is possible to get someone who is on the lease evicted, even if that person is paying rent (Neumann, 2016). First, it’s important to understand that landlords do not want to get involved in normal roommate disagreements. If your roommate is leaving dirty dishes in the sink or failing to put the cap back on the toothpaste, the landlord won’t want to hear about it. However, if the tenant constantly violates the lease agreement, the landlord might be willing to take action.
Begin by writing down all the violations. If possible, include dates and proof of each violation. After you have compiled the list, send it to the landlord and ask for help. If the landlord believes the tenant is in violation of the lease agreement, he or she might start eviction proceedings.
There is something keep in mind, though. When landlords begin the eviction process, they often give people the opportunity to come into compliance. For example, the landlord might state that the tenant has 30 days to comply with the lease agreement, and if he or she fails to do so, the eviction proceedings will continue.
If your roommate comes into compliance and stays in the rental, it will be a little awkward for you. The roommate will likely know that you reported the violation.
If that happens and it creates a hostile environment for you, you can try to get the roommate removed again, or you can try to get yourself off the lease.
How to Evict a Hostile Roommate
In a perfect world, roommates would get along at all times. Everyone would be in good spirits every day, and the evenings would be filled with dinners in and fun movies.
Of course, both roommates have to be kind to one another for this to work, and that often isn’t the case.
There are countless stories of people who have dealt with hostile roommate situations. Some stories have to do with verbal threats and intimation, while others are violent in nature.
One such incident occurred in Abilene, Texas (Gutschke, 2019). A woman was living with a man who was on parole for an assault conviction. The two got in an argument because the property’s water had been disconnected, and it quickly escalated. It is alleged that he held a knife against her throat during this altercation.
The police arrested him, and he is no longer allowed on the property.
Hopefully, you will never be in a situation like this, but if you are, contact the police and file an order of protection. Notify your landlord that the order has been filed. Your landlord and the police will work with you to get the violent person off the lease. You can do this regardless of if the person is a co-renter or a sublessor.
Once the person is off the lease, ask your landlord to change the locks. You need to protect yourself in case your former roommate tries to come back.
How to Evict a Squatter
Imagine opening your property up to someone for a limited period of time, and when the time is up, that person doesn’t leave. This is actually a pretty common problem. Some people take an invitation to visit as an opportunity to stay as long as they like. Others occupy property when the renter is out of town and then refuse to leave.
Heidi Peterson provides a perfect example of this situation (Estrin, 2014). Peterson purchased a home in Detroit and then left it unattended for a year. At least, she thought she did. When she came back home, a woman was living there.
Peterson viewed the woman as a trespasser and called the police. The police refused to do anything, though, stating it was a civil matter. Peterson didn’t have the money to take the case to court, so she was forced to live with her. During their brief time as roommates, Peterson found out her squatter had worked on the plumbing and changed the locks to the house. It was clear she was making Peterson’s property her own.
Peterson’s story made the local news, and the squatter ended up moving out on her own accord.
That’s just one instance of someone taking over a property. Elizabeth Abel has an even more frightening story to tell, even though she didn’t have to live with the squatter (Gordon, 2016).
Abel, a college professional, was planning a research trip abroad at the end of 2015. She used a tenant website to find someone to live in her home for the semester.
Several people responded to her request, including David Peritz. A fellow professor, Abel felt a kinship with Peritz and was excited to have him as a tenant. She was so excited that she made some serious mistakes.
First, she decided to not check any references. In case that wasn’t bad enough, she also didn’t do a background check. Instead, she opened up her home to this man she found on a website. He moved in the first month of 2016, and she left for Paris.
Had she conducted a background check, she would have discovered some troubling information. He was in the process of being evicted, and he had several state and federal tax liens against him. Needless to say, he didn’t look good on paper, and she could have avoided this mess had she run the proper checks.
There were red flags right away. He was late with the first month’s rent, and his personal checks didn’t have a home address. Still, she was in Paris, and he was in California, so it’s not like she could just head over and check on him. She had high hopes that everything would be OK.
But it wasn’t OK. Peritz continued to have issues making the rent, and Abel started getting some strange emails from her neighbors. Peritz was removing her furniture piece by piece. She threated to take him to small claims court, and she reached out to the police. A police officer visited Peritz and warned Abel that her “tenant” was attempting to establish squatter’s rights.
She cut her trip short and emailed Peritz to let him know he needed to leave. He, in turn, threatened to sue her. She took up residence across the street, left to stare at the home that someone else had taken over.
The two eventually settled in court. He had to leave the premises and pay much of the rent he still owed. It was a happy ending, but it was a nightmare scenario for Abel.
This was an extreme case of someone claiming squatter’s rights. You might not be as unlucky as Abel, but what happens if you have a guest who won’t leave? How do you evict a squatter?
Adverse possession laws typically make it difficult for squatters to stay in a residence, but that doesn’t mean that showing the person the door is enough. You need to take certain steps to get a squatter to vacate your property (Khoury, 2017).
You might be tempted to change the locks or do something else to make it impossible for the squatter to live there, but that is actually not the right course of action.
Begin by contacting law enforcement. Depending on the state you live, police might be able to remove the person for trespassing. Sadly, though, some squatters make fake documents to make it look as if they have a legal right to the property. When that happens, you will have to take the squatter to court. You will need to legally file for an eviction, but be very careful when filling out the paperwork. Courts tend to favor tenants, even when those tenants are nothing more than squatters.
Guest or Tenant?
How does a houseguest turn into a legal tenant? Countless people have asked this very question, so they don’t end up with a squatter/tenant on their hands. Oftentimes, the definition isn’t all that clear.
The story of “Jen” and “Michelle” is an excellent example of this. Their names have been changed to protect their identities (Stanley, 2013).
Jen’s daughter, Michelle, was struggling with alcohol addiction and was in a bad relationship. Michelle’s boyfriend used drugs, and at Jen’s urging, her daughter got clean and left her boyfriend. Michelle even got an apartment.
Michelle and her ex share a child, though, so it was impossible to cut off contact completely. Michelle started letting the ex into her life more and more. First, she let him store things in her apartment. Then she let him stay with her from time to time. They were not in a relationship, but this arrangement worked out for them for a bit.
Then the unthinkable happened. Michelle asked the ex to vacate the apartment, and he refused. She didn’t take any action for several days and then tried again. He refused to leave, and the two got in such a heated argument that a neighbor called the police.
The ex’s name wasn’t on the lease. But since he had been there for three consecutive days, the police said she would have to file eviction proceedings to get him out.
Most states require longer for occupancy rules to kick in. For example, if a California resident lets someone stay with them for 30 days or longer, that person is a legal resident (Apartment, 2018).
Jen and Michelle’s case is extreme, but things like this do happen. It’s critical to understand how to avoid letting a houseguest turn into a tenant (HG.org, n.d.).
First, be wary of accepting money for rent or other household expenses when you let a guest stay with you. Accepting money can be the beginning of a landlord-tenant relationship.
Also, never let a houseguest change his or her mailing address to your address. This also indicates that the guest is actually a tenant.
You should also check the laws in your state regarding occupancy rights. Find out how long a person can stay before becoming a legal tenant. Do not let any guests stay beyond that point.
Can You Break the Lease?
You’ve tried to get rid of your bad roommate, but nothing seems to work. You can’t get the roommate evicted, so now you have two options. You can live in misery until the lease is up, or you can try to break the lease. Breaking a lease isn’t easy, but it is possible in certain circumstances (Thorsby, 2019).
First, check your lease. Some leases contain an early termination clause. Such a clause won’t allow you to just jump ship, but it will provide you with some options. Termination clauses typically require notification, and you will have to cough up some money. For example, you might need to give a 60-day written notice and pay two months’ worth of rent. That might seem like a lot of money, but it will likely be better than living with a roommate that makes you miserable.
What if your lease doesn’t have a termination clause? You might still be able to break it. Different states have different laws regarding legally breaking a lease. Victims of harassment, domestic violence, and sexual assault can legally break a lease in Washington. That is just one example of the laws on the books. Check on the tenant laws for your state to see if you can leave the lease without any legal repercussions.
If that doesn’t work, meet with your landlord and discuss your options. Your landlord might allow you to break the lease if you find someone to sublet the property. The tenant you select will likely have to go through the tenant screening process before being approved. If the tenant makes it through the screening process, you will be free and clear. Just keep in mind that the new tenant will have to deal with your current roommate. It might be uncomfortable for you to do that to someone else.
You have one more option for vacating your lease, but it is a bit more complicated. If the situation is bigger than just having a bad roommate, you might be able to break the lease legally. In this case, you will need to prove that the property is uninhabitable due to negligence on the landlord’s part. If the landlord has failed to make important repairs such as fixing broken plumbing, you might have a case to break the lease. You have to prove that the property is unsafe or uninhabitable for this to work. You will likely need to go to court to prove your case. When you go to court, you will need to present documentation that proves you tried to get the landlord to fix the issue, but he or she failed to comply. You will also need to prove that the property has serious issues.
Be Smart When Selecting a Roommate
These horror stories illustrate how dangerous living with a roommate can be. It is impossible to know if someone will be violent, refuse to pay the rent, or do something else that is not acceptable. While you can’t read anyone’s minds or see into the future, you can take steps to help you choose a trustworthy roommate (Schreck, 2015). These steps will improve your chances of finding a good roommate.
First and foremost, always interview candidates before making a selection. Someone might look great on the application but still not be a good fit in person. Conduct several interviews with the same person to ensure you get along. You will quickly realize if the person isn’t a good fit.
You also need to ask the right questions when interviewing candidates. For starters, ask if the person has a job and where that job is located. How long has the person worked there? This will let you know if the person has a reliable source of income.
You also need to ask where the person is living now and why he or she wants to move. Did the candidate have an issue with a prior roommate and that’s why he or she is looking for a new place to live? Your candidate might be completely innocent, but it is still a red flag. You want a harmonious living situation, and that’s hard to accomplish if someone picks fights with roommates.
On the other hand, if the person’s lease is up and he or she wants to live in a new neighborhood or find more affordable rent, that is a good reason for moving.
When you ask these questions, gauge the person’s openness and honesty. Does it seem like the candidate is evading questions? Do the answers seem off in any way? It is critical to use your intuition to determine if the roommate is being honest.
Next, you need to be upfront about how much the rental will cost. At this point, the person should already know how much the rent is, but what are the other costs? How much will the roommate have to pay each month for cable, internet, and electricity? What about the water bill? Add up all the costs to give the person a clear idea of what he or she will pay each month.
If the candidate passes the interview process, it is time to move onto the next step. Far too many people rent rooms out to others without conducting any type of screening. Ask the potential roommate for references, so you can check the rental history. Call at least two references and ask about the person’s time at the property.
Next, run a background and credit check. So many rental horror stories would have been avoided if people took this step. A tenant credit check will let you know how likely the person is to pay the rent. Simply having a job is not enough. Does this person pay his or her bills?
A tenant background check will let you know if the person has a criminal history. Has the person been evicted in the past? Has he or she been arrested for acts of violence? What about theft? The information on this report can protect you from making a terrible mistake.
After the candidate passes the credit and background checks, it is time to put everything in writing. If the roommate can be on the master lease, do that. If not, create a sublease agreement for the roommate. This will provide you with some backup in case anything goes wrong.
As a final step, make sure that your landlord approves the new agreement. If your landlord does not allow additional tenants, you could end up getting evicted.
Protect Yourself When Renting
There are countless benefits to renting instead of owning. There’s a freedom in knowing you won’t have to take care of repairs, and you aren’t as tied down as you would be if you owned a home. However, you do need to be careful when sharing a rental with a roommate. While roommates can be fun to live with, they can also make you miserable.
Properly vet your roommate before inviting him or her to live with you, and make sure everyone is on a lease. The person might be the main lease or a sublease, but the contract needs to be in writing.
Then, if someone goes wrong, you can begin the eviction process. You might need to get your landlord involved in the process, or you might have to do it yourself. That will depend on your situation.
Then, once the roommate leaves, you can find a new one using the proper screening methods. That will help you find someone that you enjoy living with for the duration of the lease.
About the author
Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America.