If you are wondering whether you can break a lease if you signed it with a roommate and that person leaves the dwelling, you are in the right place.
In this article, I am going to cover whether you can break your lease if you are in the process of ending your co-tenant relationship and provide some tips on how to do it.
We’ll get into the analysis and tips in detail, but the short answer to the question is as follows:
If there are two tenants on a lease and one leaves, the remaining tenant is usually still on the hook to honor the lease because most leases have a joint and several liability provision which allows a landlord to hold either tenant responsible for its performance.
Now there may be certain conditions that do allow for early termination.
Some of these conditions include: (i) your lease allows early termination in general (month to month tenancy, buyout clauses, etc., etc.) or (ii) a violation of state or local landlord-tenant laws (or a recognized termination right under them).
Now, even if you can’t satisfy any of these conditions, don’t give up. There are other options available to you, including negotiating some compensation from the departing roommate, securing a replacement tenant, or terminating early and hoping that the landlord quickly finds a new tenant.
Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it!
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
Can I Break My Lease If My Roommate Leaves?
As mentioned above, in general the answer is no. Now I get that this is really bad news if you are the tenant left holding the bag, so we will go into some options you can explore.
The first thing you want to do is carefully read your lease.
Although not common, there may be provisions in the lease that deal with this type of scenario. There may also be more generic early termination options in your lease (although you may have to pay a fee or provide significant advance notice).
If your lease deals with the issue head on and there are some reasonable options for you, then you should contact your landlord and go from there.
But what if your lease is silent on the issue? Well, I assume you have already tried to negotiate something with your departing roommate (e.g., have them leave later, chip in for the rent for some period of time, etc.). If that fails, you can scour your lease for other provisions that may be helpful.
For example, if your lease is month to month (in which case, you can typically get out with some brief notice to the landlord), you are in luck. Although, frankly, if you are on a month to month lease, you probably already know that and don’t need to check your lease to confirm it.
If your lease is not month to month, there may be provisions that allow you to sublease the apartment or terminate the lease if you pay a penalty (more on that later).
If you don’t have any of these sorts of provisions, then you should move to the next step, which is looking at your state and local landlord-tenant laws.
Note: If you are interested in doing your own research, check out our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenants laws of your state.
If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.
By clicking the banner below, you can get a one week trial membership for only $5, which you can cancel at any time.
I think it is highly unlikely that landlord tenant laws will have something that lets you out for roommates leaving. But you may want to explore if there are other provisions in your landlord tenant laws that may apply.
For example, if you are the victim of domestic violence, a good number of states have laws that permit you to break your lease in that sort of situation. There are also provisions relating to harassment and stalking that may apply. Now, it’s not enough to simply claim this and get out of your lease. You will need to provide proof to support your claim.
Some states and local governments allow you to terminate your lease early if you are facing physical or mental health issues that can be addressed by moving out. Again, this isn’t as simple as just claiming it.
You will typically need proof from a doctor or other qualified professional of your condition and will need to demonstrate how moving out would remedy your condition. There may be other stipulations as well.
Another option is to see if your place is deemed uninhabitable due to mold, pests or other unsanitary conditions. Under most state laws, you may be able to break your lease early due to a violation of the warranty of habitability if these types of conditions are serious enough.
If neither your lease nor your landlord tenant laws give you a clear path to get out of your lease due to your upcoming divorce, don’t give up. There are some other options available to you…
Check Your Lease For Buyout Clauses, Subleasing Provisions and Other Early Termination Options
As I alluded to earlier, some leases contain a “buyout” clause. This is a provision that allows a tenant to terminate the lease early if they pay an early termination fee. Typically, these clauses require advance notice. If you find something like this, it might be an option you want to consider.
Although it will hurt financially to exercise this right if you have it, paying a modest fee may be better than being liable for all of the rental payment remaining on the lease (assuming you have a lot of time left).
Also read the lease to see if there are any conditions or other termination rights that you can exercise. For example, if your roommate is relocating their job, there may be provisions in your lease that deal with job relocations.
Bottom line is that it’s a wise practice to read over every line in your lease to see if there is something you can hang your hat on.
Communicate with Your Landlord
Let your landlord know that your roommate is leaving and that the current living situation is no longer possible for you. Although they won’t be thrilled to hear the news, it is better to communicate with them as soon as you realize your situation.
See if you can work out a solution that works.
If the landlord has been doing this for some time, they will almost certainly have faced similar requests and may have a standard way of handling them.
If they don’t offer a reasonable solution, you can propose things as well. For example, even if you don’t have a buyout clause in the lease, you can certainly try to negotiate one.
The truth is that most landlords don’t want to litigate or evict if they can avoid it.
That’s because taking a tenant to court can sometimes be more expensive than the amount of rent that you owe. If you are open, reasonable, and communicate with them, they may be willing to work something out with you.
Find a Replacement Tenant
You can also try to find another tenant for your unit.
This can actually be a great outcome for you and your landlord. You can make this option even more attractive by offering to list the unit and handle all of the work associated with finding a new tenant. Finding a new tenant is a hassle and your landlord may be relieved that you will do the lion’s share of the work.
Tell the landlord you will answer all of the emails and calls from prospective tenants, arrange for open houses, and essentially take care all of the hassle and headaches associated with finding a new tenant.
If you haven’t done something like this before, ask your landlord if they have a listing description that they have used in the past and any photos you can use. In many cases, they will be more than happy to give them to you. If for some reason they don’t, just look up other rentals in your area and see how they have described the units.
You should be able to pull something together that works well.
You will also need to know your landlord’s screening requirements (e.g., minimum income levels, credit score cutoffs, etc.), so you can do the initial screenings on tenants.
I have found a lot of success finding tenants on zillow.com and apartments.com, so you may want to check them out.
If you can offer them a scenario where they don’t do much work and they won’t lose any money, there is a solid chance they will be fine with your proposal.
Related Reading: If you want to learn more about how to break your lease early by finding a new tenant, check out my full article on the topic here.
Terminate Your Lease Early without Permission
As a last resort, you can choose to leave the unit and not pay any further rent.
Bear in mind that if you do this, you are exposing yourself to meaningful risk. You may wind up being on the hook for the remainder of the rental payments under the lease (and other fees and damages if the landlord decides to sue).
Ok, so that’s the scary part.
However, there is a silver lining. In most states, the landlord must mitigate their damages by trying to find a suitable replacement tenant. Once they do, you will no longer be on the hook for your lease.
Remember, if the landlord can’t find a replacement tenant fast, you will be on the hook for the rent until they do. That could wind being a ton of money.
Another risk of breaking your lease like this is that a landlord may report any non-payment of rent to credit reporting agencies and take you to court. These actions can have a serious and negative impact on your credit score, which could affect your ability to rent a new place in the future.
As I mentioned, it’s a gamble and carries considerable downside risk, so only consider this as a last resort.
Losing a roommate that helped you afford the rent can be a really stressful time, but the good news is that there are some solid options you can explore to get out of your lease (even if your lease and your state laws don’t allow for it).