When a Roommate Wants to Leave Early

A roommate's decision to leave early can have serious consequences for the cotenants left behind.

All too frequently, sharing a rental with roommates can turn into a headache. Maybe it’s the gym bag dumped on the kitchen table every evening, the inconsiderate parties on work nights, or the “occasional girlfriend” who turns out to be a regular, unpleasant presence. Whether you want to move out, or get one of your roommates to leave, it's important to understand the legal consequences of one roommate moving out early. (This is addition to the legal consequences of all tenants breaking a lease and leaving early).

When cotenants split, there can be serious consequences beyond hurt feelings. The remaining roommates must scramble to cover the departed cotenant’s rent share, and the one who has moved on may find herself at the receiving end of a small claims court case demanding her share of rent.

What to Do When a Cotenant Wants to Move Out

In a month-to-month rental agreement, a cotenant who wants to leave must give the landlord the required legal notice—30 days in most states. Forget trying to leave on short notice—most landlords won’t prorate a month’s rent. This means that the remaining tenants will have the same amount of time to hustle up a qualified replacement. Under the terms of most rental agreements, remaining tenants need to get the landlord’s permission for and approval of any new cotenants. Your landlord will likely require you and the new cotenant to sign a new rental agreement.

There is nothing wrong with cotenants deciding among themselves that they will give each other more or less notice than the rental agreement or law requires. If a cotenant violates this roommate agreement, the remaining tenants can sue in small claims court for the unpaid rent they were shorted. However, the landlord is not bound to this agreement. The remaining tenants will still have to pay the full rent to the landlord as long as the departing tenant gave the landlord the statutorily required notice.

If there’s a lease, the cotenant should either get permission from the landlord to leave early or, if this is impossible, find a new cotenant acceptable to the landlord to take over the lease. Technically, one cotenant’s leaving is a breach of the lease, and could provide the landlord with grounds to terminate the entire tenancy. Moving out without the landlord’s permission is a violation of a lease clause, and one cotenant’s lease-breaking is a transgression for which all tenants are liable. (The legal term for this shared responsibility is “joint and several liability.”) However, if you’ve been ideal tenants, most landlords are willing to continue the tenancy so long as you find a qualified replacement cotenant.

What to Do If You Want to Move Out, Too


If your cotenant skips out, leaving you in the lurch, you might decide that you don’t want to stay, either. To protect your security deposit and your good name at the credit bureau, follow these steps:

  • If you’re a month-to-month tenant, give the required amount of written notice (usually 30 days) immediately. Don’t wait until you can’t pay the next month’s rent and receive a termination notice.
  • If you have a lease, let the landlord know in writing that you plan to move because you cannot afford the rent without your cotenant. Before you move, be extra accommodating when it comes to showing the unit to prospective renters. Facilitating a quick turnover is not just a courtesy to your landlord, but benefits you as well, since the sooner a new tenant takes over, the sooner your liability for the balance of the rent due under the lease ends. Consider offering to assist your landlord in finding new tenants.

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