Signing a rental agreement or a lease is an important part of renting a home. It establishes that both you and your landlord are liable for a set of rules, such as when and how a landlord may enter the rental unit and how much notice each party must give to terminate the agreement. Your lease or rental agreement also establishes, in writing, the amount of rent you owe and the day it’s due each month, and lists the names of tenants authorized to live in the rental unit.
Most landlords allow roommates to share a home as long as all parties sign the lease or rental agreement, and are officially tenants, with a direct relationship with the landlord. However, there are instances when a significant other or a friend moves in your rental unit without the landlord’s knowledge. In other situations, the landlord may have even allowed a boyfriend or girlfriend to move in without signing the lease (or has turned a blind eye to the arrangement).
Assuming your lease or rental agreement (like most) limits occupants of the rental unit to people who are tenants (and have signed the lease or rental agreement), your landlord may terminate your tenancy for violating your legal agreement by bringing in unauthorized subtenants. (A subtenant is someone who subleases or rents all or part of the rental premises from a tenant, not from the landlord.) If you want your roommate to become an official tenant, you will typically need the landlord’s approval. See the Nolo article, Adding a New Roommate, for advice on doing this.
But what if you want your roommate to leave? In an ideal situation, you can simply ask your ex to leave, and that’s that. The more civil your relationship, the easier this will be, especially if you give your ex or roommate ample amount of time to move out. In any case, put your written request in writing and keep a copy.
Getting someone to move out who’s not a legal cotenant can be challenging, however, if the person refuses to leave, especially if the roommate has lived in the rental for a long time. Depending on the situation, you may need to consult a lawyer before proceeding. A local tenants’ rights group may be able to provide advice, or check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory for a state-specific list of landlord-tenant lawyers.
If your landlord has approved a subtenancy, or you live in a city such as San Francisco, that allows a landlord to designate a “master tenant” (usually a long-term tenant who was there first) to perform many of the functions of a landlord, you may be able to evict a subtenant who doesn’t voluntarily leave. But this can get complicated very quickly, particularly if you don’t have a written agreement with your roommate, covering key issues found in leases and rental agreements, such as termination and eviction rules and procedures; it can be especially complex if the property is rent controlled and requires “just cause” ( a good reason) to evict. In any case, eviction lawsuits can be an expensive and time-consuming legal nightmare (and may not even be an option for many people). See the Nolo article, How Evictions Work, for an overview.
If your unauthorized roommate claims that your landlord, by inaction alone, has consented to his or her presence, giving them the status of a tenant, the landlord may have a hard time evicting the unwanted occupants, and may need to file a criminal complaint for trespassing. It may be easier for the landlord to simply evict everyone in the rental unit, authorized tenant or not.
If you are concerned that your roommate is going to harm you, contact the police for information on temporary restraining orders and communicate your fears to your landlord. See the Nolo article Legal Protections for Tenants Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence for more advice on the subject.