YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


What to do when a roommate leaves

September 12, 2004|H. May Spitz | Special to The Times

Question: My roommate and I don't get along, and she's moving out before our lease ends. I need to pay only my share, right?

Answer: Wrong. No matter who is left in the rental, the rent has to be paid in full, for the amount stated in the lease, each month. Even if each roommate wrote a separate rent check, the lease is for a total amount.

Why? Known as "jointly and severally liable," all lease terms are "all for one and one for all" including paying the full rent. Everyone is responsible.

Other suggestions to keep in mind when a roommate departs:

* Notify the landlord. This is always a good idea, because he or she may let you out of the lease or have suggestions on finding another roommate. If you can afford the place on your own and want it to yourself, let the landlord know. Don't be surprised if the landlord runs a credit check anew or demands meeting any new tenants.

* Head off deposit woes. Because deposits are also usually joint and several, they remain with the unit until it is vacated. As a result, the departing roommate may ask the one staying to "cash them out." Once again, ask the landlord for guidance. Deductions for cleaning, damage or unpaid rent may apply and ultimately be taken from the deposit at move-out, possibly leaving the remaining dwellers with less than anticipated.

* Know that some landlords won't get involved. Some roommate situations are handled "in house" between residents, with the new cashing out the old, less deductions from the previous tenant. Landlords or managers may prefer not to get involved in roommate disputes, unless the property or a person is at risk.

* Check utilities. In whose name are the lights, cable or phone bill? If the departing roommate is planning to shut off any or all utilities, be prepared to put them in your name.

* Ask for written notice. Be sure to have the departure date and details in writing from the roommate before he or she leaves. Get an exact date through which the rent will be paid.

* If the parting is hostile, consider changing the locks. Be sure to ask the landlord first, as laws vary by locality, and provide a key promptly for the owner or manager.

How to find

a good roomie

Question: What should I look for in a roommate in the future?

Answer: Start with a list of your lifestyle habits. Set out from the beginning of the day and move forward.

Do you rise early and knock around the kitchen while making a big breakfast? Do you have certain food allergies or dietary choices to adhere to?

Other considerations:

* Does your routine include smoking or drinking? Check to see if a roommate will be offended by these habits. "Be sure they mention any personal habits that will keep you awake at night," advised longtime renter Drew Tewksbury. One of his roommates walked and swore in his sleep.

* Decide how to handle overnight guests. Are sweethearts allowed overnight? All weekend? Not at all? Can mom visit for weeks? Be sure the guest limit, as it relates to both time and space, is clearly spelled out.

* What about pets? Some people bring a dog or cat, even when the lease or roommate allergies prohibit pets. Ask if a potential roommate plans any in-house pet-sitting. One tenant brought his parent's dog over for a weekend and ended up keeping him for six months.

* Decide in advance who gets the parking space (if available) and when. Adjust the rent accordingly if only one person receives assigned parking. If the parking is tandem, be sure the early riser takes the proper space. Consider making an extra copy of car keys, just in case.

* Cable, telephone or DSL? Decide which service you'll prefer and how to share the costs. Divide the utility service providers so everyone can build up credit history, if possible.

* Got furniture? Some people come with extra sofas and chairs, while others bring a paper bag and not much else. If you are providing the furniture, be clear on where food can be eaten. Make it clear that grandma's antique chair should not be subjected to stains.

Once you've found a roommate, the next step is to set up rules in writing. Several roommate contracts are available, via Internet search engines, bookstores and housing offices.

H. May Spitz is a Los Angeles-

based freelance writer. Reader comments may be sent to

Los Angeles Times Articles