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Is Evicting a Roommate Possible?

Two women ignoring each other and thinking about evicting a roommate.

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When things don’t work out with a roommate, it can be tempting to call it quits and ask them to leave. What if they refuse? Can you evict them? Evicting a roommate should be a last resort when living together doesn’t work out.

Legally, eviction is carried out by a landlord. Note that a tenant can function as a landlord if, for example, they sublease part of their unit to a roommate. Unless you own your living quarters or are functioning as a landlord with a roommate who subleases space from you, you may need to involve your landlord or building owner for help evicting a roommate who won’t leave willingly.

If you’re at your wits’ end and wondering how to evict a roommate, read further for alternative actions, strategies, and legal considerations.

What to Do Before Trying to Evict a Roommate

There are many alternatives to eviction that may salvage the relationship and protect you from eviction as well. Depending on the problem, try talking it out, waiting it out, or, if necessary, involving the proper authorities. Consider the following:

  • Can You Communicate Better? Ask yourself why you want to evict your roommate so you can get to the root cause of the friction. Make sure you are clear with your roommate that you find certain behavior unacceptable – maybe you didn’t sign up for the noisy nightly gatherings they like to host. This requires clear communication on your part. Regardless, give them at least one chance to improve before you aim for eviction.
  • How Quickly Do You Need Them to Leave? Think through the pros and cons of eviction versus hanging on for a few months until the natural end of the lease. If your lease only runs one or two more months, it may be worth letting them stay a little longer.
  • Have You Asked Them to Leave? Your roommate may be willing to leave in order to either preserve the relationship or avoid the tension of living together. (They might not be entirely thrilled living with you, either.) You never know until you try.
  • Is Law Enforcement Necessary? If your roommate is involved in illegal activity, calling the police may be a more effective course of action. It may also protect you down the road, since a landlord, depending on the state’s landlord-tenant laws, might be able to end the lease altogether if one of you is breaking the law and in violation of the lease. You may want to find somewhere else to stay until your roommate has vacated.
  • Should You Leave? In a worst-case scenario, you can break the lease and find other housing. This can be costly, but it may be worth it depending on your situation.

No matter what, do not try to physically remove another tenant. It may escalate the situation to the point where you are in danger, or the police could be involved and order you to let the tenant back in. If you are found to have wrongfully removed the other person, you may be fined or otherwise face consequences.

It is also worth searching online for resources about evicting a roommate in your state. Speaking to a lawyer about the particulars of your situation is a smart and safe move, especially if you are concerned about illegal activity by anyone living with you.

How to Evict a Roommate on the Lease

If you have exhausted your alternative courses of action and you still want them out, eviction may be the only option. If both you and your roommate have signed a lease together, your best bet is to take your concerns to your landlord.

Document the behavior you find unacceptable in a letter to your landlord, since in most states, a landlord needs “cause,” or a legally sound basis, for evicting a tenant. If your roommate has violated part of the lease — for example, they insist on keeping a cat, which is in violation of a clear no-pets policy — your landlord may be willing to evict them and allow you to find a new roommate.

If all tenants in a unit are on one lease, then eviction of one tenant may end the lease for all tenants unless the landlord is willing to work with the remaining tenants. Your lease may hold you and your roommate liable together for the terms of the lease, so proceed with caution — depending on the situation, evicting a roommate could get you evicted as well.

Sometimes, however, multiple tenants will have separate leases, such as when rooms are rented individually in a house or apartment complex. In this scenario, eviction of one roommate should not affect the other tenants’ leases.

Potential Consequences

If you do manage to break ties with your roommate and they move out, be prepared to pay — literally. See if your landlord will allow you to sublet your roommate’s spot in the unit so you aren’t stuck paying the full amount of rent. If that doesn’t work, terminating or breaking your lease early may be the only option.

If you break your lease because you no longer want to live with your roommate, you could still be responsible for paying rent until the lease ends, or at least for a reasonable amount of time for the landlord to re-lease the space. You may also forfeit your security deposit. Though most landlords will simply re-lease the space, possible consequences could include damage to your credit score or a lawsuit if you don’t pay the remainder, or difficulty renting in the future.

How to Evict a Roommate Not on the Lease

If you have a roommate who has not been added to your lease, one option is to prepare a notice to quit (or vacate), especially if they are in your home illegally. The most common notice period is 30 days, since most states require this sort of notice to equal the number of days of the rent installments. So, someone who pays rent monthly would need at least 30 days’ notice; someone who pays weekly would need 7. Each state has its own requirements for notices to quit.

Your landlord may evict the entire party if he or she finds out unauthorized tenants are living in the space. The best action is to never allow someone else to live with you in a rented space without written authorization. Typically, the person whose name is on the lease is the one who faces the consequences.

Perhaps the person you want to evict is a subtenant, meaning they are leasing part of the space from you rather than from your landlord. (Remember that you need written permission from your landlord to sublease any part of the space you are renting.) This includes any informal agreement or a promise to pay rent, even if nothing has been paid yet. If so, you would function as the landlord, which means you must give the subtenant proper notice that they need to vacate the premises. If they refuse to leave, you may have to file an eviction lawsuit.

How to Evict a Roommate When You Don’t Have a Lease

Evicting a roommate when you don’t have a lease may be the most difficult situation of all. Renting without a written agreement is not a great idea — even if the landlord is someone you know or are related to. If your landlord decides to evict you along with the unwanted tenant, the only way you’ll get relief is through legal action or the threat of legal action.

If your landlord is a family member or someone you truly trust, ask them for help. If you’re not confident the landlord will have your back, an attorney will know what your best option is, depending on your situation and your state’s landlord-tenant laws.

Unpleasant Roommate Issues?

Evicting a roommate can get messy. Need some help figuring out what step to take next? Consider getting a free case evaluation to explore your options — with or without your current roommate.

Disclaimer

This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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