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Evicting a Roommate

An estimated thirty percent of people aged 23 to 65 live with roommates. It’s a great way to save money and stay social if you would rather not live alone. But when it goes bad, it can be really bad. If you are hoping to kick out a bad roommate, then you're probably wondering:

Is this even possible?
What is just cause for evicting a roommate?
Should you enlist your landlord's help?
How do you file an eviction notice?

Is it possible?

There are several different living situations that fall under the ‘roommate’ umbrella. One of the below scenarios probably applies to you. As you think about evicting your roommate, what you can and can't do depends completely on your lease situation:

You’re both on the lease

In general, you cannot evict your roommate if you are both on the lease. You are considered co-tenants and have the same rights to live in the unit under that lease. This means you have a shared responsibility to uphold the terms of the lease, including paying rent on time and not damaging the property. In this case your best bet is to speak with your landlord, because assuming that an eviction is appropriate they will be the ones who need to initiate the proceedings.

If you want to try to evict anyway, make sure that your lease does not say that you are under joint and several liability. If you are then you'll be held responsible for whatever your landlord manages to evict your co-tenant for. Not only will you also be kicked out, the offense could affect your ability to rent in the future.

If you are both on the lease and you and your landlord decide to evict a roommate, then sign a separate agreement with them that disclaims joint and several liability.

You’re the only one on the lease

There are several reasons why you may be on the lease when your roommate is not. In any of these situations, you are considered the master tenant and your roommate is your subtenant. A master tenant is a tenant who has signed a lease exclusively with a landlord and allows other people to live with them in the rental unit. A subtenant is someone who lives in a rental but has no legal relationship with the landlord - they pay rent to the roommate who is named on the lease.

If your roommate is subletting from you, you may have a written sublease agreement outlining their duties and responsibilities as a roommate. If your roommate moved in after you signed the lease, you may have a written roommate agreement or a simple, verbal agreement holding them responsible for paying their half of the rent. In either of these cases, you can evict your roommate as long as you have just cause.

In rare cases, a master tenant can evict a subtenant without just cause. For example, if you’re a master tenant looking to evict a subtenant in San Francisco and you included a statement in your sublease agreement that "the just cause ordinance does not apply," you can evict without any reason.

They’re on the lease, but you’re not

If you are not on the lease and your roommate is, or you’re subletting from your roommate, you don’t have many options. Your roommate has master tenant status, meaning the lease exists only between the landlord and your roommate, and you are their subtenant. You can’t evict them.

You can, however, speak with the landlord directly and make a case as to why your roommate is a sub-optimal tenant and why you’re a great tenant. Follow the same steps for documenting just cause for eviction as you would if you were on the lease, and then share this with the landlord.

There’s no written lease

Even if there’s no written lease agreement between either you or your roommate and your landlord, you have some rights as a tenant. A lease can exist as a verbal agreement between tenants and a landlord. This is called month-to-month, or at-will tenancy.

Trying to evict your roommate when you are both at-will tenants will be easier if your roommate pays rent to you and you pay it directly to the landlord. In this case you may be able to establish that you are the master tenant.

Proving that you're the master tenant because you pay the rent would help your chances, but the likelihood of achieving court-ordered eviction when neither you nor your roommate are on a written lease is still small.

Just cause for eviction

Although eviction procedure and laws vary by state and city, any eviction must have just cause. This means that your roommate must be doing something that the law views as an evict-able offense. In general, any serious violation of the lease terms can be cause for eviction, but the most common are:

  • Unpaid rent or another general lease violation
  • Engaging in criminal activity on the rental property
  • Damaging the property
  • Posing a threat to the safety of other tenants

Some states are very specific with how they define just cause: in Alaska you can evict someone for failing to pay the utility bill two times within a six month period.

Generally, though, look for, gather and store documentation that your roommate did any of the above things.

Documentation of just cause

In a standard eviction proceeding, the burden of proof is on the person doing the evicting. Unless you feel comfortable trying to talk your problems out with your roommate before proceeding to evict them, keep all further communication with your roommate in writing.

If your roommate is doing something that’s visibly affecting your living situation, like causing damage to your apartment, take photos. The more documentation you have of the issues that are making an eviction necessary, the more likely you are to win an eviction case should it go to court.

Should you enlist your landlord's help?

Your landlord may have dealt with roommate eviction before. Explain in detail what the problem is. If your roommate is endangering other tenants, the property, or is unlikely to pay rent, emphasize those points. A landlord wants to protect their property, tenants and income.

Prepare the initial documents that would be needed for an eviction proceedings in your state, including information about the laws in your city or state that address the issue and clarify next steps, and show them to your landlord along with any evidence you have of the offenses.

The landlord isn't required to assist you with the eviction but might choose to.

Here's what your landlord could do:

  • If you’re both on the lease under joint and several liability, they could evict you both and then allow you to re-rent the unit with a new roommate - a complicated solution that if not handled correctly could leave you with an eviction on your rental history.
  • If you are on the lease or pay the rent to your landlord, they could simply evict your roommate for you.
  • If the roommate’s not on the lease, your landlord could potentially try to file trespassing charges against them, but only if they have lived in the unit a very short time.

Prepare and file an eviction notice

If you are evicting a roommate then you will need to follow the same processes that a landlord has to follow when evicting any other tenant. Prepare the correct eviction notices for your state, which probably include a notice to cure and a notice to vacate. First show these notices to your landlord - or at least try to - and then send them or take them to the court house closest to the rental property.

You would then get a court date and would need to go to court and appear before a judge in order to get an order demanding that the roommate leave.

To learn more about how to kick out a roommate with a standard eviction proceeding, read about the eviction process in your state.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.

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